Jan 112012

Can you name the one, rare, meticulously crafted concept car that traded hands during a high stakes poker game between the sitting U.S. president Lyndon Johnson and future president Ronald Reagan?  This same car was so seductive that Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford of the “rat pack” had to own one.  The car is the Dual-Ghia, and I recently stumbled across this exclusive automobile on eBay.  On occasion, like once every total lunar eclipse  you can find a gem on eBay, but finding a car as select as this is more like walking into the desert night, glancing up and by chance catching Haley’s comet.

The Dual-Ghia started life as a 1953 Chrysler concept car called the Firearrow.  The design was created by Virgil Exner, the creator of Chrysler’s “forward look.”  When Chrysler decided not to produce the concept, Detroit industrialist Gene Casaroll took on the task himself.  Casaroll was the head of Dual Motors, a company that made dual engined “lowboy” tank transporters during WWII.  After the war he owed an automobile shipping company that transported vehicles from auto factories to dealerships.  Casaroll even dabbled in Indy car racing, employing veteran race car drivers and using the famed Kurtis Kraft Indy car.  Casaroll bought the rights to the Firearrow and rechristened it the Firebomb.  Then, through an agreement with the head of Dodge, Casaroll had the car redesigned by Ghia into the Dual-Ghia D-500.

Ghia fitted the handmade bodies, that were hammered into shape over aluminum and wooden dies at their factory in Turin, Italy.  The car would then be shipped back to Detroit to be fitted with the Chrysler D-500 Hemi engine, and the Powerflight transmissions that were used on the Chrysler 300.  The process gave the Dual-Ghia the longest production line in the world.

Quality was the key to the vehicle.  Moldings were held in place by chrome plated brass clips, interiors were swathed in genuine Connolly leather hides and the dashboard was from an Imperial.  The design featured peaked front fenders, a single-bar grille, Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels, and blade-like rear fins.  The vehicle, with its Hemi engine was impressive.  Horsepower was consistently higher than a Corvette of the era, and it could reach speeds of 120mph.

The Dual-Ghia is also very rare.  Only 117 models were created between 1956 and 1958, and fewer than 32 examples exist today.  Casaroll sold the cars in the US at about $8,000.00, which was less expensive than a Cadillac Eldorado or Continental Mark II of the same era.  In fact, Casaroll lost about $4,000.00 on each car, which sealed its fate after only two years.  The cars were the exclusive domain of the elite.  Besides those owners listed above, celebrity owners included Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, Glenn Ford, and Hoagy Carmichael.

After the demise of the D-500 in 1958, Casaroll revived the brand with the L.6.4 from 1961 to 1963.  This new car borrowed heavily from Chrysler again, with a Ghia body similar to the Barracuda.  Owners of this car included the remaining “rat pack” members, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, and Joey Bishop.  This version was even more rare than the first, with only 26 exampled built.

Finally, the company ceased production in 1963 due to high production costs.  Casaroll would later go on to play a role in the development of the Stutz Blackhawk and the “modern” Duesenberg.  Today, the Dual-Ghia is one of the most sought after collectibles in the classic car world.

Article courtesy of Chris Raymond and William Cordaro

Photos courtesy of eBay, carthrottle.com, coachbuild.com and cardomain.com


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