Optimism defined the late 1950s for Americans, especially with the advent of the Space Age. The notion of going into outer space was especially inspiring to automotive designers, who added wings, fins and bubble windows to their creations, bringing a rocket-powered vision down to earth and offering car buyers the opportunity to park a piece of the future in their driveway.
Some of the most outrageous designs came out of Detroit, with GM and Chrysler primarily vying for public attention with concept cars from the very beginning of the 1950s. By the end of the decade, things reached an extreme, and while Cadillac’s preposterous rear tail fins remain the epitome of excess, it was really Chrysler’s visionary designer Virgil Exner who pioneered some of the most forward-thinking—and flamboyant—automotive styling of the age.
On January 26, the Bonhams Scottsdale Auction, at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, will feature three examples of Exner’s ingenuity—what the auction house calls a “trans-Atlantic trio” of Chrysler Ghia show cars. Part of the Ramshead Collection, from which 13 American mid-century automobiles will be offered, these three rarities represent the evolution of automotive styling concepts over a brief few years, combining the American and Italian design aesthetic at its very best.
The most striking of the group is the unique 1957 Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400 concept car, resplendent in yellow and black, with tail fins as sharp as a knife and a grill that would look quite at home on a flying saucer. Coincidental is that Russia’s Sputnik 1 became the first artificial Earth satellite in October of the same year.
Italian coachbuilders, like Ghia, had the talent and capacity to turn concepts into reality. Chrysler’s Exner worked with Ghia to execute many show-cars, one of the most influential of which was the 1955 “Gilda.” A 1956 “Dart” followed, and for 1957, the “Super Dart 400,” first displayed at the 1957 motor shows in Torino and New York.
The car was built on a 1957 Chrysler 300 C chassis, and was powered by a 392 ci “Power Pack Hemi” with a claimed 400 hp. Inside, four black-and-white bucket seats sandwich a wide center console. A futuristic dash featured a push-button transmission and even Chrysler’s Highway Hi-Fi record player.
After it completed its European show tour, the Super Dart was acquired by Dual Motors, whose Ghia-bodied, Chrysler-based automobiles were a favored status symbol for Hollywood show-offs. It was reputedly sold soon thereafter for $15,000, a not inconsiderable sum in 1958. Unrestored and unmodified, this Chrysler concept really is a time capsule from the Space Age, and has been driven just 49,000 miles with only three owners from new.
It’s difficult to put an absolute value on a one-of-one concept car, and the market will decide what a rarity like Chrysler’s Ghia-bodied creation will command. For now, Bonhams estimates it to bring $750,000 to $950,000. Whatever the price, we say, “where are you gonna find another?”
Click here for more photos of the 1957 Chrysler Ghia Super Dart 400.