5 stunning Ghia-bodied Chryslers up for grabs this January
The post-war automotive industry was something else. As veterans returned home and rationing ended, the American economy erupted with an incredible increase in both production and spending.
Between 1947 and 1960, the average real income for U.S. workers increased by as much as it had in the previous fifty years, with 60 percent of the population categorized as the glorious middle class. The American cars of the era reflected this optimism to excess; wings, chrome, and big honkin’ engines became de rigeur sculpture for the average American driveway.
In turn, America became “the world’s factory,” with the U.S. buck both welcome and strong in areas of overseas reconstruction. Europe’s manufacturing industry proved hungry for work as factories were rebuilt or replaced, and a renewed post-war interest in European design inspired American automakers teaming with Italy’s re-emerging coachbuilding industry to bring a series of low-production, high-style dream cars to reality.
Arguably the most prolific transatlantic partnership was that of Chrysler and Ghia. Skilled European labor was comparably cheap in the post-war period, and as American automakers explored global expansion, Chrysler forged an amicable partnership with Fiat to help assess the Yank automaker’s European needs. With help from Fiat, Chrysler exec C.B. Thomas commissioned a Plymouth design study from both Pinin Farina and Ghia, with Ghia’s XX 500 prototype sparking the most interest at Chrysler.
Enter Exner. A leading figure in Chrysler’s Advanced Styling Studio, legendary designer and creative director Virgil Exner commissioned a small series of design concepts and show cars based on production Chrysler chassis from Ghia that culminated in the infamous 1963 Chrysler Turbine series.
Those are just the end-caps of the partnership. The full timeline is littered with a dizzying and rather confusing array of Chrysler-Ghia specials, some officially commissioned as pseudo-production show cars and other as ultra-limited builds coalesced into reality by the whims of executives and loaded financiers looking to add a spritz of limoncello to their Country Time Lemonade.
In the context of modern car collecting, the Chrysler-Ghia (a fabricated hyphenation used here for referential ease) are well-respected and highly coveted amongst cognoscenti of both mid-century American cars and Italian coachbuilding. Low production, exceptional craftsmanship, robust mechanicals, and striking visual presence keep values of Chrysler-Ghias elevated and very much blue-chip.
These are serious collector cars, with most variants in condition #3 (Good) floating comfortably above the $300,000 waterline. When they enter collections, they tend to stay there, with only a few Chrysler-Ghias filtering through the major auction houses in the past five years.
That makes the upcoming Scottsdale auction season a bit of an anomaly. By our count, bidders have their shot at four distinct Chrysler-Ghia mashups up for grabs from RM Sotheby’s and Bonhams. Just interested in top-tier Ghia coachwork? That figure swells to five if you include a car at Mecum’s Kissimmee sale and seven if you incorporate two more non-Chrysler Ghias in Scottsdale.
Why so many at once? Conventional wisdom dictates it would make more sense to spread these rarified and specialized cars out over time, lest you overload your powder and blow the barrel.
Maybe, but it makes just as much sense to stack the deck when anticipating a concentrated turnout of Chrysler-Ghia collectors. One Chrysler-Ghia brings a group, four brings a crowd. And hey, if you get outbid on one, you can just try your luck at another.
Let’s take a look at what these collectors can expect to see on the January auction block.
1955 Chrysler Ghia ST Special
This handsome ST Special is one of four cars commissioned by French Chrysler importer Charles Ladouch, each built on the bones of the contemporary New Yorker and all sold to moneyed French and Italian customers. This particular ST was a star at the 1955 Turin Motor Show where it was purchased by a French plastics executive and later left to rot at a Paris Chrysler shop. The deteriorated car passed through a series of European owners before making it to the U.S. in the 2012 when it was sold at that year’s Retromobile auction.
Collector Wayne Davis commissioned and completed a thorough restoration on the car in 2014, now presented in its gorgeous original shade of copper. This is one of the most aesthetically restrained members of the Chrysler-Ghia family tree, making it one of our favorites.
