1-of-19: 1953 Chrysler Special by Ghia

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For some people, the Ghia name is immediately associated with a luxury trim level of some domestic Ford models. However, there is more to Carrozzeria Ghia than a mere badge because it has designed and produced bodies for concept and production cars for Renault, Ferrari, and Chrysler. One of its 1950s models was the 1953 Chrysler Special. Introduced in October 1952 as a concept at the Paris Salon, it proved such a hit that the company constructed nineteen production examples the following year. Despite being based on Chrysler underpinnings, the Special remained largely unknown outside Europe until a few found their way into North America well after production ended. This is one of those cars, and following a meticulous restoration performed in the early 1990s, it continues to present superbly. After spending two decades in the hands of a private collector, it is set to cross the auction blocks in a sale where all proceeds will go to charity. The Ghia is listed here at RM Sotheby’s in Phoenix, Arizona. It will go under the hammer on January 26th in a No Reserve auction. The seller’s estimate is $500,000 – $800,000, but history shows the price could go higher. I must say a big thank you to Barn Finder Larry D for spotting this gorgeous classic.

Considering its relatively conservative appearance, it is hard to believe the Chrysler Special’s styling flowed from Virgil Exner’s pen. It features some of his hallmarks, like the low and sleek roof, but the lack of fins capable of downing a small aircraft gives the car an elegant appearance. Ghia produced the original concept in 1952 on a shortened New Yorker platform, and such was the response that M. Ladouch, proprietor of the French Chrysler importers France Motors, commissioned Ghia to produce a production version in 1953 with the support of Chrysler’s Export Manager, C.B. Thomas. Records are slightly vague, but it is generally agreed that Ghia built nineteen cars before production ended. Despite its roots, the Special remained virtually unknown in its home country, with only one car initially finding its way to North America in the hands of Mr. Thomas. Awareness grew as further private imports surfaced, but it is agreed that most remained in Italy or France. It is unclear when this car migrated to the US, but it underwent a meticulous restoration in the 1990s. It was tackled as a “money is no object” exercise, and the results remain stunning three decades later. Its Candy Apple Red paint shines richly, with an exceptional depth of color. The panels are laser straight, and there is no evidence of rust. The trim and glass are excellent, while the wire wheels and wide whitewall tires add the perfect finishing touch to the exterior.

If you peel away this Special’s elegant coachwork, what hides beneath is a chassis and drivetrain derived from a Chrysler New Yorker. The 331ci V8 sends 180hp to the rear wheels via a two-speed Powerflite transmission, with power assistance for the steering and brakes adding to the luxury impression. Surprisingly, the Special is more than 60 lbs lighter than the donor car, meaning it should improve on the New Yorker’s figures of 18.7 seconds for the ¼-mile and a top speed of 100mph. The engine bay presents superbly, and it doesn’t flatter to deceive. This Special is no trailer queen, with the owner slipping behind the wheel regularly to undertake some relatively long journeys. It is a turnkey classic awaiting a new owner to continue the traveling tradition.

If a buyer is asked to pay a premium price for a premium model, it is unlikely they will accept an interior featuring acres of vinyl upholstery and plastic trim. You will find little of either material inside this Chrysler, but there is plenty of supple and beautiful Saddle leather upholstery. Its condition is excellent, with only a few wrinkles to indicate it has seen use. The carpet is spotless, and any remaining surfaces that aren’t painted to match the exterior wear a heavy coating of chrome. I think the air conditioning may be a later addition, but the pushbutton radio is a factory item. I imagine this interior would garner plenty of positive comments at any show.

The listing for this 1953 Special says that the car continues to influence Chrysler’s styling today. I questioned that statement initially, but then I closely examined the supplied photos. When you consider the relatively high waistline, low roof, and narrow windows of the Special, there is more than a passing resemblance to the company’s 21st Century “300 Series” models. Considering seventy years separate the two, I find that quite extraordinary. This car isn’t perfect, but its presentation is pretty stunning. I doubt it will surpass the 2010 record price of $858,000, but watching the auction to see what happens should be fascinating. Is anyone willing to join me?

