By on August 7, 2020

Though Rare Rides has featured many examples of vehicles which wore Chrysler badges and Ghia designs, there’s never been a single car which represented both.

That changes today, with this very rare 1953 Chrysler Special.

In the early Fifties, Chrysler hired Virgil Exner to lead the company’s new Advanced Styling Studio. Exner’s job was to grow excitement in the Chrysler brand and face off against the other exciting conceptual designs coming from General Motors and Ford. But Exner had a different approach than the other Big Two. While GM and Ford went all-out with futuristic pie-in-the-sky concepts, Exner kept Chrysler’s feet planted firmly on the ground. Calling his design exercises “Idea Cars,” Exner saw that each was fully and properly engineered as a working car. And though the designs were forward looking, they were not outlandish. If the desire existed for one of the designs, there was no reason an Idea Car could not enter production.

Exner sought out Ghia in 1950, forming a partnership with its CEO, Luigi Segre, to build the first Idea Car. Called the K-310, it was a sporty grand touring coupe built atop the Saratoga’s chassis. Ghia cut the roof off the K and created a second entrant into the Idea Car folder, the C-200.

In 1952, a third Idea Car debuted when Ghia built the Special. Designed by Exner and a few of his employees in Exner’s basement, the bespoke Special rode on a New Yorker chassis that was cut and shortened. The Special as a project was requested by C.B. Thomas, who was in charge of Chrysler’s export sales division. Pleased with the resulting design, Thomas shipped one of the two original Specials from Italy to France, where it debuted at the 1952 Paris Auto Show. The Europeans were pleased, as well.

Though never a full factory offering, Ghia produced an initial run of six cars for Chrysler, which went on sale in France in 1954. Soon thereafter Ghia completed around 12 more, but the total number of Specials was not well documented. They were distributed by Chrysler’s French division, the very creatively named France-Motors, as the Chrysler Spécial. Today’s Rare Ride was purchased as new in Paris by famous jockey Johnny Longden, who immediately imported it to California.

The Idea Cars program continued with Ghia through 1963; its final product being the Turbine car. One of its design castoffs in 1955 became the Dual-Ghia seen here previously.

The Special is at auction right now, and in its completely original condition is expected to fetch $550,000 to $650,000.

[Images: seller]

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30 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1953 Chrysler Special, by Ghia...”


  • avatar
    cardave5150

    What a beautiful, elegant car. If companies would design cars like this today, to be timeless and elegant, not contrived and gimmicky, we might still have some CAR manufacturers left in Detroit.

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    YOu mention the car is at auction but not where. I looked at BaT and they have a Ghia bodied BMW. Only the front is by Ghia, the original 503 had an accident and the owner had Ghia do a new front end. Makes an interesting comparison to this Chrysler

    https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1957-bmw-503-coupe-ghia-aigle/

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Although the Dual Ghia might be my all-time favourite auto, based primarily on who owned/drove one, this is probably even better looking.

    Not the ‘padding’ on top of the instrument panel. At 4’11” I wonder if Johnny Longden required some adjustments to the seats, pedals, etc to drive this car?

    Virgil Exner at his best is perhaps my favourite auto designer. Someone willing to take chances. Yes his 3rd generation Plymouth Savoy is one of my favourites.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    How cool is this? This, the Lincoln Continental Mark II, The Eldorado Brougham with it’s stainless steel roof and suicide doors are why I look at the 50s as the golden age of bespoke automotive styling. I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of Virgil Exner, Harley Earl, Elwood Engel or Raymond Loewy in the same generation again

    Great find, Corey :)

  • avatar
    MeJ

    This is one of the rare cars on here I don’t really like…The proportions look way off to me, like i’s about two feet too long. Look at that wheelbase!

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    What I wouldn’t have given to see that car when I first got interested… in 1958… as a four-year-old. Yes, I was already a car guy way back then.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Me too! My first automotive memory as a child was my dad driving up in a brand new ’59 Chevy and the excitement that caused within the family. From that point on I loved cars because they brought joy and excitement to those around them

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        In 1954 pops got tired of waiting for a new VW Kombi,(VW $tealers then had long lists and gouged over prices) took a trip to Europe and brought back a 1954, I remember riding in it, all the way back over the engine where the whirring and heat was nice and relaxing in the New England winters .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This bears more than a passing resemblance to another Ghia vehicle – the VW Karmann Ghia. Check the roofline.

    Beautiful car, nonetheless.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    No picture of the 331 Hemi. Sacrilege!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Yes the interior and to my eye the proportions are beautiful. But if we are going to get picky, check out the bottom of the door panel on the passenger’s side.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I miss the styling of the 50s thru the 60’s which as a kid gave me an interest in cars. If I were growing up today there would be very very few vehicles that would inspire any interest.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Early October was better then Christmas when all the car makers unveiled their new models for the coming year. That was followed-up by the Auto Show extravaganzas

  • avatar

    Am I the only one who sees hints of current Chargers in the side view ?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes, I miss the early October releases of the new models especially when every year the cars were different enough that you could tell what year a car was. Today for the most part new model years are about as exciting as looking at toaster ovens.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @Jeff S: Agreed whole-heartedly. I used to really enjoy seeing the new models. Now going to a car show or a dealer seems more about comparing the specs and ignoring any form of individuality.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      It’s gotten really bad during the crossover era now. As much as I love hatches and wagons for versatility, I almost want a sedan just to stand out now. People complained 30 years ago that all cars looked the same. Now they really do!

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    While other makers were building mock-ups domestically, Chrysler was shipping the complete chassis to Italy for custom bodies. The reason for that was that Italy in the early ’50s was still in depression after WW2.

    Jobs were scarce, and most people took minimum wage jobs for 225 Lire per hour. The exchange rate was 650 Lire per dollar, so people were paid less than 35 cents/hour, while American auto workers were making $1.60-$1.80/hr.

    Shipping a chassis to Italy and back was cheap, with all the liberty ships and other freighters left over from WW2 competing for business. The US oil industry had expanded during the war to produce 2/3 of the world’s production, and no longer had sales to the US Navy for it’s heavy bunker oil.

    Incidentally, Chrysler also built a similar show car with four doors, and donated it to the Vatican. It was used by the Pope, into the 1970s. I don’t think it’s come up at auction yet.

  • avatar
    pragmatic

    Lusitania sunk before there was a Chrysler Co. The Chrysler Norseman show car sank on the Andre Dorea in 1956.

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