During the 1950s, Italian coachbuilder Ghia built numerous one-off “dream cars” for Chrysler Corporation. One, the slab-sided and extremely modern “Thomas Special,” named for Chrysler export executive C.B. Thomas, was so well received at European shows that a limited run of duplicates was produced for European customers. Others soon followed, including the so-called Ghia Special.

Chrysler’s Export Division had two 1954 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe chassis, each with a 125.5-inch wheelbase frame, a 235-horsepower Hemi V8, and a PowerFlite automatic transmission, and they were delivered to Ghia to be bodied with variants of the Special design. These two cars were distinguished from other Ghia Specials by their 4-passenger interiors and flat exhaust tips, and they borrowed numerous Chrysler parts throughout, including the bumpers, taillights, steering wheel, dashboard gauges, and even the sexy wire wheels, which were a dealer accessory on Grandma’s Chrysler.

These two GS-1 Specials are believed to have been used during Chrysler promotions on the European continent, including the Turin show of 1954.

The car offered here is one of the two Chrysler-ordered, 4-passenger GS-1 Specials. In the 1950s, the Ghia-bodied Chryslers thrilled show crowds worldwide with their Italian flair and American brawn. The GS-1 Special packs the power to impress. It is a beautiful machine — special then and special now.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1954 Chrysler GS-1 Special by Ghia
Years Produced:1954
Number Produced:Two
Original List Price:N/A
Tune Up Cost:$125
Chassis Number Location:Left front hinge post
Engine Number Location:On block behind water pump
Club Info:The WPC Club

This 1954 Chrysler GS-1 Special, Lot 124, sold for $616,000, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Don Davis auction in Fort Worth, TX, on April 23, 2013.

Harley Earl’s 1938 Buick Y-Job was the first true concept car. Many of the car’s unique design features, including the vertical waterfall grille that is still a Buick design element today, were incorporated into future models. After World War II, concept — also known as dream — cars proliferated as dramatic design exercises. Some were practical, and others were outrageous — even wacky — but they illustrated the manufacturer’s commitment to future innovation.

As the nation returned to normalcy after World War II, there was an insatiable appetite for automobiles, but realities soon set in, and they were not favorable for Chrysler.

From stodgy to stupendous

From an engineering perspective, Chrysler was a very innovative company, with “Fluid-Drive,” electric windows, “Oriflow” shock absorbers, “Air Temp” air-conditioning and the exciting “Firepower Hemi” V8, but their car styling could best be described as dated and stodgy.

As a result, their sales languished outside of the top 10 for North American manufacturers. One cause of this malaise was Chrysler President K.T. Keller’s insistence that you should be able to enter a Chrysler without having to remove your fedora! This was hardly a design goal that compared favorably with the creations emerging from the Harley Earl/Bill Mitchell studios at General Motors.

To Keller’s credit, he recognized that he could not hold onto his dated, conservative ideas, and he turned to industrial designer Virgil Exner to create some Chrysler excitement. He also turned to the Italian coachbuilder Ghia to move Exner’s designs into reality.

The first of Exner’s inspirations, the K-310, was fabricated at Ghia based on a 3/8-scale plaster model, and the Chrysler Special show car soon followed.

The next series was the Thomas Special cars. They were named for C.B. Thomas, the President of Chrysler’s Export Division, who commissioned one for himself and about six additional examples that were sold to the general public. The one-off Chrysler d’Elegance followed.

Then came the “production” GS-1 for the 1954 Paris Auto Show. It is thought that as many as 40 GS-1s were produced, with several variations of the initial design. Unlike most dream cars, these were very drivable, as they were built on a New Yorker chassis and ran on a production 331-ci Hemi V8 that kicked out 235 horsepower.

A well-loved mystery — and a great buy

Chrysler’s Export Division commissioned two unique GS-1 Specials. The cars had 4-passenger interiors. The example RM offered from the Davis Collection was not shown when new, so its purpose in life is a mystery. What is known, however, is that the daughter of a Chrysler director owned the GS-1 until 1999. She obviously enjoyed it, as there are 75,000 miles on the clock. It moved on to the Davis Collection and was restored to its current impeccable condition.

Establishing the value of dream cars is not an exact science. The 1952 Thomas Special crossed RM’s block in March 2006 for $715,000. Barrett-Jackson sold the Chrysler d’Elegance a few months earlier for $1,100,000. That same car sold for $946,000 at RM’s 2011 Monterey auction. RM sold a Thomas Special GS-1 in July 2010 for $858,000. As we connect the dots, we can state this GS-1 Special was well bought indeed — and was one of the few “buys” from the very successful Don Davis sale. ?

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Auctions.)

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