Italian-American Stallion

Luxurious and extravagant, the 1963 Dual-Ghia L6.4 Coupe offered drivers an American drivetrain and Italian coachwork

The brainchild of Eugene Casaroll, the Italian-American hybrid known as the Dual-Ghia was largely based on the Ghia-designed Chrysler Firearrow, a concept car for which he acquired the production rights. Luxurious and extravagant, it had the longest production line in the world—from Detroit to Milan and back—as it utilized an American drivetrain and Italian coachwork.

Sales were modest, however, and in 1960, a redesigned coupe version appeared in Paris, spearheaded by the American Ghia agent Paul Farago, with little input from Casaroll. It had every imaginable amenity, including fitted luggage and luxurious styling, and the public response to the largely hand-built L6.4 was encouraging.

The car continued to use a Chrysler V8 engine—a 383-ci unit—but the construction was almost entirely conducted in Italy, making this version more of an import than before. Fewer off-the-shelf parts were used, and with high-quality materials, the price skyrocketed to an astronomical $13,500. Just 26 examples were produced between 1960 and 1963, many of which were acquired by such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Dean Martin.

This gorgeous L6.4 coupe spent most of its life in South Africa. As supported by a complete binder of documentation, history, and literature, it received a comprehensive body-off restoration some years back.

Since acquiring the L6.4, the seller had it repainted and the interior leatherwork repaired, the quality of which is superb. The maroon metallic finish is immaculate and is tastefully complemented by flawless chrome wire wheels shod in Vogue dual gold stripe tires. The engine bay is clean and tidy, showing no obvious signs of dirt, grime, or grease.

A fabulously running and driving example, this ultra-rare Dual-Ghia is a wonderful collector car and a fantastic Italian-American hybrid whose character is as rooted in Turin as it is Las Vegas.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $275,000 at RM's auction of the Wayne Davis Collection in Dallas, Texas, on April 19, 2008. Most Mopar fans have heard of Dual-Ghia, largely because of celebrity ownership. However, even diehard fans who could tell you the wrist pin size in a 1963½ Max Wedge 413 would be hard-pressed to say exactly which engines were used in any of the Dual-Ghias.

They have been something of an odd duck in collector car circles, a novelty for the Chrysler collector who has one of everything else. Performance enthusiasts have generally dismissed D-Gs as overstuffed Plymouths without a racing pedigree or parts support, aside from a powertrain one might find in a school bus. Up until this sale, they've been under-appreciated by the market as well.

Unlike the first generation Dual-Ghia, the L6.4 was exclusively a coupe (technically it's a Ghia L6.4, as only the prototype wore a Dual-Ghia badge). More importantly, however, it led the styling parade for Chrysler, rather than following it like the first series.

The L6.4 displays future Mopar styling cues, such as the "fishbowl" back window and general door glass profile of the first-generation Barracuda, scalloped taillights akin to the 1961 Dodge, and upper rear quarter panel overhang from the 1961 Plymouth.

The L6.4 was also a little more congruent as far as overall execution was concerned. While using far fewer parts from Mopar, barring the powertrain and the 1960 Chrysler convertible windshield, several of the components were premium upgrades. These include a Nardi wood steering wheel instead of a '56 Chrysler wheel and Jaeger gauges instead of '56 Dodge bits.

More like a Ferrari Superamerica

The low body profile is well accentuated by the fastback greenhouse that would be lost with a drop top. The original generation carried more of an upright, opulent look—like that of a drophead Bentley—while the second-generation coupes imply sportiness, more like a Ferrari Superamerica.

Note that I used the term "imply" sportiness. While Chrysler had perhaps the best handling suspensions of the Big Three on a full-size body of this era, the greater weight of a Ghia dooms it when going head-to-head against most European contemporaries.

The big-block Mopar would give an E-type a run for its money on the straights, but the Jag would be all over the L6.4 in the twisties. Although a manual transmission was ruled out, one wise diversion from Chrysler was the use of an actual shift lever—albeit more of a toggle switch—in lieu of Mopar's jukebox buttons on the dashboard. Facel-Vega, another Euro/Yankee hybrid, kept the push-button (its handling was worse as well, even with more potent engines). Build quality was vastly superior on the Ghia, too, especially the almost exclusively Italian-assembled L6.4.

To sum it up, if the Chrysler-powered Facel-Vega is a French Imperial, one should think of the L6.4 as a Mopar Maserati, built three decades before an Italian-American hybrid named Iacocca made the same connection on a K-car basis.

While being the recipient of a competent older restoration and more recent freshening up, a couple of aspects of the Davis car are "cornball." These include the semi-crude straight exhaust outlets pointing out a few inches beyond the rear bumper like a '69 Road Runner with a $200 dual exhaust job from the Mac's Mufflers, and those ghastly Vogue tires. However, the 1950s vintage repop wire wheels don't look out of place, despite the fact all L6.4s were fitted with custom-spun chrome-plated brass wheel covers from new. Considering that making a set would likely be the only way to get a set, using an $1,800 set of current wheels can be forgiven.

It's time to adjust values

The price of this car probably took the market by surprise, which means it's time to adjust values. First of all, the global collector car market is currently quite strong, especially for "world-class" cars like this with its dual citizenship.

The exclusive, hand-built nature of its manufacture is the second factor. Unless you're at a Dual-Ghia Registry function, the chances of two being at a show are very low.

This leads us to a third factor—appeal to multiple outlets and collector interests. Collectors of European luxury, European sports, American specialty, and even top-rung muscle cars can all make an argument to own one of these.

Fourth, it's a form of rolling art, an example of period modern, which carries well into the 21st century. And the celebrity status of the car still has long legs in 2008, especially as a favorite of Rat Pack members.

At three times the selling price of production luxury cars when new, one had to be a high roller just to get one. It was truly an extravagant styling statement. The fact that the Dual-Ghia, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra are all Italian-Americans is part and parcel of the car's appeal.

Finally, it is one of the most exclusive cars out there. There are more Ferrari 250 GTOs than L6.4s, and while an L6.4 would not qualify for one-tenth of the events that a 250 GTO would, it will certainly attract attention at a concours.

The L6.4 is also ideal for such rallies as the Copperstate 1000, where you can actually run the event with only a lube, oil, and filter change as preparation, rather than a $20,000 "servicing." And it will be a pretty cheap bill if something starts making bad noises underhood.

The fact that this car is turn-key as it sits, with just minor detailing to be concours, helps justify the price. Bringing back a derelict example will likely cost this much, but where do you find one of the other 25 cars to restore?

All in all, it's not a case of "Was this car worth this price?" Rather, "What took it so long to get there?"

Details

Years Produced: 1960-1963

Number Produced: 26

Original List Price: $13,500

SCM Valuation: $200,000-$225,000

Tune-up Cost: $150

Distributor Caps: $12

Chassis # Location: Plate in driver's door hinge pillar

Engine # Location: Upper right side of engine block behind water pump

Club Info: Dual Ghia Vehicle Club (formerly the Dual Ghia Registry) 29 Forgedale Rd Fleetwood, PA 19522

Alternatives:1959-61 Facel-Vega HK500, 1961 Chrysler 300G 2-door hard top, 1960-63 Ferrari 250 GTE 2+2

Investment Grade: C

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