1954 Chrysler Ghia GS-1 Coupe
Oh, my. Take a look at Bonhams’ spectacular GS-1, one of the most elegant forms from Chrysler-Ghia. Only nine GS-1s were built, five of which are known to exist—and this is likely the most well-known GS-1 extant, as this aquamarine stunner has cruised the Pebble Beach fairway no less than three times.
This impeccable concours provenance and extensive documentation means this is one of the standout cars of not only the Chrysler-Ghias, but of the Scottsdale auctions. This is a ready-to-run entrant to top-level motoring events around the world, so expect plenty of attention from an active bidding arena.
1957 Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400
It might not be as pretty as the preceeding GS-1, but this one-off Super Dart 400 is the most historically significant of the four Chrysler-Ghias on offer. This is the follow-up to the 1956 Chrysler Dart showcar, updating the predecessor’s aeronautical styling and adding impressive performance with the Super Dart’s 400-hp 392 (6.4-liter) FirePower V-8.
The car made it to the U.S. at the 1958 New York Auto Show following its debut at the 1957 Turin Motor Show, now prominently on display at specialty manufacturer Dual Motors’ stand. Alex Freeman purchased the car from Dual Motors for $15,000 after a year on the show circuit, and retained the car for regular use over almost 20 years and 38,000 miles. Freeman sold the car in excellent original condition to a new owner in the late 1970s, where it would remain for 40 years.
Still presented in original condition, the Super Dart wears just under 50,000 miles at the time of the sale. Along with a well-documented history and remarkable originality, the car arrives with a Class Award from last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it won marks in the Postwar Preservation Class.
1962 Chrysler Ghia L6.4
Speaking of Dual Motors, here’s one of the specialty Chrysler-Ghias produced under Dual Motors’ head honcho Gene Casaroll. His Automobile Shippers company operated a fleet of over 100 semi-trailers hauling new cars from factories to dealers around the country. After a stint as a team owner at Indy, Casaroll commissioned a production version of Chrysler-Ghia’s incredibly beautiful Firearrow IV concept, the fourth and final iteration of the series.
The resultant Dual-Ghia was an exclusive and ultra-luxurious runabout that appealed to a certain type of clientele. Frank Sinatra had one, as did Peter Lawford and Eddie Fisher. When Chrysler made the switch to unibody construction, Casaroll lost interest and returned to his shipping business. Chrysler and Ghia picked up the mantle, with the streamlined and airy L6.4 taking the place of the older Dual-Ghia.
This L6.4 was displayed when new at the New York Auto Show, later purchased by its first private owner for $13,000—or the price of three new Cadillacs. Like the Super Dart, the car has survived in incredible original condition, wearing just 27,864 miles since new. Just 17 of the 26 original cars are known to exist, and like the preceding Super Dart 400 and GS-1, this L6.4 comes from the collection of John Ramshead.
1953 Chrysler Special by Ghia
This Chrysler Special isclosely related to Bonhams’ GS-1, but it’s not considered the same car. First came Exner’s 1953 Chrysler Ghia d’Elegance show car. Shortly thereafter, Chrysler exec C.B Thomas urged Chrysler and Ghia to produce a run of six Specials, with Ghia allowed to make 12 more for customers. As all examples were delivered in Europe, only a select few Americans knew about these early Specials.
This particular Special presents in “very good” condition and has a few concours appearances under its belt, including a showing at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This is a rare crack at one of the fabled “Thomas Specials,” so expect some major firepower in the bidding pool.
1953 Fiat 8V Coupe by Ghia
Estimate: $1.1 million–$1.3 million
Not really into big, boaty cruisers but got the gumption for a Ghia? RM Sotheby’s fantastic 1953 Fiat 8V is one of just 15 Otto Vu coachbuilt by Ghia, and the only Ghia 8V to not wear the carozzeria’s legendary supersonic body configuration. Does that open grille and soft fender stance look familiar? It should, if you’ve been paying attention—this rarified Fiat wears threads designed by Exner himself.
