Previous Next

Lot 213

1953 Chrysler Special Coupe by Ghia

  • Chassis no. 7232631
  • Engine no. C53-8-35701

$700,000 - $900,000


180 bhp, 331 cu. in. OHV Hemi V-8 engine, two-speed PowerFlite automatic transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 125.5 in.

  • A landmark styling trendsetter that still resonates on today’s Chryslers
  • The most famous of the 18 examples built
  • Formerly owned by Paul Stern and Joe Bortz
  • Well-maintained restoration by the legendary Fran Roxas


THE CHRYSLER SPECIAL

Chrysler was still “the engineer’s car company” in the early 1950s, with beautifully machined products that nonetheless looked like something a conservative gentleman would drive. (Chairman K.T. Keller’s dictum was that all the company’s cars should have enough space for a man to drive while wearing his best dress hat.) It was legendary Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner’s path to change that, with a series of increasingly more flamboyant showpieces designed by “Ex” and built by Ghia of Italy.

The subtle genesis of this path was with one of the first Exner-designed and Ghia-built Chrysler show cars, the simply named Chrysler Special, which was first displayed at the Paris Salon of October 1952. Built on a New Yorker chassis that had been shortened six inches, it featured unusual high radiused wheel arches that extended almost to the tops of the fenders, smooth sides that flowed from bumper to bumper with only a small “kick” in the rear fender curve, rounded headlights, and a broad chromed trapezoidal grille. Gentle though its impact may have been, it was beautiful enough to be the star of the show, attracting more attention than just about anything else on offer; period photographs of the Chrysler stand show the car almost continuously ringed by agog visitors.

The original Paris show car of 1952 received so much attention, in fact, that Mr. Ladouch of France Motors, the French Chrysler importer, decided that it would be good to produce a small series. In this endeavor, he had the support of Chrysler’s Export Manager, Cecil Beaton “C.B.” Thomas, who convinced the powers-that-be in Detroit that a limited production run of the cars, strictly for European clientele, would be a good idea.

The basic design of the limited-production cars was based upon the original Special but on a standard-wheelbase, 125.5-inch New Yorker platform and with a modified semi-fastback roofline, so as to seat four full-sized adults within. The first of these cars, distinguished by its unique split two-piece windshield, was Thomas’s personal car, known as the “Thomas Special.” Ghia then produced another 18 cars with one-piece curved windshields for private clients, the first six for Chrysler (France Motors) to distribute and the remaining dozen for Ghia customers.

Today, the Chrysler Special, in all of its guises, continues to influence modern design, most prominently modern Chrysler sedans, which share many of its basic lines. It is the car that sent Chrysler on its path to the famous “Forward Look” cars produced later in the 1950s, and it finally broke “Mother MoPar” from its stodgy styling origins. Simply put, after over 90 years of various designs, it remains Chrysler’s most true design landmark, a touchstone for the company’s designs both past and present.

THE SWISS SPECIAL

According to historian Raphael Brunet, the car offered here, number 7232631, was built midway through the Special production run. It was originally supplied via Neue Amag und Automobile, the Chrysler importers in Switzerland, and is known to have still been located in that country as of the early 1970s. It was eventually acquired by Leonard McGrady of Aberdeen, Maryland, and then by the renowned Chrysler collector Paul Stern of Manheim, Pennsylvania.

Around 1982, the car was acquired by renowned restorer Fran Roxas, who personally restored the car in its present color scheme: a combination of light metallic green to the upper panels with a darker metallic green roof and sill panels, inspired by colors worn in-period by the original Paris Salon show car and close to this car’s original color scheme. Following completion of the restoration, Mr. Roxas sold his Special to famed “dream car” collector Joe Bortz, who would show it all over the country during his two decades of ownership. Most prominently, it appeared in the December 1994 issue of Collectible Automobile magazine and in Peter Grist’s book on Exner designs, Visioneer.

The car was sold by Mr. Bortz in 2005 and eventually joined its present owner’s European stable, in which its restoration has continued to be well maintained.

Original Chrysler Specials are tremendously difficult to find, with only 18 having been built and some of them stationed in museums (including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ own). This car is perhaps the most famous and, accordingly, perhaps the most emblematic of the Special’s wide-ranging influence in Chrysler design.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more