The cars we loved.
Celebrities are a funny lot. They are always trying to one up each other. It’s true now and was in the slow motion media of the ‘60s. While Elton John vs. Madonna might have been vicious, members of the Brat Pack were just trying to get more face time in magazines and on the new TV medium. One way was to see who could make the biggest entry scene when they knew the cameras would be flashing. What better way to make an entrance in Southern California where Mercedes, Jaguars and Porsches were as common as VW Beatles than with a nearly one off custom car. The Ghia L 6.4, named for its engine size would be one of those special cars.
The Italian design house Ghia would design and build a string of cars for Chrysler, including the beautiful Special in the 50’s under Virgil Exner’s influence. The Dual-Ghia L 6.4 was born out of a wealthy inventor’s passion for shelved Chrysler concepts and Italian flair. The L 6.4 would be the follow up to the short lived Dual-Ghia D-500 convertible project, itself influenced by a Chrysler concept called the Firearrow. Eugene Casaroll owner of Detroit based Dual Motors would commission Ghia build the L6.4 while Dual’s own designer Paul Farago is credited with penning most of the L 6.4’s lines.
Designed around Chrysler components, including transmission, and engine, the L6.4 was part of a trans-Atlantic assembly line. At the end of its long hood, the L6.4 proudly wears its dual citizenship with a badge sporting Italian and American flags flanking the Dual-Ghia logo.
The L6.4 would be built in Torino, Italy with a Chrysler 6.4L V8 fitted to the chassis along with the TorqueFlite automatic transmission. With 355 hp the L 6.4 offered sports car like acceleration and a typically American-like plush ride, thanks to the front torson bar and rear semi-elliptical suspension. In keeping with its sporty Italian side, the L 6.4 could sprint rather quickly to 60 mph, needing only 8.5 seconds.
At nearly $14,000 (without customizations) it cost nearly as much as any Ferrari. There were almost no options as every L 6.4 came loaded with all the creature comforts its well healed owners expected. Air conditioning was one option (another Chrysler component) that could be specified, otherwise each Ghia was different and essentially a custom car as they were painted and fitted with the owners choice of interior fittings. Clearly, the L 6.4 was one of the best of the big GT cars of its day, a some ways it was a more refined and exotic extension of Chrysler’s own letter car concept.
With only 1 car built a week, Ghia had planned to build about 40 examples a year. Unfortunately, conditions lead to only 20 or so cars being produced over a two year span. The exclusivity of the L 6.4 was further enhanced by customizations by George Barris, who pimped cars owned by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (the two most competitive members of the Brat Pack). While the Ghia was built in Italy, it never achieved the perigee of other Italian Exotics, mostly because of its low production output and its effective, but common Chrysler components.
The styling was a bridge between jet age technology with a bit of old world craftsmanship thrown in. While attractive and thoroughly modern, it would be a springboard for concepts that Chrysler would use later use in its own production cars. One such design element, the wrap around rear window would be seen years later in the Plymouth Barracuda. The concept would be refined in non-Chrysler cars like GM’s F-body Camaro and Firebird twins.
The real forward thinking was also evident inside. Nardi wood-rim steering wheels imparted some old world charm, while the dash featured a wraparound console that looks very much like it could have come from the future – like what would emerge in late ’80s Japanese and European cars. There’s even a storage area that looks like it could accommodate a SatNav or entertainment screen, but the L6.4s amusements were limited to an AM-FM radio and the gruff engine note of it’s big V8. Despite the roomy interior, the back seats were strictly for luggage, and small parcels at that.
Having MOPAR under the hood was one of the best things about the L6.4. The Chrysler connection (although officially indirect) meant that unlike many fussy exotics with their strict maintaince schedules, the L 6.4 could be driven about like any other Chrysler. The cheap to own and mostly hassle free Exotic could be serviced just around the corner (well almost) at your neighborhood Chrysler dealer. The ironically low cost of maintaining the L6.4 was in sharp contrast to its purchase price and cost of production.
The high cost of production would eventually be the L6.4’s undoing. With the price swelling to well over $15,000, the L6.4 was guaranteed to stay an elusive car, for even the rich who were on unfulfilled waiting lists to get their hands on what was essentially a powerful soft riding GT car with plenty of room for luggage and one passenger. With the death of Eugene Casaroll there would not be another Ghia project with Chrysler after 1963.
The Chrysler connection may not have endeared the L6.4 to the inner circle of Italian exotics, but its rarity insures that it floats high on the list of collectable cars. With only 17 said to be in existence, the L 6.4 will no doubt appreciate in value regardless of where its parts come from.
Today the Ghia L 6.4 stands as a testament to style in an important transitional period in American and Italian auto production and design. Star power was not the only virtue of the L 6.4 introduced many jet setters to the ideal of American muscle and European elegance in the same package. That concept would gain popularity and peak in the late ’60s as Chrysler (and other) engines would be in demand for small European exotic car builders.