Imperial Home Page -> Literature -> Articles -> The Story of Ghia & Chrysler
The American contract
There are in the history of companies, just as in the history of nations, certain fateful episodes, which have an influence on the course of events well in excess of their actual importance. Chrysler's request to Ghia to build for them, to their design, a special body on a Plymouth chassis, is one of these episodes. It might have been considered a contract like many others, a routine job. Instead of which it became the key to Ghia's entry into the big world of international design.
In the months which followed relations between Chrysler and Ghia became increasingly close and it was Luigi Segre who pulled all the wires in Italy. The first of these special commissions was the Chrysler K310 built to drawings and models sent from America, and on this occasion Ghia had to stick to them strictly. Straight afterwards the convertible version of the same model was built, the Chrysler K200. Mario Boano, dissatisfied with the model which the Americans proposed, decided to do it his own way, and asked Chrysler if he could produce it to his own design. The result was a body on a Plymouth chassis, very similar to the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 which had won him the Gold Cup at the Stresa Concours in September 1949. The Americans liked it, although for other reasons than Boano's - not for the style but for the quality of execution.
This was the casual way, the felicitous chance, which allowed Virgil Exner, Chrysler's head stylist, to build his first idea cars in Italy. The first commissions were two experimental models, the Chrysler K310 and its cabriolet version, the C200. Virgil M. Exner and his team sent the designs to Italy along with a scale model, which the Ghia craftsmen reproduced faithfully, brilliantly overcoming the problems which arose during production. This was the definitive trial for the relationship which was to last a decade. The Plymouth prototype was also exhibited, at the 1950 Chicago Motor Show, with the name XX 500, a name which still identifies this model.
Ghia's great turning point came without warning, and no thanks to either Boano or Segre, unless we count having grasped the opportunity.
Towards the end of the Forties, Fiat was in the middle of reorganisation. With the money from the Marshall Plan Valletta had formed an alliance with Chrysler, obtaining from this American firm, judged the most adaptable to European needs, information, plans and projects. There was an intensive exchange of visits and some plans for integrated production, as Dante Giacosa records in his Memoirs, but nothing came of it. However, the friendly relations between Chrysler and Fiat were not interrupted.
It was quite natural that when he decided to build some research prototypes in Italy, the head of Chrysler styling C.B.Thomas should turn to Fiat for information about firms able to take on the contract. At the time labour in Italy was extremely cheap, and in addition there was a craft tradition, especially in the field of coachwork, which had no equals anywhere, except maybe in France. Luigi Gajal de la Chenaye who was Fiat's sales manager at the time sent two names to his American friend: Pinin Farina and Ghia.
Chrysler contacted both companies and commissioned a trial prototype from each. Two Plymouth chassis were sent to Turin with two identical sets of designs; the commission had to be carried out to the letter, with only marginal variations where they were absolutely necessary.
Mario Boano looked the designs over and immediately decided that they could be improved. At the risk of losing the order he wrote to Chrysler requesting authorisation to carry out substantial modifications to the model. Thomas's answer was swift and clear, "Do whatever you think best".
The Chrysler stylist unerringly chose the Ghia model. Truth to tell, but Boano and Segre only found this out much later, it was the quality of the work and the low cost which struck the Americans, rather than the model's style, which was rather massive. Ghia boasted of the fact that seventeen coats of paint were required to produce the splendid paint job on their cars. At least, this was the motivation behind the awarding of the Artistiea Cerbiatta, a sculpture by Enrico Saroldi, to the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 at Villa d'Este, in addition to the Gold Cup. It was a special award for the car with the best paint job. The news that they had been chosen by Chrysler arrived at Ghia delightfully accompanied by a gift and an invitation: the gift was a brand new Plymounth for Eoano and the invitation was to Detroit to work out the next contracts.
Commendatore Mario Felice Eoano spoke no English and so naturally Luigi Segre went with him. .Just as naturally, during the negotations, Segre did most of the talking, although when they returned to Italy the contract in their pocket was a "consultancy" contract with Chrysler in Mario Felice Boano's name.
The two models were designed by the Chrysler styling centre which was officially directed at the time by King, but in practice by someone already well-known in the world of American stylists, and who thanks to Ghia was to become famous in Europe too, Virgil Exner.
Segre went to America with the K200 convertible, by himself this time, and the journey was not without a certain amount of adventure: during unloading at New York docks the precious model was dropped onto the quayside, starting a series of maritime "misadventures" for the Chrysler-Ghia prototypes, disadventures which culminated with the loss of the Norseman when the Andrea Doria sank.
In Detroit Virgil Exner and his team were waiting to welcome Gigi Segre.
|Page 1 next »|
This page was last updated 10 January, 2004. Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club