Despite the radical, short-lived Airflow of the mid-1930s, Chryslers were best known for their engineering prowess rather than styling. This was about to change. During the late 1940s, Chrysler was invited by Fiat under the auspices of the Marshall Plan to provide advice on the latest volume-manufacturing techniques to help rebuild Italy’s industrial base. There, Chrysler representatives learned first-hand about Italy’s custom coachbuilders and many useful connections were forged as a result.
Chrysler President K.T. Keller deserves much of the credit for Chrysler’s stylistic renaissance of the early 1950s. In particular, he hired Virgil Exner to design several “Idea Cars,” contracting with Ghia to build them. Exner’s resulting Italian-built dream cars were all usable and running examples, based mostly on the New Yorker chassis, with “FirePower” Hemi V8 engines.
The first product was the K-310 coupé of 1951, with the “K” a silent nod to Keller, followed by the C-200 convertible of 1952. Next came the Chrysler Special, a three-passenger coupé on a shortened chassis, which debuted at Paris in 1952 with Continental-inspired styling elements including a long hood/short deck profile, knife-edge fenders and a trapezoidal grille. The Thomas Special, built for C.B. Thomas, President of Chrysler’s export division, retained this overall styling, with a notchback profile and seating for five, based upon the standard-length New Yorker chassis.
The Thomas Special was highly acclaimed and series production was contemplated, with sales to be handled by Chrysler’s French distribution arm, Société France Motors. Over the years, these cars were known alternatively as the GS-1, the Chrysler Special and the Ghia Special. Ultimately, just six vehicles were produced for Chrysler, while Ghia built another 12 for themselves. With beautiful proportions, fully exposed wheels, minimal brightwork and powerful engines, these cars provided a stylistic benchmark that continues to inspire designers to this day.