1958 Dual-Ghia. Click image to enlarge
Article and photo by Bill Vance
During its heyday, the Dual-Ghia became almost a Hollywood icon, the choice of such celebrated entertainers as singer Frank Sinatra, actor Peter Lawford and composer Hoagy Carmichael. Devotees also included tennis star Gussie Moran of lacy underwear fame.
Although only some 125 Dual-Ghias were made over an eight-year period, they gained a cachet out of all proportion to their production. They were exotic automobiles that, under their stylish skins, carried sturdy American components.
The Dual-Ghia was an Italian-American hybrid that evolved from four Dodge “Firearrow” concept cars styled under the leadership of Chrysler Corporation’s Virgil Exner, and built for Chrysler by Turin-based Italian coachbuilder Ghia in the early 1950s.
Concept cars, also called “dream cars,” were not meant for production, but to test public opinion on future styling trends. The first Firearrow went on display in 1953.
A Detroit businessman named Eugene Casaroll was so smitten with the four-seat convertible Firearrow IV that he wanted to put it into production. He had the required resources because his Dual-Motors Corp. had been successful building military trucks and generators during the Second World War. Both of these products had twin engines, thus the “Dual” name.
Casaroll was able to buy the rights to the Firearrow IV from Dodge, and make an agreement with Chrysler Corp. for the purchase of mechanical components. The design was adapted for production by Casaroll’s chief engineer, Paul Farago, who worked with Ghia on changes that included stronger bumpers and a larger trunk.
The Dual-Motors Firebomb was introduced at the 1955 Geneva Auto Show. It was well received, but Casaroll was not satisfied with such things as the passenger accommodation and the structural integrity of the body and frame.
Farago went to Italy and designed a stronger Dodge frame, widened the body and made other changes. By late 1956 the Dual-Ghia, as it was now called, was in production. It carried a high price that was close to $8,000.
The steel bodies were constructed in Ghia’s shop and shipped to Detroit, where Dual-Motors installed the engine and driveline in its small assembly plant. Standard power was a 230-horsepower, 5.2-litre (315 cubic inch) Dodge “Red Ram” overhead-valve V8. A popular option was the 260-horsepower version.
Power went through a Chrysler two-speed “PowerFlite” automatic transmission controlled by a floor-mounted lever, instead of Chrysler’s new dash-mounted pushbuttons. Power steering and brakes were standard, as were power windows except on the first few cars, which had them retro-fitted.
The Dual-Ghia was a handsome car with its peaked front fenders, single-bar grille, wire wheels, and perky blade-like rear fins. The front and rear were protected by sturdy Dodge bumpers.
Inside, the Dual-Ghia was luxuriously appointed, including English Connolly leather and fine carpeting. The full complement of gauges included a tachometer. The trunk was carpeted, as was the underside of the hood for sound insulation.
The Dual-Ghia’s performance was impressive for its era. Motor Trend magazine recorded a zero- to-96 km/h (60 mph) time of 8.2 seconds, and a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph) for the 1,633-kg (3,600-lb) car.
The first phase of the Dual-Ghia came to an end in 1958 when the company’s supply of Dodge components ran out. Just over 100 had been built, all but two of them convertibles. The conversion of Chrysler Corporation’s cars to torsion bar front suspension for 1957, and its planned changeover to unitized bodies in 1960, meant massive changes by Dual-Motors if it wanted to continue the Dual-Ghia.
Dual-Ghia originator Eugene Casaroll’s health began to fail, and he wanted to concentrate on his shipping business. Thus, engineer Farago teamed up with Ghia to produce the second-generation Dual-Ghia.
Farago designed a new Chrysler-based chassis with front torsion bars. Power came from a Chrysler 6.4-litre (383 cubic inch), 335-horsepower V8, now driving through Chrysler’s robust “TorqueFlite” three-speed automatic.
The new model, now an Italian car with American components, was launched at the Paris Auto Show as the Dual-Ghia, but soon became the Ghia L6.4, for its displacement. Casaroll sold the rights to Ghia, but Dual-Motors continued to source Chrysler parts for Ghia and distribute the cars in the U.S.
The Ghia L6.4 was a low, sleek coupe thematically related to the original, but now without the tailfins. Its wrap-over rear window could have inspired the Plymouth Barracuda. Weight was up to 1,860 kg (4,100 lb), but the extra horsepower kept performance at about the same level.
The Ghia L6.4 was expensive, and at $15,000 its appeal was limited to the wealthy. Entertainers Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Dean Martin were among the early purchasers. Only 25 of the Italian- built Ghia L6.4s were made before production ceased in 1963.