Photography by Jeff Koch.
The expressive Ghia L 6.4 was certainly not the first fusion of European craftsmanship and American power, nor would it be the last–think of the Facel Vega, the Bristol 407, the De Tomaso Mangusta–but it was unique in how it captured the imagination of America’s celebrity scene-makers and those who followed them. Hand assembled in tiny numbers by old masters near the end of the era of exclusive coachbuilt classics, the stylish L 6.4 represented the time when a wealthy person’s individuality could readily be expressed through his or her automobile; it’s a time, and a car, that can never be repeated.
Carrozzeria Ghia, founded by Giacinto Ghia, was formally established in 1926 in Torino, Italy. Already famous for its aerodynamic designs for Lancia and Fiat cars, Carrozzeria Ghia forged a fruitful connection with the Chrysler Corporation in 1952; Chrysler’s Advanced Design head, Virgil Exner, had been charged with spicing up the company’s staid styling reputation, and he turned to Ghia to create and build the first Chrysler “experimental” show car. The result was the Firearrow roadster, a non-driveable Ghia design that was a favorite of show-goers. By the end of 1954, the first Firearrow had been supplanted by a second roadster, a coupe and a convertible, all fully functioning Firearrow concepts. The Firearrow IV convertible, badged a Dodge and fitted with a 150hp, 241.3-cu in Hemi V-8 and four-speed semi-automatic transmission, was basically production-ready.
Although it certainly would have created a sporty new image for Dodge, Chrysler didn’t choose to build the 1954 Firearrow IV. That mantle was picked up by automotive enthusiast Eugene “Gene” Casaroll, a wealthy inventor. “Mr. Casaroll engineered a huge truck with two engines, front and rear, to transport tanks and personnel carriers during World War II. He called his company Dual-Motors Corporation,” says Ghia historian Jim Thedford, owner of Specialty Automotive Restorations of Upland, California, and the restorer of our feature car.
Casaroll saw the Dodge Firearrow IV concept at the New York Auto Show, and he was smitten. He soon purchased the design and manufacturing rights from Chrysler, and contracted Carrozzeria Ghia to make a production-ready convertible from the dream car they’d handcrafted. The result debuted in 1955 as the Firebomb prototype, and it used contemporary Dodge underpinnings in a Ghia-built unibody steel shell. When production began in 1956, the Firebomb’s design was slightly modified and christened Dual-Ghia; when production ended in 1958, 117 of the $7,646 (f.o.b. Detroit) convertibles had been built.
After a single 1958 Dual-Ghia 400 prototype was built with inspiration from Chrysler’s 1957 Dart show car, Casaroll went in another direction with a European-flavored coupe, the Ghia L 6.4. Introduced at Paris’s 1960 International Auto Show, the new car was not badged a Dual-Ghia, as this time, Dual Motors would be nothing more than the importer. Its name also signified that the Chrysler V-8 engine under the long hood displaced 383 cubic inches: in proper terms, (near as much) 6.4 liters.
In a letter that Gene Casaroll wrote to a prospective customer in November of 1960, he described the new venture: “The Ghia L 6.4 is now in regular production and is completely built and assembled at the Carrozzeria Ghia plant in Torino. They have informed us that they will maintain a production rate of one unit per week, and they definitely will not produce more than fifty units per year for the next two years. The car will be truly custom-built and will be produced only on order and in accordance with the purchaser’s wishes as to the interior trim and exterior color.”
Casaroll continued: “The price of the car is $13,000, f.o.b. Torino, Italy. This price includes as standard equipment power steering, power brakes, power windows (including vent windows), automatic transmission, Chrysler 325hp V-8 engine, radio, heater, special steering wheel, special wheel covers and white sidewall tires. The only extra equipment that will be offered will be Chrysler AirTemp air conditioning and leather luggage to match the interior–these to be furnished at additional cost.”
The handsome long-nose/short-deck styling of the new L 6.4 planted the car squarely in the 1960s. Credit for the car’s styling was not claimed by Virgil Exner or by Ghia; it’s believed that Paul Farago, Dual-Motors’ Italian-born chief engineer and Exner’s intermediary with Ghia, deserved that honor. This all-steel-bodied monocoque was fully built in the Torino Ghia works, although it incorporated some off-the-shelf Chrysler parts in addition to the running gear: The windshield, vent windows and exterior door handles were directly borrowed from the 1961-1962 Chryslers and upscale Dodges. Indeed, some of the
L 6.4’s design elements would appear in later Mopars…among them, consider the 1964 Plymouth Barracuda’s rear window.
