Ghia-penned mid-century Chryslers do not come up for auction often, but when they do, they inevitably draw a crowd (as well as the usual laments about the passing of the last remnants of the coachbuilt era). Indeed, the period of the 1950s was still a time when an Italian carrozzeria could churn out truly unique machines for the auto show circuit on a purchased chassis and then ship them off to a high-end dealership to be sold. Build on Sunday, show on Monday, sell on Tuesday.
Chrysler's collaboration with Ghia was far more official than the styling exercises of some other coachbuilders, but the results were no less spectacular. And in a few weeks, one bidder will have the opportunity to take home one of these timeless collaborations, as RM Sotheby's gets ready to offer a 1953 Chrysler Special Coupe by Ghia.
The Chrysler-Ghia collaborations trace their start to the Chrysler Special show car, first displayed at the Paris Auto Salon in 1952. The response to that running prototype was such that the automaker was convinced by one of its importers to produce a limited production run of the cars with similar styling utilizing a New Yorker chassis, with Chrysler&;s Export Manager, Cecil Beaton "C.B." Thomas, playing an important role in selling the project to the top brass.
The production run followed closely the design of the first Special, once again using the New Yorker chassis and creating enough room to seat four comfortably. The cars of this limited run differed when it came to a few small details. The first car, later dubbed the "Thomas Special," had a split windshield design, for example -- with the rest of the run using a single-piece windshield.
The cars of this limited run were powered by Chrysler's OHV Hemi V8 engines producing 180 hp, with a two-speed PowerFlite automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels. Cars from this run have hydraulic drum brakes all around, and feature an independent front suspension with coil springs and a live rear axle.
The car that RM Sotheby's will offer is known as the Swiss Special, and according to the auction house it was built midway through the 19-car run, inclusive of the Thomas Special. This particular example, with chassis 7232631, was supplied by the company to Neue Amag und Automobile in Switzerland and sold inside the country, staying there through the 1970s. Sometime later, the car came to the U.S., having been purchased by a buyer in Maryland, and even later became the property of Chrysler collector Paul Stern of Manheim, Pennsylvania.
In 1982 this Chrysler passed in to the collection of restorer Fran Roxas, who refinished and restored the car to the color scheme that it wears today, which are said to be close to the colors worn by the first prototype at the Paris Auto Salon. Collector Joe Bortz would go on to buy the Swiss Special, keeping it for another two decades, with Bortz parting with the car only in 2005.
The Swiss Special is now offered from a European collection, though the auction description is silent as to any work that has been performed on it since the Roxas restoration. (That was reportedly the last time that this car was restored).
RM Sotheby's estimates that it will fetch between $700,000 and $900,000 on auction day, which is comfortably within the range of the Chrysler Special values. A number of examples have changed hands in the last ten years for a couple of hundred thousand dollars (doesn't sound like much, does it?) under the low estimate, though with the market being where it is, this estimate range may represent only a slight net appreciation.