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

    More than a few collaborative efforts between the U.S. and other countries have not been entirely successful (the ChryslerTC comes to mind).
    But when it all comes together right like this beauty or another Ghia with American muscle, the 1962 6.4L, it seems to work well and leaves you breathless.

    Kinda like sitting in a little SoCal restaurant when Claudia Cardinale walks in as she makes eye contact with you..you’ll never forget the Italian grace with a small taste of American influence.


    Like 18
    • Mountainwoodie

      The Claudia Cardinale reference says it all lol!

      Today the reference would be to Miley Cyrus and the beauty of a Cadillac SUV……

      We’ve really hit the skids in both the auto and celebrity world.

      Very few designs can compete with Ghia..add in contemporary American muscle and a HUGE wallet and you have going on.

      Like 6
  2. bobhess bobhessMember

    If that car drove into my driveway it would certainly be unforgettable.

    Like 12
  3. Dundee

    That front end looks like my neighbor’s wife…sorry Harold.

    Like 4
  4. Eric Johnson

    If you look at the transmission shift indicator on the column, it appears to indicate “N 4 3 2 1 R(?)”. Perhaps a different transmission is backing this Hemi?

    Like 3
    • JLHudson

      Chrysler had a dual range Fluid-Drive trans that had 4 speeds. It required a clutch pedal.This car probably had that unit removed & replaced with Powerflite. Thus, the clutch pedal was removed while the shifter was left alone as far as the indicator is concerned. just my guess.

      Like 1
      • Chuck Dickinson

        The Powerflite was not introduced until the 54 model year, so JLHudson’s assessment makes perfectly good sense.

        Like 1
  5. MLM

    This is simply GORGEOUS!

    Like 16
    • Mark Holmstrand


      Like 3
  6. Sam61

    What a beautiful car and color combination! A far cry from my $500 1953 4dr Imperial I had through high school. My 331 hemi and slush-omatic were nothing like that in the Ghia.

    Like 10
  7. Jimmy Novak

    What would it take for ChryslerDaimlerFiat/ OldCarCoStellantis to put this into production?

    Like 5
    • Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

      A heckuva lot better economy..

      Like 5
  8. Shuttle Guy Shuttle GuyMember


    Like 7
  9. Todd W. Maynor

    This car is gorgeous. I have always loved these.

    Like 5
  10. Milt

    The boys over at BAT continue to have the largest selection to choose from, but you guys continue to show the classiest selection.

    Like 4
  11. Dave

    I see the resemblance to the ’53 Fiat 8V coupe featured earlier. But this is bigger and prettier.

    Like 3
  12. Grandpa

    Call me weird, but it reminds me of the VW Karmann Ghia.

    Like 3
  13. Howie

    Yes a real beauty, but not my cup of tea.

    Like 0
  14. Charlie

    Has the definition of “Barn Find” changed?

    Like 0
    • Jesse Jesse MortensenStaff

      What’s your definition? Sometimes we feature a car just because it’s a cool find.

      Like 10
      • Nevada1/2rack NevadahalfrackMember

        “Variety is the spice of life” and BF is muy picoso- keep it spicy, BF staff!

        Like 4
  15. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    I had 3 different instances of seeing/owning Ghia Chryslers, and always longed for one of the 19 Chrysler Specials. When I was living in Germany back in the mid 1970s, I was on a weekend trip to Paris, and saw a metallic light green Chrysler Special go speeding by.

    About a month later, back in Germany, I found and bought a 1956 Imperial that had been put together by Facel [of Facel Vega fame], and reported to have been the Paris Auto Show Chrysler. I brought the Imperial back to to the USA after driving it as my everyday car all over central Europe.

    In 1991 I found and bought the next-to-last Ghia-built Imperial limousine [#9 of 10], and it had done a genuine 5,700 miles, always kept in a special climate-controlled garage. I regretted the sale of the limo as I watched the new owner drive away.

    Like 3
  16. RMac

    LOL that barn it was found in must have been some kind of fancy barn!! Beautiful car and nice write up
    Way out my realm of reality but cool to see!

    Like 1
  17. SDJames

    That side shot reminds me of the 2010+ Chrysler 300.

    Like 1

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