The Chrysler Thomas Special SWB Prototype was the answer to a lackluster styling problem that had plagued the Chrysler Corporation during the late 1940's and early 1950's. K. T. Keller was Chryslers President from 1935 through 1950. Under his direction the Company had prospered but the designs of the vehicles were criticized for being too conservative. After World War II many maruqee's saw their production figures begin to rise while Chrysler's stayed stead but falling behind the rest of the pack. Chrysler looked to Europe for inspiration.
A war torn Europe was recovering from years of battle. Many factories had been ruined and many intellectual knowledge had been destroyed. Fiat invited Chrysler to Italy to aid in their rebuilding and to train their technicians in the latest methods and techniques of automotive production. This included teaching them modernized ways of constructing cars and the most effective means of assembly line techniques. Not only was Chrysler imparting knowledge to a struggling economy, they were gaining knowledge on the art of carrozziere, Italian meaning custom coach building. This was a dying art but had been very popular in the early 1900s. A manufacturer would supply a rolling chassis to a custom coachbuilder to complete. The coachbuilder often corresponded with the customer to determine the exact specifications, resulting in unique creations.
Chrysler began discussions with one of the most famous coachbuilders of all time, Pinin Farina. However, it would be Ghia in Turin who would be commissioned to build a series of cars inspired by the designs of Virgil Exner, Chryslers chief stylist. Ghia and Chrysler continued working together for 15 years creating some of the most memorable Chryslers of all time. From 1951 through 1954 the Exner-designed Ghia Specials were produced. The mechanical components were provided by Chrysler including a 331 cubic-inch hemi V8 capable of producing over 175 horsepower. The two-speed PowerFlite or Fluid Torque transmission was also courtesy of Chrysler but the exquisite bodies were the creation of Ghia with inspiration from Exner.
The Chrysler-Ghia relationship was beneficial to both parties. When Chrysler approached their own shops for a quote on who much it would cost to build such a creation, they were told around $125,000. When they posed the same question to Ghia, they were quoted $10,000 to $20,000.
The first fruits of this relationship was the Chrysler K-310 introduced in 1951. The 'K' represented K.T. Keller's initial in his name. While the 310 represented the horsepower produced by the engine. In 1952 the Chrysler Special was produced and made its debut to the public at the Paris Auto Show of that same year. It was built atop of a shortened New York Chassis and powered by a 331 cubic-inch Hemi V8 engine producing 235 horsepower. It had power steering, brakes, windows and power antenna. There was only one SWB (short wheel base) version produced in the series. The Thomas Special was specially commissioned by C.B. Thomas, who was president of the export division of Chrysler Corporation.
These 'idea cars' were meant to inspire Chrysler's design team while giving the general public a glimpse of things to come. They were showcased at auto shows where they always drew crowds. They were the perfect blend of American styling and power with coachwork by one of the greatest Italian coachbuilders.
In 1954, the limited production Chrysler Ghia GS-1 coupe was introduced. They were sold exclusively in Europe by Societe France Motors. The vehicle was built atop a Chrysler 125.5 inch chassis, the same used on most of the Chrysler automobiles. Power was supplied by a 180 horsepower Chrysler Hemi V8 engine. The vehicles were equipped with either a Fluid Torque transmission or the newer PowerFlite two-speed automatic.
Other creations between Chrysler-Ghia were the Dodge Firebomb and the Chrysler Crown Imperial Ghia Limousines.By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2006