Ecusson Ghia

Crown Imperial Limousines by Ghia 1957-’65

Since the 1930s Chrysler had built 8-passenger cars on a long wheelbase, either limousines with a dividing window to separate passengers from chauffeur, or big "family" sedans without the divider. One or more of such models were sold under all the company’s brand names, from Plymouth up, in a time when competitors showed little interest. But at the outset of the 1950s sales dwindled, and in ’54 only Chrysler and DeSoto offered 8-passenger models. Chrysler’s flagship in this field was unquestionably the expensive, haughty Crown Imperial, on a 145.5-in. wheelbase. Nothing was too good for this machine: Disc brakes starting in 1949, "hemi" engine and power steering in 1951, Powerflite automatic transmission and 12-volt electrical system in 1953.

1957 Crown ImperialIn 1955, when the Forward Look came in, Chrysler’s 8-passenger models were down to one Crown Imperial on 149.5-in. wheelbase. The trouble was that these cars cost too much to build. Combined sales of them in 1955-’56 came to fewer than 400. Some retrenchment was needed in the ’57 line - either drop the long wheelbase altogether, leaving the field to Cadillac (as Lincoln and Packard had already done), or continue production with less damage to the company budget.
A study in May 1956 estimated development and tooling costs for a new limousine at over $3,300,000. This meant that in relation to expected sales, each car would lose thousands of dollars for the company. This was an unthinkable way to do business. So how about subcontracting limousine production? Some firm, at home or abroad, should be able to perform the work suitably. Scouting in the U.S. didn’t give promising results, so Chrysler turned to Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin.
This wasn’t unfamiliar ground for Chrysler. It had collaborated with Ghia several times before, once to produce a limousine for the Vatican. Wages for skilled laborCrown Imperial 1957 were much lower in Italy than in the U.S., so Ghia could keep its actual costs at a level affordable to Chrysler.
The designers in Detroit went to work. They chose a 149.5-in. wheelbase, with overall length 244.7 in. and height 58.5 in. The ’57 Imperial was a suitable base. Its door height was judged too low for a limousine, so the door was raised to encroach on the car’s roof. A full-size mockup indicated that the rear end of a coupé was right for the new 8-passenger.
The contract stipulated that Ghia should do all the custom body work and deliver the car ready to drive. Cooperation between the companies was facilitated by the presence in Turin of Paul Farago, an Italo-American Chrysler engineer who was a friend of both Virgil Exner and L. Segré, president of Ghia.


How a Crown Imperial was born

An Imperial hardtop coupé on 129-in. wheelbase, with extra-rigid X frame, was shipped to Italy. It was outfitted with the usual trim, bumpers and grille, so that nothing would be lost during shipment. The stripped interior was packed with parts Ghia would need - four sedan doors, seat mounts, window glass, fully wired dashboard, double air conditioning unit, upholstery leather, carpet, lengthened drive shaft, heavier torsion bars, Suburban leaf springs for the rear, and so on.

Rear interior of a Ghia ..At the Ghia factory, the first task was to chop the body and frame, the latter to be extended 20.5 in. and reinforced. The floor was lengthened, the rear of the body adjusted to suit the lengthened roof and altered rear doors. The doors are made higher, the roof cut back to accommodate them. All this was done by skilled Ghia craftsmen, working without body-stamping dies or an assembly line, not counting the hours spent to get something done - a situation unthinkable in America in 1957!
With the structural work finished, the whole body was coated with solder, about 165 lbs. of it. All sheet-metal joints, even those out of sight, are filled. Doors and fenders were adjusted for 17 hours to limit gaps to a sixth of an inch at most. Then a bath in dilute acid to clear away any rust and solder flux.

Time for painting. First a coat of green zinc chromate primer, followed by a coat of black that would make visible any surface imperfections. Then several coats of lacquer (black, brown, dark green, dark blue) with polishing after each. A final polishing, then application of a sepia-and-water mixture intended to give a hard mirror finish. A cream-colored stripe is painted the length of the body in place of the usual molding strip. All that remains is to install the window glass, exterior trim, and leather cover for the back part of the roof. The grille, bumpers and front fender trim are from 1958 models.

