Following the failure of the XP-46 to win any Army production orders, the Curtiss company proposed another design in their search for the eventual replacement for the P-40. This was the Curtiss Model 88, which was an improved XP-46 powered by the yet-to-be-built 1600-hp Continental XIV-1430-3 twelve-cylinder liquid-cooled inverted Vee engine.
The Model 88 was to use the fuselage and tail assembly from the P-40D combined with a NACA laminar flow wing. Armament was to have consisted of eight wing-mounted machine guns. The mainwheel retraction scheme reverted to the sequence used by the original P-40, with the mainwheels rotating 90 degrees before they retracted rearwards into wing wells. Maximum speed was projected to be 430 mph.
On October 1, 1940, the USAAC ordered two examples of the Model 88 under the designation XP-53. Serials were 41-140 and 41-19508. In a conference held six weeks later, the USAAC informed Curtiss-Wright of its need for a fighter combining laminar flow wing technology with the British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Since the XP-53 was already being designed for laminar-flow wings, Curtiss proposed to convert the second XP-53 airframe (41-19508) to the Merlin engine while it was undergoing construction. This airframe was redesignated Model 90 by the company. The USAAC accepted this idea, and assigned the designation XP-60 to the new aircraft. The other XP-53 airframe was to retain the Continental engine.
However, while the XP-53 and XP-60 were both undergoing construction, the Army cancelled the XP-53 order because of the excessive delays in the temperamental Continental XIV-1430 engine. The XP-53 never flew. As it turned out, the Continental engine never did enter production, and all of those aircraft projects which had planned for it ultimately failed.
In November 1941, the XP-53 airframe was converted into a static test airframe in support of the P-60 project, and its bullet-proof windshield, self-sealing fuel tanks, and armament were scavenged and transferred to the XP-60.