When it comes to American cars of the 1950s, few designers are mentioned in the same breath as Virgil Exner. As Chrysler Corporation’s chief designer from the 1950s, he pulled the company from its stick-in-the-mud reputation with 1955’s Forward Look, then followed it up with a 1957 revamp that turned the industry on its side and, in particular, made General Motors jealous to no end.
Chrysler’s style prowess also was demonstrated by several Exner-designed show cars, especially those coming from Carrozzeria Ghia. Most were one-offs, though several from the early 1950s were built in very small numbers. One of those one-offs, a 1957 Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400, will have the opportunity to change caretakers at Bonhams in January 2023.
The Super Dart 400 was based on the 1956 Chrysler Dart show car (which was subsequently reconfigured as the Diablo). The following model year, a Chrysler 300-C chassis was shipped to Turin to become the Super Dart 400, equipped with 400-horsepower 392 Hemi (ten more than the top engine available for the 300-C). The fascinating part of the history of this vehicle actually comes afterwards, as the car was paraded around by Dual-Motors of Dual-Ghia fame. In 1958, the Super Dart 400 was then sold to a wealthy private individual to the tune of $15,000, with this gentleman driving it for 38,000 miles over 19 years. Today, the Super Dart 400 maintains its original paint, chrome and upholstery, a fantastic piece of 1950s American style and Italian coachwork.
Dual-Motors, of course, built a handful of luxury hybrid convertibles based on the Dodge 1955 Firebomb by Ghia. Produced from 1956-58, the 117 cars (plus two coupes) were popular with the Jet Set, with another Ghia-based vehicle following for 1960-62: the Ghia L6.4, a sleek hybrid luxury coupe that brought the design of the previous-generation car into the 1960s. For $13,000, a buyer would receive a coach-built Italian coupe with a 335-horsepower Chrysler 383 V8 (rated 10 horses higher than the stock engine) and distinction in spades. Interestingly, air conditioning was optional.
This particular example features the stock headlight/parking light configuration but, if you peruse online images, you may catch one of the eight out of 26 cars modified by Barris Kustom Industries with European-style headlights.
The third Ghia car set to hit the block at Bonhams is one of those handful of Chrysler Ghia cars that were built in limited quantities, this one the 1954 GT-1 Coupé. Based on a 125.5-inch wheelbase New Yorker chassis and powered by a 235-horsepower 331 Hemi and PowerFlite automatic. The story goes that the 1952 Chrysler Special by Ghia inspired a one-off for C.B. Thomas, President of Chrysler’s export division. That in turn led to the limited-edition versions of that and the GS-1. This particular GS-1 is a triple Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance participant and it, along with the Ghia L6.4 and the Super Dart 400 above, will be auctioned as part of the John White Ramshead Collection by Bonhams in January.