We’re focusing on Chryslers in this piece, but this is a rather special car, and that’s not just our opinion. Leafing through the car’s thick tome of documentation will reveal past showings at The Quail, Villa d’Este, and double showings at Pebble Beach.
1956 Mercury XM Turnpike Cruiser Concept
Estimate: $1.25 million–$2 million
Well Ghia, you can’t win ’em all. While not the worst looking ’50s concept we’ve seen, Mecum’s Turnpike Cruiser concept up for grabs at Kissimmee certainly isn’t as svelte and sweet as Chrysler’s Specials. That unfortunate mug doesn’t make it any less interesting, however.
After completion in Italy, the Mercury toured America in a custom trailer with a turntable and glass paneling, soon landing at the 1956 Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and New York auto shows. The next year, it served as the pace car at the Daytona Beach Grand National Race in 1957.
According to Mecum, the concept was parked outside Ford and subsequently passed through several owners before undergoing a 6,000-hour restoration between 2017 and 2022.
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With the exception of the 53 Fiat 8V each and everyone of them belonged in my Dream Garage. The 56 Turnpike Curser is interesting as my father looked at buying the 1957 model when it came out. The drop down rear window as well as the antenna coming out of the tops of the windshield were wild for there time. Regretfully he did not and ended up waiting till 1960 to buy a car buying a Chevy Impala four door hard top which was stolen a few years later…wish we still had either one of them.
That Special will exceed a million. Breathtaking!
The 1953 Fiat 8V Coupe by Ghia would be my first choice, but the 1954 Chrysler Ghia GS-1 Coupe is a close second.
I can only comment “wow “
These were the cars I dreamt of as a kid
This comment is about the numbers you shared on a recent article as you counted high performance cars. Noticeable you did not include any Oldsmobile. What is your reasoning behind that omission?
Love the Merc, beautiful car to take on a road trip.
I see a lot of more recent Chrysler 300 grill similarity in many of these. Also, “Desoto-ish!”
A shame the Chrysler Norseman by Ghia isn’t with us today. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Norseman
I read the story and saw the images of the Mercury before restoration – complete scrap. A truly amazing result.
Learned something. Thanks.
It’ll be great if someone can pipe up to fill us in regards what in heaven’s name are the four piers in front of the carriage house and to the right rear of the 1953 Chrysler Special by Ghia offers in Sotheby’s Lot 159, William Walker photo.
Earlier in life I was in USAF pilot training. I remember looking at photographs of very early aircraft and thinking “What was the designer thinking when that was created?” Later, I adopted that line of thinking to several other mechanical units such as cars. The Mercury is the epitome of 50’s extravagance. I have never had the privilege of seeing such over-indulgence in an automobile before. The image is the knock-off B-52 engine nacelles mounted below and in front of the bumper. The designer’s purpose can be assumed to have been ______________. They can’t even qualify for “curb feelers.” Somewhere there is someone who know something about these monsters. I sense a long sleepless winter.
I had the pleasure of seeing the Dart 400 at the 2021 Ironstone Concours close to my home in Murphys California. Also saw a different Chrysler Ghia at that same show in 2018. That show is a real hidden gem; well managed and always brings out several interesting and rarely seen vehicles per year. Best of all, with my VW Dormobile camper in the vintage camping class, we (the vintage camper folks) are allowed to camp out on the grounds and I can photograph the unique vehicles in the moonlight, sunset and sunrise light sans crowds. Where else can you get a photo of a sleek black Talbot covered in dew parked on a lawn in the moonlight? It’s a treat I look forward to every year.
Not only is the Turbine Car after many “turbine Plymouths”, but it is not infamous. BTW, Elwood Engel is given credit for the design.
I’ll take the Norseman, but, alas, it lies on the ocean floor.
The 57 Chrysler looks like a mad crab.