One of the most frequently forgotten Ghia-Chrysler collaborations was possibly the best, and is the third part in a series I did for Automotive Traveler. As the sixties moved on, Chrysler continued its collaborations with Ghia, the best known the Chrysler Turbine Car program. Fifty bodies were manufactured in Italy for the program. After the turbine cars received their revolutionary gas turbine engines, they were given out for two-month evaluations to 203 drivers–including 20 women–over the next two years, but the sixties were best represented by muscle and pony cars, so we’ll look next at the little-known Barracuda-based Ghia 450SS.
In Northern Italy, there is a pocket of companies that preserved the traditions of handcrafted metal work, seductive design, and old world luxury combined with production components. These Italian coachbuilders demonstrated their vision and craft with one-off concepts based on production chassis at auto shows in Turin, Geneva, and Paris hoping to attract lucrative commissions from manufacturers as well as individuals craving something more than the traditional production vehicle. Ghia, the Italian design house responsible for producing many breathtaking show cars for Chrysler and other automotive companies during the sixties, managed to groom a true protégé, the multi-talented and world-renowned automotive designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro.
One of Giugaro’s initial designs at Ghia was for a GT style body that was draped over a rather pedestrian Fiat model 2100 sedan chassis. At the 1960 Turin Auto Show its debut caught the attention of the press. It later entered limited production with an enlarged engine displacing 2.3 liters and producing 136-horsepower, becoming known as the Fiat 2300 Coupe. The well-integrated design combined a stylish body with familiar Fiat mechanicals, garnering it the title of the poor man’s Ferrari, a tag that has been applied to many Fiat sports cars since then.
At the 1963 Turin Show came the next evolution of the line, the Ghia 230S coupe (note the Chrysler Turbine Car in the photo). It was viewed as a possible top-of-the-range Fiat model, expanding on the opportunity presented by the previous 2300 Coupe. (This one-off prototype is currently available for sale by the German broker E. Thiesen.) The design of this car, together with a cover story in Road & Track magazine, attracted the attention of California entrepreneur Burt Sugarman, the prolific producer of game shows like the Newlywed Game, Jokers Wild, and Celebrity Sweepstakes and the future husband of TV personality Mary Hart. Maybe he had visions of being the next Carroll Shelby?
Sugarman was attracted to the svelte, sleek GT, but had a better idea. He made inquiries to Ghia about combining this design with American power–a concept that had proved very successful with the Cobra–to attract the attention of enthusiasts who would be drawn to an even-more-exclusive sports car featuring the stunning body. Sugarman formed a new company, Ghia of America, and with this company, and a rumored boatload of cash, the design was altered. The body was affixed to a custom tubular frame manufactured by Ghia. The independent torsion-bar front suspension and solid-axle rear suspension from a Plymouth Barracuda was joined to the tubular frame, then Plymouth’s 273-cid V8 sporting restrained muscle car performance was dropped in to finish the package. The car would become the limited-production Ghia 450SS. The exact number of Ghia 450SS that were built is unkown. In an interview years ago, a Ghia owner mentioned 52, but since that time, a Ghia 450SS with serial number 57 was located. To date, only 30 cars can be accounted for, and one of those was reportedly destroyed.
The Ghia 450SS was initially unveiled at the 1966 Turin International Auto Show and was produced through 1967. The 235-horsepower V-8 was mated to either a four-speed manual transmission or three-speed TorqueFlite automatic. Power steering and brakes, a limited-slip differential, and wire wheels were standard. Gracing the dashboard was a complete complement of gauges set in a simple flat-faced instrument panel. Finishing off the interior were leather-trimmed seats and surfaces, a wood-grained console, a wood-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel, and toggle switches for the ancillary controls. A vestigial rear seat provided comfortable accommodations for none.
The base price of a new Ghia 450SS hovered close to $12,000–a lofty sum in those days–and adding the optional air conditioning and removable hard top would push the final tally past $13,000. At that price, the 450SS was destined to be an exclusive item. One of the celebrities that purchased a Ghia 450SS was TV talk show host Johnny Carson, who later gave it as a gift to his private pilot. The Ghia’s svelte and stylish steel bodywork combined with a luxurious Italian interior and the full gamut of American options resulted in one of the era’s best cruisers.
The 450SS pictured here–which has been modified with square headlights, whereas the original car had round ones–is currently available for sale through the St. Louis, Missouri-based Hyman’s LTD, a classic car dealership which provided some of the photos used to illustrate this article.