My Car Quest

July 24, 2024

1954 Plymouth Explorer Dream Car By Ghia

A design that’s still contemporary

by Wallace Wyss –

I have two or three books written by former Rolls Royce and/or Bentley designers and the more I flick through them, the more I realize that they are largely involved in re-inventing the wheel. The format for a RR or Bentley is to have a big grille with either vertical flutes or a cross hatch mesh like a chrome plated wire fence, and then a couple of road lamps somewhere flanking the grille. They’ve been giving us that for nearly 100 years.

Plymouth Explorer By Ghia

But when I saw the Plymouth Explorer by Ghia at the Petersen Museum the other day I realized that, in a lot of ways, it is a car whose design could be reborn as a RR or Bentley if Chrysler doesn’t have the cojones to bring it back (Bentley by the way is proud of their antecedents and when introducing a new model often shows us drawings of the great Bentleys of former days).

The Explorer was the second of the 1954 dream cars built at Ghia. One press release says Ghia “designed it” but I think Virgil Exner designed it and Ghia built it.

It was on a 114 in. wheelbase chassis, and debuted in the May 1954 Motor Trend. Now where Bentley gave you a little extra power in their Continental models, Chrysler for some reason only had a lowly 110 hp 230 ci 6-cylinder engine coupled to a Hy-Drive transmission.

Plymouth Explorer By Ghia

Plymouth Explorer By Ghia

A lot of the styling was I say, spot on for the times and looks good now, to whit—

-flared rear fenders

-a bulbous blister on the side running from front to rear with a exhaust vent for the engine, (ya wonder if Giugiaro stole that vent for some of his cars….like the SWB Ferrari 250GT he did for Bertone…)

-big single headlamps not unlike on some recent post 2000 Bentleys

-tall wheel cutouts to fully expose the wire wheels

-a really nice set of luggage on the luggage tray behind the seats, the luggage color matched to the interior. (I ask you why don’t American automakers offer matched luggage, even on $70,000 cars, what are we, chopped liver?)

The rear roofline and trunk lid are very Karmann Ghia-ish and I read that Virgil Exner was not too pleased when the lines of some of his paid-for-by-Chrysler show cars popped up on the design Ghia submitted to VW for the Karmann Ghia.

For some reason they thought at the time the radio tuner controls were ugly and had them concealed by a movable instrument panel section. Along the way the car had a restyling or two, at first having open vertical bars which was replaced by a rather Jaguar-looking grille. The front bumper was changed from a two-piece affair to a single bar.

Plymouth Explorer By Ghia

I suspect that this would be a good car to put in my Incredible Barn Finds books. So far, I only can quote what the asking price was when it was “already barn found” and advertised in the March 1990 issue of Hemmings Motor News with an asking price of $95,000. It must have been bought from Chrysler originally back in the Fifties for a song, so I’m game to hear any price it was advertised for in its first 50-years or so before it ended up at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

One of the odd quirks of the Ghia-built Chrysler dream cars is that Chrysler tried to sell them outside of the US whenever they got a good offer because, if they kept them in the US, Uncle Sam would knock on their door and charge them a hefty customs duty based on what it cost them to build it in Italy.

I am sure this car has a “back” story full of skullduggery on how it was sold off to some foreign land and spirited back. I hope it’s not too lurid….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: A commentator on design, and fine artist, Wyss’ art can be found on his website:



Plymouth Explorer By Ghia

1954 Plymouth Explorer Dream Car By Ghia
Article Name
1954 Plymouth Explorer Dream Car By Ghia
One of the odd quirks of the Ghia-built Chrysler dream cars is that Chrysler tried to sell them outside of the US.

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