Sporting Classics of Monaco

1 May 2010

Lot 273

1953 Chrysler Special Coupé by Ghia

To be auctioned on Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sold for €246.400

  • Chassis no. 7236712
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180 bhp, 331 cu. in. “Hemi” V8 engine, PowerFlite two-speed automatic transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 3,188 mm (125.5")

Despite the radical, short-lived Airflow of the mid-1930s, Chryslers were best known for their engineering prowess rather than styling. This was about to change. During the late 1940s, Chrysler was invited by Fiat under the auspices of the Marshall Plan to provide advice on the latest volume-manufacturing techniques to help rebuild Italy’s industrial base. There, Chrysler representatives learned first-hand about Italy’s custom coachbuilders and many useful connections were forged as a result.

Chrysler President K.T. Keller deserves much of the credit for Chrysler’s stylistic renaissance of the early 1950s. In particular, he hired Virgil Exner to design several “Idea Cars,” contracting with Ghia to build them. Exner’s resulting Italian-built dream cars were all usable and running examples, based mostly on the New Yorker chassis, with “FirePower” Hemi V8 engines.

The first product was the K-310 coupé of 1951, with the “K” a silent nod to Keller, followed by the C-200 convertible of 1952. Next came the Chrysler Special, a three-passenger coupé on a shortened chassis, which debuted at Paris in 1952 with Continental-inspired styling elements including a long hood/short deck profile, knife-edge fenders and a trapezoidal grille. The Thomas Special, built for C.B. Thomas, President of Chrysler’s export division, retained this overall styling, with a notchback profile and seating for five, based upon the standard-length New Yorker chassis.

The Thomas Special was highly acclaimed and series production was contemplated, with sales to be handled by Chrysler’s French distribution arm, Société France Motors. Over the years, these cars were known alternatively as the GS-1, the Chrysler Special and the Ghia Special. Ultimately, just six vehicles were produced for Chrysler, while Ghia built another 12 for themselves. With beautiful proportions, fully exposed wheels, minimal brightwork and powerful engines, these cars provided a stylistic benchmark that continues to inspire designers to this day.

Société France Motors sold this example new at the 1953 Paris Motor Show to an industrialist who retained it for five years and displayed it at numerous concours events, including Deauville and Bagatelle. The next owner maintained it in virtually perfect original condition for 27 years before selling it to an enthusiastic collector of special Italian-built cars, who drove it from time to time and carefully maintained it over the next 20 years. In 2005, the current owner, who has driven the car occasionally for trips and business meetings, acquired the car.

As offered, this Chrysler Special is likely the sole unrestored example in the world, remaining remarkably original and complete down to the original spare wheel, which remains unused. It is resplendent in metallic grey with a black top, complemented by a blue leather interior, which exhibits a handsome patina of originality. Benefiting from the best mechanical care, including new brakes, hoses, ignition and a new water pump, it is mechanically excellent and a distinct pleasure to drive, at once smooth, powerful and stable. Recently, it was the subject of a feature article in the September 2008 edition of the French magazine Automobiles Classiques.

FRENCHTEXT

Moteur V8 “Hemi” 180 ch., 5424ccm. (331 cu. in.), boîte automatique “PowerFlite” à deux rapports, suspension avant indépendante avec ressorts hélicoïdaux, pont arrière rigide avec ressorts à lames et freins hydrauliques à tambours aux quatre roues. Empattement: 3,188 mm (125.5")

Malgré la radicale et éphémère Airflow du milieu des années 1930, les Chrysler étaient plutôt connues pour leurs prouesses d’ingéniérie que pour leur style. Ceci était sur le point de changer. Pendant la fin des années 1940, Chrysler fut, sous les auspices du plan Marshall, consulté par Fiat pour bénéficier de ses conseils sur les dernières techniques de production en masse afin d’aider l’Italie a reconstruire sa base industrielle. C’est là que les représentants de Chrysler apprirent de visu ce qu’étaient les grands carrossiers Italiens et nombre de liens utiles furent alors forgés.

Le Président de Chrysler, K.T. Keller mérite de se voir attribuer une bonne part de la renaissance stylistique chez Chrysler au début des années 1950. Il engagea en particulier Virgil Exner pour dessiner plusieurs prototypes d’étude innovants, signant un accord avec Ghia qui les construisit. Les voitures de rêve faites en Italie et dessinées par Exner étaient toutes entièrement fonctionnelles et utilisables, basées surtout sur des châssis du modèle New Yorker avec V8 Hemi “FirePower.”

Le premier produit fut le coupé K-310 de 1951, le “K” étant un hommage silencieux à Keller, suivi de la C-200 convertible (cabriolet) de 1952. Puis apparut la Chrysler Special, un coupé à trois passagers sur un châssis raccourci, qui débuta à Paris en 1952 avec des éléments de style inspirés du modèle Continental dont le profil type capot long/toit court, des ailes aux profil en lame de rasoir et une grille de radiateur trapézoïdale. La Thomas Special, construite pour C.B. Thomas, Président du département export de Chrysler, garda ce style général à trois volumes et la place pour cinq, basée sur le châssis standard de la New Yorker.

La Thomas Special reçut moultes accolades et il fut question de la produire en série, auquel cas les ventes eurent été la responsabilité de l’importateur…Français, la Société France Motors. Au fil des années ces autos furent nommées GS-1, puis Chrysler Special et enfin Ghia Special. En fait seulement six véhicules furent produits pour Chrysler, tandis que Ghia en fit 12 de plus pour leur propre usage. Avec leurs belles proportions, leurs roues entièrement exposées, le moins de chrome possible et leurs puissants moteurs, ces autos s’établirent comme une référence stylistique qui continue d’inspirer les dessinateurs automobiles à ce jour.

La Société France Motors vendit cet exemplaire neuf au Salon de Paris 1953 a un industriel qui le garda cinq ans et l’exhiba dans nombre de concours dont Deauville et Bagatelle. Le propriétaire suivant la garda en état original virtuellement parfait pendant 27 ans avant de la vendre a un passionné collectionneur de pièces unique construites en Italie, il la conduisit de temps en temps et l’entretint avec grand soin pendant les 20 années suivantes. En 2005, l’actuel propriétaire, qui avait déjà conduit l’auto occasionnellement pour des voyages et vers des rendez vous d’affaires, l’acheta.

Telle qu’offerte cette Chrysler Special est sans doute le seul exemplaire non restauré au monde, étant restée remarquablement originale et complète jusqu’à la roue de secours originale, n’ayant jamais servi. Elle est resplendissante en gris métallique avec pavillon noir complémenté par un intérieur en cuir bleu qui affiche une belle patine d’originalité. Elle a bénéficié des meilleurs soins d’entretien mécanique, y compris de nouveaux freins, durites, système d’injection et pompe à eau, elle est en excellent état mécanique et un vrai plaisir à conduire, aussi souple et puissante que stable. Elle fut récemment le sujet d’un article dans le numéro de Septembre 2008 de la revue Française Automobiles Classiques.

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Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a senior car specialist, after more than a decade in the collector car hobby... read more

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