Five interior schemes are offered, with gray or beige broadcloth in various patterns. There is a fold-out wood table and a thick sheepskin carpet. The chauffeur doesn’t have that much room up front, but it’s upholstered in leather!

A month had gone by since arrival of the "kit" at the Ghia plant. Now it was time for a road test of the new limousine. Tires were inflated to 28.4 lbs and the car driven over cobble paving to disclose any rattles or squeaks. As soon as the limousine passed its tests, it was ready for shipment to Genoa and the U.S.
Crown Imperial 1960The first cars delivered to Chrysler betrayed several design defects:
- tires weren’t adequate to the weight of the car, so a bigger size was prescribed.
- the electric motor for the divider glass was too weak. A more powerful motor was substituted.
- The wiring system was too complex for the Italian workers, so all its parts were checked at the U.S. end.
When all checks had been carried out, the limousines were dispatched to Chrysler’s Manhattan headquarters, for delivery to wealthy customers who had waited six months. Among them were David Sarnoff of RCA; the novelist Pearl Buck; the King of Saudi Arabia (car with armor, low-compression engine); the Emirs of Kuwait and Qatar; Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. A special edition with transparent roof was used by Queen Elizabeth on her visit to Canda in 1959.60 Ghia

The financial picture wasn’t that rosy. The combined cost of taxes, international U.S.-Italian obstacles, credit transfers, the exhaustive checkups each car underwent on arrival from Italy (a customer paying $12,000 for a car doesn’t want to hear a door rattle or see the lights flicker) continued to threaten the future of limousine production. The 1957 contract was for 75 Crown Imperials, the number Chrysler hoped to sell; but in fact only 36 were sold, while Chrysler had to pay Ghia for all 75. That is why the 1958 and ’59 limousines are retouched leftovers from 1957. The Chrysler-Ghia contract was apparently renewed in 1960, but for64 Ghia with landau body and rear blinded quarters. production of only 25 vehicles.

Ghia went on producing Crown Imperials in small numbers until 1965, when it sold its special tools to the Barreiros firm in Spain. Barreiros built the last 10 limousines of the European series that had begun in 1957.

When that contract expired, Chrysler did not want to abandon the limousine line, but now looked for an American subcontractor, with whom dealings would be less troublesome. Stageway Coaches of Arkansas contracted to build 12 cars in 1967-’68, using a huge wheelbase of 163 inches.

Fifteen more limos with the new "fuselage" styling appeared in 1969, ’70 and ’71. Another body builder, Hess & Eisenhardt, supplied 2 limos in 1972 (with 1973 grilles) to the U.S. Secret Service - a perfect car for not attracting attention!

Three years later, the Imperial name itself disappeared...

  1957 (1) 1958 1959 (2) 1960 1961 (3) 1962 1963 1964 1965
Sales 36 31 7 16 9 0 13 10 10

(1): Same appearance as 1958 models (grille, bumpers etc.)
(2): 1959 body but 392 Hemi engine and ’58 dashboard.
(3): identical with Ghia-built 1960

Other photos (click to enlarge)

56 Crown Imperial 57 Ghia Indonesian Parade Car (base: Ghia 59) 59 Ghia Queen Elisabeth and Ghia 59 Queen Elisabeth and Ghia 59 59 Ghia   1960 Ghia ad Rockfeller 60 Ghia
See details and 8 photos by clicking  1960 Rockefeller Ghia
61 Ghia ad 63 Ghia (H.Rubinstein) 63 Ghia 63 Ghia interior 64 landau interior 64 Ghia 65 Ghia ad 65 Ghia ad 67 Stageway limo
57cvghia1.jpg (47640 octets) 57chrysghia1jpg.jpg (20500 octets) 57chrysghia2.jpg (36531 octets) patrickghia4.jpeg (62226 octets) patrickghia2.jpeg (87596 octets) patrickghia3.jpeg (85794 octets)
'57 Ghia convertible.
see at the bottom of my57pics.htm
'57 for sale (sept 2002)
Patrick Strub ' 58 limo. Other pics:

Patrick Strub's Ghia limo 1958

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