My Car Quest

November 22, 2017

Chrysler’s Anti-Cobra:The Ghia 450SS

not really the same market…

by Wallace Wyss –

Well, on paper the Ghia 450SS was the same idea—you take a shop over in Europe and you ship them an American V8 engine and transmission and stuff it into a chassis made over there and body it with a body done in England or Italy or someplace and you got yourself a sports car that you can sell to the flash crowd in Hollywood.

Only the Ghia 450SS was a long way from the Cobra. Oh sure the engine was bigger than that of the first Cobra—273 cubic inches compared to 260 in the Cobra but it just didn’t have the power to weight ratio to compete, not to mention body flex aplenty.

Ghia 450SS

For one thing the Cobra had an aluminum body. Eggshell thin, like maybe the whole body weighed 150 lbs dripping wet. The 450/SS had a steel body and lots of bondo so it weighed as much as a Plymouth Barracuda, the car that donated its drive rain.

The Ghia 450SS was being sold on the glamor rub-off of the name “Ghia” because only a few years before the Hollywood set were driving the Dual Ghia, another car ordered by an American automaker and powered by Chrysler.

This Ghia 450SS was for the same market, the aging playboys who could look oh-so-European cruising Sunset strip.

Burt Sugarman

Burt Sugarman was the entrepreneur who started it all. Rumors are he was a one time car salesman but he sure was a fast talker. Talked Ghia into selling him the Ghia name for America and then talked Ghia into building him some cars. He found a car dealer in West Los Angeles where the venture was launched from and most of the cars were sold from that showroom.

Ghia 450SS

Ghia 450SS

There were plenty of workmen and in the early ‘50s, and many factories were still in ruins. Italy was still on the rebound from the war.

By the mid-60s prices of custom bodywork were going up but there were still several automakers ordering bodywork in Italy such as Aston Martin from Touring and Zagato, Porsche from Zagato, BMW from Bertone, and even the Americans, Cadillac for instance having a Brougham built there and Chrysler a special Imperial.

Sugarman, who was actually a TV producer, got the idea of making his own sports car when he happened to read Road & Track. One day on the cover there was a svelte sports car, a lime green fastback Fiat with a six cylinder and one-off coachwork by Ghia. Burt fell in love with it.

roadandtrack-cover-car-ghia-1200

The coupe that inspired the roadster lives, and has made recent Villa d’Este concours apperances

Chrysler’s V8

But he wasn’t in love with the Fiat chassis and driveline. He liked American V8s. and at the time Chrysler’s 273 cu. in. V8 was the new hot ticket in town, powering the growling Barracuda S, so he made arrangements to buy that engine and transmission and have it installed in a chassis in Italy.

Ghia 450SS Engine

For bodywork he chose to have instead of a coupe a roadster version of the coupe he had fallen in love with, but with a lift-off hardtop in addition to the soft top.

Giorgetto Giugiaro

The Ghia 450SS made its debut at the 1966 Turin show. Giorgetto Giugiaro, the young and capable head of Ghia design, designed the car and it was an excellent example of his talent. He was on a hot streak then, accomplishment-wise. Close to the same time he also did the Maserati Ghibli coupe and Spyder, the Iso Grifo and several other delectable GT cars.

Sugarman deserves plaudits in retrospect for having to broker with Alejandro de Tomaso, who owned Ghia at the time. DeTomaos had bought the firm during its downhill slide, downward from the glory it had won years earlier. Some who don’t like DeTomaso would say the wily Argentinean ex-racer he ruined it but at least Ford in the U.S. was able to buy him out and use the name “Ghia” for at least a couple decades. It was Ford who finally shuttered the place and killed off one of the greatest names in coachbuilding.

Back to the car. It used longitudinal steel frame members with some reports saying it had a semi-monocoque body. Brakes were discs in front and drums in the rear.

The interior was Giugiaro’s simple Ghibli style—a row of gauges, this time set into a slab of timber. The odd thing was to see the automatic shift quadrant of the TorqueFlyte 3-speed automatic—it just looked too American a feature to be seen in an Italian car.
The seats had vertically pleated cushions and were leather covered.

Ghia 450SS Interior

Sugarman priced the car at $11,000 (other sources say $13,000)—probably too high as no American car at the time was priced that high (in 1969 the Lincoln Continental Mk. III was $10,000 and even that took some reaching, to push that price through).

It was also about 40% more than a Cobra in small block form in ’65 so really he was asking a lot for a car that was too heavy with its steel body to be raceable. But it was still priced under a Ferrari and under a Maserati and everyone knew it would be dirt cheap to service.

The car was only in production for two years–1966 and 1967. After that new safety laws would have required too many changes in the bumpers and other features to make it worth up-dating the car to meet the ever-changing American laws.

The Ghia 450SS would have looked really rare if it wasn’t for the fact that later on that nasty old Ford Motor Company copied its nose style to a “T” on the Torino so the result is the car looks rare and exotic from the side and back but like yer average Ford Torino from the front.

