Book of the Dead – Dual-Ghia

Not to be confused with a Karmann-Ghia.


For a brief moment, it was the car to have amongst the rich and famous in the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Peter Lawford, Debbie Reynolds, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra — you get the picture. Ronald Reagan also owned one, but lost it in a high stakes poker game to fellow political heavy hitter Lyndon B. Johnson. Columnist and reporter of the rich and famous Dorothy Mae Kilgallen was moved to remark that a Rolls-Royce had become “merely a Hollywood status symbol for those who can’t get a Dual-Ghia”. Its star shone as brightly as it did briefly.

Italian-American Eugene Casaroll(1) was the founder of Auto Shippers Inc, based in the motor city. Casaroll loved Mopars and the company’s main source of income was transporting newly built Chryslers to dealers across the USA. Another business owned by Casaroll was Dual Motors, so named because the products it made (industrial generators and military trucks) were powered by two engines.

In the early 1950s, Dodge presented a series of concept cars, styled by Virgil Exner and built by Carrozzeria Ghia, under the FireArrow moniker. There were four of them in total and Casaroll was especially taken with FireArrow IV, unveiled at the 1953 New York auto show. Although they were designed by Exner’s team with the idea of possible limited production in mind, this never happened, or at least not at Chrysler Corporation. As far as Chrysler was concerned, the FireArrows were for show purposes only.

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Casaroll remained smitten, however, and contacted Dodge general manager William Newberg with a request to acquire the rights to the FireArrow IV’s design. Perhaps surprisingly (and it is difficult to imagine a major carmaker today allowing an outsider to productionize one of its concept vehicles), Newberg agreed and also arranged for the supply of the necessary mechanical components, among which the 230 Hp V8 powerplant that powered Dodge’s top models. What Casaroll did not get, however, were the rights to use the FireArrow name. Instead, he would have to come up with one of his own for his planned dream car.

The logical next step was to contact Ghia in Italy to enquire about the possibility of manufacturing a small-scale series run. As was to be expected Ghia welcomed the potential work. The where to build the bodies covered, Casaroll now faced the task of amending the FireArrow IV’s design so that it complied with certain legal requirements and became a somewhat more practical proposition in terms of useability, driveability and cost.

Enter fellow Italian-American Paul Farago, who ran a Detroit racing car construction and repair shop. Farago was also the US representative for Ghia and was therefore a natural fit. Starting with the front and aft sections of a standard Dodge frame, Farago inserted a centre section of his own design. The entire body of the car was also slightly widened so that a standard Dodge windshield could be utilised. The rear fins were added at the request of Casaroll, although Farago himself didn’t care for them. More sturdy front and rear bumpers replaced the concept’s flimsy and impractical items.

The first finished prototype, for the most part quite similar to the original FireArrow IV, was put on display at the 1955 Geneva Motor Show under the name ‘Firebomb’. Not long after, the name was, probably for the better, changed to the less incendiary Dual-Ghia.

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The manufacturing process of the Dual-Ghia was complex and laborious and predated the similar method Cadillac would use for the 1959 and 1960 Eldorado Brougham and, some thirty years later, for the Allanté. Rolling chassis were produced by Farago in Detroit and shipped to Carrozzeria Ghia in Turin, where the bodies were fitted, complete with interiors. The car was then shipped back to Detroit, where the 5.2-litre Hemi V8 engine and other driveline components were added.

Materials and workmanship were of the highest order; the grille, door handles, windshield surround and several other trim pieces were triple chrome plated brass. Occupants sat on Connolly leather upholstered seats, the lined folding top was fitted with a dome light and the Dual-Ghia was painted with a total of fifteen coats of lacquer — each one hand rubbed before applying the next one. Almost seventeen feet long with a 115-inch wheelbase, the Dual-Ghia was an imposing machine and a fast car for its day: top speed was over 120mph and 0-60mph was dispatched in 8 to 9 seconds.