The L 6.4 was fitted with comprehensive gauges, including a tachometer and an eight-day clock, all set in a brightly trimmed instrument panel that flowed in a stylish curve down to a center console separating the bucket seats. It was inset with an AM/FM radio, ventilation controls and a sporty automatic transmission selector. A delicate Nardi wood-rimmed steering wheel completed the thoroughbred look. Despite the car’s massive 115-inch wheelbase and 210-inch length, it was intended as a two-seat Grand Tourer, so the rear bench area was meant to hold fitted luggage instead of passengers.
Ghia purchased crated drivetrains directly from Chrysler for installation in the L 6.4. Using a 107.95 x 85.73mm bore and stroke and 10.0 compression, those four-barrel Carter AFB-carbureted V-8s were advertised at 335hp at 4,600 RPM and 410-lbs ft of torque at 2,400 RPM. The V-8’s power was routed through a standard three-speed Chrysler TorqueFlite automatic; it was halted by 12-inch, four-wheel drum brakes behind 15 x 6-inch wire wheels. A balance of good handling and a comfortable ride were assured with Chrysler’s torsion-bar front and semi-elliptical spring rear suspension.
Because Carrozzeria Ghia built each L 6.4 to order, the 50 units per year that Casaroll intended never materialized. A mere 26 L 6.4s were built from 1960-1962, and all were sold through Dual-Motors in the United States. Although they weren’t the last Chrysler-based cars by Ghia (the firm built those 55 famous Turbine Cars circa 1963), the Ghia L 6.4 was one of the final custom-bodied Italian/American grand touring hybrids available to the general public.
“My father-in-law, Bill Van Grove, owned a successful auto accessory business in Beverly Hills,” says Dr. Curtis R. Handler, a Claremont, California, radiologist. “He always liked unusual cars–he owned a Muntz Jet and two Dual-Ghias–they were his business’s calling cards. He saw this metallic gray 1962 Ghia L 6.4 spinning on a turntable in a showroom, and he purchased it for $5,500 in May of 1971, getting $2,500 for the 1958 Dual-Ghia convertible he traded in.”
“By the time he bought it, the car had been fitted with some neat accessories,” Curtis recalls. “It had a power sliding sunroof from American Sunroof Company here in California; it was one of the first installations they did. The Ghia’s front end was also redone by George Barris in his Barris Kustom shop. He installed flush oval European headlamps where the original single round lamps would be, and hid the turn signals behind grilles inboard of each headlamp. Barris modified eight of the 26 cars this way, including Frank Sinatra’s and Dean Martin’s L 6.4s.” Our feature Ghia was restored over a period of four years, and it is one of a known 17 L 6.4s remaining.
So what does it feel like to drive a hand-crafted transcontinental Grand Tourer? After taking the photos on these pages, our West Coast editor, Jeff Koch, spent some time behind the wheel. “Despite the formidable presence that comes across in pictures, it’s surprisingly low,” he said. “The width and the length are all there, but the height is deceptive. Watch your head as you slip in. The seats place you in an upright position but offer no headrest or lateral support, and as a bonus, the sunroof eats into what headroom you have…the tall of torso need not apply.
“That’s a shame, because with the sumptuous cabin offering gorgeous-feeling and- smelling leather seating areas and trim, it feels like a place you’d like to spend some time. It’s got that casual elegance that only a few cars managed to pull off in the first half of the ’60s–the early Buick Riviera also comes to mind. Only the polished metal trim surrounding the gauges seems out of place. A bit of texture stamped in would make it look a little less hand-made…or perhaps that’s the point. The essential gauges are clearly marked, but suffer from glare coming from all of the shiny surfaces surrounding them. The shifter is conventional, thanks to a chrome lever in the console replacing the dashboard push buttons so common in that era. And, as in the contemporary Chryslers it’s shared with, the windshield distorts at the top edges like a funhouse mirror.
“Twist the key, and the idle sets in at a smooth 800 RPM, but if you breathe on the gas pedal, you’ll get some very muscle car-ish noises coming out from beneath the long hood. However, that sound doesn’t translate into the traditional high-impact-colored, Hurst-shifted, Shaker-hooded Mopar performance: 335 horsepower funneled through an open 3.23 rear, pushing 4,100 pounds of material (minus driver) offers smooth acceleration, but never frantic performance.
