Chrysler Special D`Elegance by Ghia

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Special D`Elegance by Ghia





Chrysler initially approached Pinin Farina to build prototype bodies in 1950, by 1951 an agreement had been signed with Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin to build a series of cars based upon designs by Chrysler chief stylist Virgil Exner. In the early '50s, the Chrysler Ghias were about as close as any American automaker came to recreating the coach built classics of the late 1930s.

Among the rarest models produced during the 15-year alliance forged between Chrysler and Ghia, were the Exner-designed Ghia Specials manufactured from 1951 through 1954. The first Ghia project was the 1951 K-310: K for Keller, who gave the green light. A hot-rodded version of Chrysler’s new 331-cubic inch Hemi V-8 produced over 300 horsepower. First a 3/8th-size clay model was built in Highland Park, then a plaster cast, which was shipped to Italy, where a full-size wooden buck was made, on which the body was formed. The K-310 seated five, with a 60-40 front seat, the continental spare was outlined on the trunk, and the car had 17-inch wire wheels. Finished in October 1951, the K-310 was shown at the Chrysler Building in New York City on November 2.

The second Ghia car was 1952’s C-200, a six-seater convertible. It used much of the K-310’s shape, which might be described as an Italian interpretation of an early 1950s American form. Quite elegant in light green and black, it was designed and built the in same sporty manner as the K-310, with a full instrument panel, padded dash, leather interior, well-fitted canvas top, V-8 power and new high-geared power steering. The C-200 was finished in eight months and shipped from Genoa to be launched on April 2, 1952 at the “Parade of Stars” auto show at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.

The Adventurer bears many resemblances to the SS and Thomas Special, but Ghia shrank the bold fender lines so that the car resembles Pinin Farina’s Simca 8 Sport and Facel’s design for the French Ford Comete and Monte Carlo, which it preceded. However, all these cars are small, and the De Soto carries the proportions to full size, with extraordinary poise. Chrysler D’Elegance, which concludes the spectacular first series of Ghia-bodied specials. Ghia continued to design show cars for Chrysler – there were four versions of the Dodge Firearrow, whose rotund form eventually morphed into the Dual Ghia, while the Fiat Supersonic shape was applied to the Plymouth Explorer and De Soto Adventurer II.

The 1953 Chrysler D’Elegance represents the end of the Italian period but with joyful touches of American exuberance, like the bright red metallic paint, chrome wire wheels and the spare, which can be released from under the metal cap on the trunk and hydraulically lowered to the ground. Gun-sight taillights are another bit of whimsy that found its way onto 1955 Chrysler Imperials, while the bold mesh grille found its way onto late-1950s Chrysler 300s. The most significant legacy of this car doesn’t devolve to Chrysler at all. Giovanni Savonuzzi, who designed the D’Elegance for Ghia, downsized the close-coupled cabin almost verbatim when he created the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Coupe in 1955. Virgil Exner was reportedly delighted.

The third Ghia car was called the SS, for Styling Special, and with it, Exner hit his stride. Built in 1952, it’s a recognizable long-hood, short trunk, close-coupled coupe – the configuration that defined high-speed European grand tourers though most of the 1950s. The car was generally devoid of chrome trim, with brightwork around the windows and one body strip dividing the colors above and below it, low down on the door and over the radiused wheel arches. There was no trunk lid, and any luggage had to be packed into the small rear seat.

The SS was a huge hit, so much so that C.B. Thomas ordered another one to be built for him in 1953. Unlike the first two Ghia cars, both the Styling Special and the Thomas Special are known to exist. Thomas’s car is rather more conventional in form, a notchback coupe, with the same greenhouse but a normal trunk instead of a fastback.

Ultimately, just six of these vehicles were produced for Chrysler, while Ghia built another 12 examples for themselves. Over the years, these Thomas Special-based cars were known alternatively as the GS-1, the Chrysler Special and the Ghia Special. With their beautiful proportions, fully exposed wheels, minimal brightwork and powerful engines, they provided a stylistic benchmark that continues to inspire designers today, most notably reflected in today’s Chrysler 300 series.

The majority were built on the standard 125.5 inch wheelbase chassis used on all Chrysler models (except the Imperial) in 1953. Powered by Chrysler's 331cid/180hp hemi V8, Ghia models were equipped with either the new Power Flite two-speed automatic, or the older Fluid Torque transmission, depending upon when they were built. After building six cars for Chrysler, it is estimated that Ghia produced another 12 for themselves. At one point in time there were as many as 18 similar cars.

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