Despite many automakers' habits of destroying concepts and prototypes, in the past it seemed to be easier to purchase a one-off fresh from the auto show floor, provided you had the money to do so. And we mostly have the Italian carrozzerias of decades past to thank for the current existence of machines that may have otherwise never been sold to the public.
In a few days one such unique concept will roll across the auction block, when Bonhams offers the 1957 Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400 from the John White Ramshead collection at its Scottsdale auction.
Chrysler collaborations with Ghia produced some of the most visually impressive show cars of their time, with American V8 power and bespoke Italian styling proving to be a winning formula at the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s, one that would be followed by a number of styling houses across the Atlantic.
Based on the already exclusive Chrysler 300C chassis, Ghia built two show cars based on Chrysler underpinnings for the Turin motor show, with the 1957 Ghia Super Dart 400 following the visually similar Dart concept of 1956 as well as the more loosely related Gilda concept of 1955. The sleek concept featured a stretched oval grille housing twin headlights, with tail fins stretching all the way from the forward wings. Tapered wheelarches front and back added to the aerodynamic feel of the design, while the chrome grille formed its own distinct character line that wrapped around the back of the car.
The chassis itself is powered by a 392-CID FirePower Hemi V8, good for 400 hp, paired with the push button Torqueflite automatic transmission, with this V8 featuring the optional "power pack" from Chrysler with its 10:1 compression ratio.
The interior, meanwhile, featured a center console that ran from the front to the rear, in addition to other unique design touched by Ghia, including four individual bucket seats trimmed in black and white leather. The concept was also optioned with power windows, air conditioning, and the Highway Hi-Fi record player, among other items. As it appeared in Turin, the Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400 was finished in soft yellow color, with the roof finished in black nappa.
After its debut in Turin, the concept was sold to Dual Motors, known then and now for its Dual-Ghia models favored by Hollywood royalty. Curiously enough, the concept was then displayed by Dual at the 1958 New York auto show under its own name, wearing hood and trunk badges as well as hubcaps with the Dual Ghia logo.
The car ended up finding a buyer at the New York auto show, with Alex Freeman approaching Gene Cassarol, the owner of Dual Motors, with an offer to buy the car. Bonhams notes that even though Cassarol intended to keep it for another year, Freeman offered to buy it for $15,000 after Dual Motors finished showing the car for another year, which was quite a bit of money at the time.
"After taking delivery, Mr. Freeman would drive the Super Dart 400 regularly, putting a total of around 38,000 miles on the car during his almost 20-year ownership tenure, while keeping it in impeccable original condition," Bonhams notes. "The Super Dart 400 would change hands again in the late 1970s and would then stay with the next owner for another 40 years."
Just a few years ago the Chrysler joined the John White Ramshead Collection, making this a three-owner car with 49,800 miles on the clock.
As such, the Ghia show car was never subjected to a restoration—rare for show cars of the 1950s that were in private hands—and recently participated in the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance in 2022 where it won the Class Award in the Postwar Preservation Class.
Bonhams estimates the Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400 will bring between $750,000 and $950,000 on auction day.
Ghia show cars with Chrysler underpinnings are all well documented and hail from a special time in the industry, at times featuring jet age styling that would become a symbol of the era that trickled down to mass market cars. This particular Chrysler has led a rare life for one-offs created by Italian carrozzerias, never seeing the inside of a restoration shop, even though a couple of decades ago a respray was par for the course whether a car really needed it or not.
In the age of preservation the Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400 appears to tick all the right boxes, even though auction values can be a bit unpredictable for show cars from the 1950s. The estimate range is certainly guided by what other Chrysler Ghia collaborations have brought in Arizona and elsewhere, as they see the auction block with some regularity.
Visit the auction website to view the full list of lots from the upcoming Scottsdale auction.