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’53 Chrysler Special up for auction

by Bill Cawthon on

A 1953 Chrysler Special by Ghia is headed to Sotheby’s “Driven by Disruption” auction on December 10.

The Chrysler Specials were inspired by a Virgil Exner show car that made its debut at the 1952 Paris Auto Show.


Chrysler contracted with Italian custom bodybuilder Ghia, which did much of the special body work for Chrysler in the 1950s, to build six copies of the show car for sale in Europe; Ghia was allowed to build more cars, and chose to build 12 more. (See The Chrysler Ghia Specials of 1951-1955 by Geoff Mitchell.)

According to historian Raphael Brunet, the car, built midway through the run, is known as the “Swiss Special” because it was produced for Chrysler’s Swiss importers.

In the early 1970s, the car was brought to America by Leonard McGrady, who later sold it to Chrysler collector Paul Stern. He sold it on to Fran Roxas in 1982; after a complete restoration, Roxas sold it to dream-car collector Joe Bortz. It was then in the December 1994 edition of Collectible Automobile magazine and Visioneer, Peter Grist’s book about Virgil Exner. The car was sold to its current owner, who is not named by Sotheby’s, in 2005.

The Specials were built on the New Yorker frame and used the 331 CID (5.4 liter), 180-horsepower Chrysler FirePower Hemi V8. Most of the cars had a PowerFlite two-speed transmission and all had drum brakes.

The Swiss Special is likely to sell for $700,000 to $900,000.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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