“Then again, this isn’t that kind of car. European GTs were designed more for high-speed continental travel, and this gearing allows the miles to be gobbled up in style. The ride reflects this attitude as well–it’s firm, and could easily be confused with a far more contemporary machine. No float, just poise and control. With that in mind, the four-wheel drum brakes stand out. They require most of the pedal to slow you down, even at surface-street speeds, and when they bite, they bite hard and fast. There’s no linear engagement. It’s tough to be smooth around town for a first-time driver. The Nardi wheel is a joy to hold onto, but alas, there is a large dead spot in the steering on the straight-ahead. There is no movement of the front wheels at all as you swing that tiller 10 or 15 degrees in either direction, but unlike most Chrysler-powered cars of the era, the steering offers decent feel through the wood-rim wheel.”
Although it’s been a part of the family for more than 40 years, the Ghia L 6.4 has never ceased to be a fun drive. “My father-in-law used to carry a ping pong paddle in the car that read ‘1962 Ghia,’ which he’d hold up when people on the highway wanted to learn what it was,” Curtis laughs. “I still enjoy when people try to figure it out. Ghia did a wonderful job on this car’s lines. There is no plastic in it. It’s a piece of art, hand-formed in steel.”
1962 Ghia L 6.4
Growing up as a car nut in west L.A., I saw a lot of people who’d start to restore cars, but would get diverted by other projects; the cars would end up sitting in a garage for 10 to 15 years. I didn’t want this restoration to go that way–I wanted to be able to take my kids out and to enjoy it. I drive it on weekends all the time, and occasionally drive it into L.A. I didn’t want it to be a “carriage queen.”
The Ghia is a wonderful cruising car. It’s not as fast off the line as a Porsche 911 or BMW 850i, but Ghia was going for a different market. It is fairly large–the width of the front is about 6 feet, 2 inches–so it’s hard to judge where the right-front corner is. But it’s a good handler, and at 80-90 MPH, it holds the road well.
I like the idea of having the Chrysler engine and transmission, because they make the car not so outrageously expensive to maintain and drive. I recall when my father-in-law used to park it on Rodeo Drive…a lot of people would hover around it, ignoring a Lamborghini or Ferrari parked nearby. It always seemed to outshine more exotic cars. I love the novelty of having so few of them out there.
–Dr. Curtis R. Handler
What to Pay
1962 Ghia L 6.4
Low – $120,000
Average – $174,000
High – $260,000
Dual-Ghia Vehicle Club
29 Forgedale Road
Fleetwood, Pennsylvania 19522
Dues: none; Membership: 75
Pros & Cons
– Handsome, distinctive Italian styling
– Ample power and good handling
– Chrysler mechanicals are inexpensive and accessible
– Body trim spares are nonexistent
– Try finding one of the remaining 17
– Doesn’t have the cachet of a purebred Italian GT
1962 Ghia L 6.4 specifications
Type – Overhead-valve V-8, cast-iron block and cylinder heads
Displacement – 6,276cc (383-cu.in.)
Bore x stroke – 108 x 85.7 mm (4.25 x 3.375 inches)
Compression ratio – 10.0:1
Horsepower @ RPM – 335 @ 4,600
Torque @ RPM – 410 @ 2,400
Valvetrain – Hydraulic lifters
Main bearings – 5
Fuel system – One 4-bbl. Carter AFB-2968-S carburetor, mechanical pump
Lubrication system – Full pressure
Electrical system – 12-volt
Exhaust system – Dual
Type – Three-speed TorqueFlite automatic with torque converter, console gear selector
Type – Hypoid, open propeller shaft and semi-floating axles
Ratio – 3.23:1
Type – Rack and sector, power assist
Ratio – 19.2:1
Turns, lock-to-lock – 3.5
Turning circle – 43.9 feet
Type – Four-wheel hydraulic, power assist
Front – 12.0 x 3-inch drum
Rear – 12.0 x 3-inch drum
Chassis & Body
Type – All-steel unit-body
Body style – Two-door, two-passenger coupe
Layout – Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Front – Independent, torsion bars, tubular shocks
Rear – Solid axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, tubular shocks
Wheels & Tires
Wheels – Chrysler wire wheels with bolt-on hubs
Front – 15 x 6 inches
Rear – 15 x 6 inches
Tires – Michelin XH4 whitewall radials
Front – 205/75 R15
Rear – 205/75 R15
Weights & Measures
Wheelbase – 115.0 inches
Overall length – 210.0 inches
Overall width – 75.0 inches
Overall height – 52.0 inches
Front track – 61.0 inches
Rear track – 59.7 inches
Curb weight – 4,100 pounds
Crankcase – 5 quarts
Cooling system – 20 quarts
Fuel tank – 20 gallons
Hp per liter – 53.38
Weight per hp – 12.24 pounds
Weight per cc – 0.65 pounds
0-60 MPH – 8.5 seconds
Base Price – $13,000 (f.o.b. Turin, Italy)
This article originally appeared in the August, 2013 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.