The crowning touch was the Borrani wire wheels, in chrome. They really stood out against the rounded smooth sides of the car.

One would’ve thought this car would be all the rage in Hollywood, as the Dual Ghia had come and gone a few years earlier. But times had changed, by the time the Ghia 450SS arrived, there were lots more choices from America, England, Germany and Italy. And the fact that it wasn’t really fast didn’t help either.

Ghia 450SS

I sort of remember Road & Track not liking the handling or braking. They were a bit hard on small automakers but not as hard as Sports Car Graphic which delighted in showing motor drive shot pictures of the DeTomaso Mangusta (also built by Ghia) spinning out of control because it was so tail happy.

The Ghia 450SS was rare when built and even more so today

Only 52 Ghia 450SS cars were made. They should sell for over $150,000 when you consider the hand work that went into them but because they come up so rarely for auction, the potential buyers are mystified as to what it is and one of the last ones to go through an auction fetched under $85,000.

One also sold at a Barrett Jackson auction in 2009 for $181,500. but that may have been because of its superb condition, having been treated to new paint, new mechanicals, a complete new interior, a refreshing of all the rubber and brightwork, a rebuild of all five Borrani wheels, new brakes, new exhaust, new handmade top, a complete trunk restoration, and a new wiring harness.

Ghia 450SS

A barn finder’s story

A one-time semi-pro barn finder, bought a Ghia 450SS once, from a movie editor. For that purchase, I have to confess that took the Type TNP approach, which is short for “Take No Prisoners.” The lady had advertised it but when I called her on a Monday, she said “I am busy editing a movie, I won’t have time to see any buyers until Saturday morning.”

So I called my client in New York, told him to send me a check on what he thought it was worth without seeing it and when I got the check on Wednesday I took it over her house that night with a tow truck following (that because, many times when I bought rare cars, they hadn’t been run for years, weren’t licensed, etc.).

She answered the door in a huff, saying “I told you that I wasn’t seeing anybody about the car until Saturday.” I said “I’m here now with the cashier’s check and the tow truck” and she looked out in the street and saw the tow truck was blocking the road, and running, and I wrested it away without fisticuffs being necessary.

I don’t remember driving it but know I did drive one at one time or another. It was not memorable, being too heavy to be driven with aplomb, or is it brio?

All I know is, that if it hadn’t had that quad headlamp nose I would have liked it more. In the same general category (Italian body, American V8 engine, I like the Italia by Intermeccanica much more though I know that model has major front end suspension design problems).

And what happened to Burt Sugarman? He went on from producing a TV show called the Midnight Special to producing such movies as Kiss Me Goodbye, Extremities and Children of a Lesser God. I couldn’t find references to his current work. I know he was a helluva car collector with Duesenbergs, and a maroon Rolls Royce James Young bodied PV with a big rose painted on the rear deck (Rosebud?).

Other Sixties sports car producers making Italo-American hybrids (Frank Reisner with Intermeccanica, Milt Brown with Apollo, etc.) got more ink and Sugarman faded out of the car world in the blink of an eye but we have to say, in retrospect that we appreciate his eye and thank him for rescuing a Giugaro design and making it available to us style-starved Yanks….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss can be found in the world of automobile fine art these days. For a list of available 11” x 17” prints, write Photojournalistpro@gmail.com

 

Ghia 450SS

Summary
Chrysler’s Anti-Cobra:The Ghia 450SS
Article Name
Chrysler’s Anti-Cobra:The Ghia 450SS
Description
The Ghia 450SS made its debut at the 1966 Turin show. Giorgetto Giugiaro, the young and capable head of Ghia design, designed the car and it is an excellent example of his talent.
Author

Comments

  1. funny, at very first glance of this Ghia 450SS I thought Torino

  2. Rob Krantz says:

    Always thought these were nice looking cars, but the automatic tranny doesn’t scream “Italian Exotic”. A decade ago, like most sports or exotic cars, these could be had relatively inexpensively. If I were to spend the mentioned amounts of money needed to acquire a Ghia 450 SS, it wouldn’t be on one of these cars. Perhaps a Ferrari 308 or 328 or a Jensen Interceptor convertible…….

  3. Mike Kerns says:

    Love these cars. Very usable classic car, good AC, smooth freeway cruiser, and with the automatic city traffic is a breeze!!
    I drive mine 2-3 times a week to work.
    What a treat.

  4. Lovely cars but if you’re looking for a sports car, move along. They are about as sporty as the Barracuda they were derived from. That said, they are nice cars to drive…no drama, unless you’re left braking too late going into a corner. It can get a little interesting at that point, but with the tires complaining bitterly and the door handles looking at the asphalt, it’ll do it. Don’t ask me how I know this…

  5. Sugarman was on TV a lot this fall, sitting next to wife Mary Hart and TV/radio host Larry King behind home plate at Dodger home games during the playoffs.

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