Vintage vehicles, Automotive history and stories from motoring's past. 

Ghia L6.4, 1961-63: Italian style meets American swagger

Most car fans are familiar with the limited production 1956-58 Dual-Ghia. A swanky, hand-built convertible that oozed elegance and exclusivity, it was born from a dream by maestro of automotive style, Virgil Exner. The famed “rat pack” made it their ride of choice with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Lucille Ball, Debby Reynolds, and Peter Lawford owning them. But many vintage car fans are unaware that the mid-century celebrities’ favorite Italian job also had a second act.

Gene Casaroll eventually tired of watching his money circle the drain and stopped making Dual-Ghia convertibles sometime after rolling out his hundredth example. Though he was burned out on losing propositions, there was still demand for an exclusive ride with space age style and Italian coachwork powered by a fire-breathing American V-8. This time he'd be wiser and actually turn a profit. The next one would be fully assembled in Italy, none of that shipping the bodies across the ocean to Detroit to bolt them on to Chrysler chassis. And he'd double the price, just to make sure.

Fields of dreams for independent manufacturers that dare to build such elite rides invariably become graveyards. Such dreamers succumb to the same sorry fate for the same sad reason: the numbers are not their friends. Costs inevitably spiral out of control, making their cars so expensive to build that manufacturers are forced to sell them at a loss. Even an established maker like Ford Motor Company couldn’t make a go of it with their limited-production, hand-built 1956-57 Continental Mark II.

Casaroll made another attempt at an Italian-American hybrid with his Ghia L6.4, named for the displacement of its Chrysler V8. Designed by Paul Farago and Virgil Exner, his second act was a hardtop coupe with sleek bodywork that leapt a generation past the boxy Dual-Ghia. With its low, wide stance and elegant, airy greenhouse, the 6.4L epitomized automotive swagger, while its throbbing 355 horsepower Chrysler engine delivered the performance its bodywork promised.

Loyal Dual-Ghia owners also lined up to buy new Ghia L6.4s. But even with an economical Italian build and a doubled price, the numbers still didn’t work. Though he’d planned to build forty cars per year, just twenty-six of the second-generation sports-luxury cars were built from 1961 until Casaroll passed away in 1963.

Today, an ultra-rare L6.4 will occasionally surface at auction where it inspires head-scratching questions. And, until just a few years ago, a lucky someone could drive one home for around hundred grand and change. But values have crept upwards to the point that an original, mint condition example with 28,000 miles on its clock went for $352,000 at Monterey in 2013. Smart money might easily bet on values increasing as more collectors become aware of the gorgeous Ghia L6.4. 

Written and photographed by Jim Cherry