Its US $7,650 pricetag made the Dual-Ghia one of the most expensive cars offered in the USA, in terms of domestically built competition only surpassed by the Continental Mark 2, the Cunningham C3 and the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Even at this price point, however, Dual-Ghia still lost an estimated US $2,000 on each car sold — the main reasons being the production and transport costs involved in its convoluted manufacturing process. Between its launch in 1956 and discontinuation in 1958, only 117 Dual-Ghias were constructed. Given the fact that the car was especially desired by the rich and famous, one might wonder why Casaroll didn’t simply raise the price and make his enterprise profitable. It is unlikely that this would have diminished potential buyers’ enthusiasm much.

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In any event, the Dual-Ghia had reached the end of the road as Chrysler Corporation switched to torsion bar front suspension in 1957 and to monocoque construction for almost all of its cars in 1960. Hence, the supply of suitable chassis was running out by 1958 and the costs of re-engineering the Dual-Ghia to incorporate these fundamental changes would have been prohibitive. Casaroll also had to deal with health problems as well as a conflict with the labour union at his Automobile Shippers company and decided to call it a day.

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This was not yet the end of the story however: Ghia decided to create its own successor, again styled by Virgil Exner and with Farago constructing the underpinnings. For continuity’s sake, the Dual name was initially retained. Farago connected front and rear sections of a Chrysler monocoque body with a centre section of his own design. The car made its debut at the 1960 Paris Motor Show, priced at a stratospheric US $13,500. No longer a convertible but a large GT coupé with an airy glasshouse, the Ghia L6.4 (the 6.4 indicating the displacement in litres of its 335 Hp Chrysler Wedge Head V8 engine) would find only 26 well-heeled owners, just half the number Ghia had envisioned building.

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Reflections of the Ghia L6.4’s styling could be detected soon after in the DLO of the Fiat 2300S Coupé, styled by Virgil Exner’s son Virgil Exner Jr. In the USA, the rear-end styling theme below the beltline of the 1961 Plymouth (also by Virgil Exner) betrayed some similarity as well. Early cars have a grille treatment somewhat similar to the original Dual-Ghia, but later ones received oval headlights that appear to have been sourced from the humble Citroën Ami 6. According to Paul Farago, the Ghia L6.4, unlike the first generation model, was profitable, but disagreements with Ghia’s Luigi Segre resulted in its discontinuation (although slow sales doubtless also played a role).

Can a car be too exclusive? In the case of Dual-Ghia, it would appear to be so. Hollywood hotshots, Rat Pack members and political high rollers may have flocked to it for a while, but their tastes are fickle so when their interest evaporated, so did the survival chances of Dual-Ghia.

(1) Sadly, your author was unable to find a photograph of Mr. Casaroll. The search engine’s algorithm instead stubbornly bringing up images of people named Eugene that had prepared a casserole, or casseroles prepared by others in towns named Eugene…

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

12 thoughts on “Book of the Dead – Dual-Ghia”

  1. Good morning Bruno. You’ve unearthed nother car completely unknown to me. The popularity of the Dual-Ghia amongst US celebrities must-have seemed like a dream come true for Casaroll. As you say, however, the tastes of such buyers can be fickle in the extreme, but I’m sure he enjoyed the reflected stardom, however briefly.

    1. I would respectfully suggest, Daniel, that between your above words “tastes” and “of” you might add in “or lack of”. It wouldn’t surprise me if RR was actually quite pleased to have off-loaded his onto LBJ….

  2. Very interesting and unknown to me also, thanks Bruno. It’s not a looker to my eyes (although the second one looks a bit better), but that’s never really been the focus of the great and the good (well: the wealthy). Like you, I find it puzzling that Casaroll felt it necessary to sell his products at a loss, given the market he was chasing. Impossible to find out what happened now, I suppose: squeamishness, bad accounting/costing, something else?

  3. I had a Corgi Ghia L6.4 – gold with a yellow interior as I recall. I’d no idea the design was based on a Chrysler show car from about a decade earlier. It didn’t look old so much as odd.

  4. Brrrruno, Thanks again for shedding light on another rare automobile brand. 2 Comments if I may:

    1. I briefly owned a late Ghia L6.4 in black, long before their rapid rise in value. Back in the 1980s they were considered the bastard cousin to the Dual Ghia cars, and I was lucky to find someone to buy mine.

    2. You mention President Eisenhower as a Dual Ghia owner. I’ve done extensive research into the Eisenhower vehicles, and while Ike was a diehard Chrysler man [he was friends with the Company’s CEO] and delighted in the 2 new special Crown Imperial limousines with special bodies by Durham Coachbuilders* while he was in office. I find no evidence he ever even drove a Dual Ghia, much less owned one. He did buy a new 1956 Imperial sedan in black, that was often seen at the Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg, PA. Ike was a fairly frugal man from a poor Kansas farm family, and not likely to buy, much less use, a Dual Ghia!

    * I owned one of the Derham specials, known as Mamie’s car, and I was a long time friend of the man who owned Ike’s sunroof-equipped limo, being priviledged to drive it on numerous occasions when he was too old to drive. I even used Ike’s limo to take David & Julie Eisenhower for a ride in the late 1980s. Today that limousine is on public display at the National Park Service’s Eisenhower Farm.

    1. Hello Bill,
      Thanks for your comments- I had selected some names that came up repeatedly as one time Dual-Ghia owners, but perhaps it’s like with the many Cadillacs “originally owned by Elvis Presley” where fiction becomes folklore. In light of the research done by you on Eisenhower’s vehicles I’m sure you are correct, so thank you for setting the record straight.

      Since you at one time owned a Ghia L6.4: did the one you had have the oval headlights? If so, do you remember if they were of French origin (likely Cibié or SEV Marchal)? They (and their chrome surrounds) look a lot like Citroën Ami6 items but I could not find any concrete information anywhere.
      Thanks in advance if you are able to shed light on this, and also thanks for your interesting insights due to actual ownership and experience with not only this car but others as well- It’s much appreciated and I’m sure the DTW readership will agree.

    2. Brrrruno, In the 1980s and ’90s I bought and sold vintage cars, with many of them today only fleeting memories, reinforced with a photo or two to remind me of ownership. And at my advancing age, memories are no longer as sharp. So it is with the L6.4. I have no clear memory of the headlights, but somewhere I do have a photo of me in the driver’s seat just after it’s sale at the big Carlisle, PA fall show. I am pretty sure it had square headlights, but will only know for sure once I find the photo.

      Like all the cars I sold, I had very detailed photos and descriptions, all housed in folders that were kept in a large 4-drawer file cabinet. Unfortunately in May 1995 my restoration shop was struck by lightning, and the resulting fire destroyed all the files. Because I really liked the looks of the Ghia L6.4, I added that one remaining photo to my personal photo books. Next time I’m at my storage warehouse I’ll look for it.

    3. I’d be pretty sure the headlights were Cibié, as in the Ami. I remember that in the 60s Cibiés went through a vogue in the US customising scene.

    4. The Ghia L6.4 had 2 different types of headlights for a good reason; Cars destined for north America had round sealed beam lamps in keeping with the Federal DOT requirements, the cars in Europe had the squared versions. My car did have a KPH speedometer, so it was probably imported as a used car. This is one of the reasons I think it had the square lamps.

      The only L6.4 imported into the USA when new, ending up with squared lamps, was Frank Sinatra’s car. However it was constructed with the round lamps, and then converted to the square lamps by George Barris shortly after Sinatra took delivery.

  5. A fascinating story – thank you. I prefer the mk2 – I think it works well.

    I searched extensively for pictures of Eugene Casaroll, but the only one I could find which might of be him was at a motor show (unconfirmed, though).

    In my searches, however, I did come across some footage of Rat-Pack member, Peter Lawford, driving his Dual Ghia in the opening credits of TV detective series ‘The Thin Man’.

    It’s amusing that so many famous people bought a Dual Ghia – ‘Hey, that’s really exclusive – let’s all get one!’ People love to show which club they belong to (or would like to, at any rate).

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