Until the late-1940s, Chrysler automobiles were known for their engineering prowess rather than their styling. However, an invitation from Fiat to travel over to Italy and offer advice on the latest machining an volume-manufacturing techniques would soon change that.
While there, Chrysler's specialists were exposed first-hand to the mastery of Fiat's coachbuilders, who continued to style their European cars with a craft that had largely ceased to exist anywhere else in the world.
Interestingly, it was Chrysler President KT Keller who encouraged the US company to embrace Fiat's techniques. Known for his conservatism, Keller's dictum that 'one should be able to enter and exit a Chrysler without knocking off one's fedora' had often cramped Chrysler's style in the past.
Nevertheless, one of Keller's first decisions as President was to hire designer Virgil Exner - today remembered for his "Forward Look" designs with fins and other aesthetic flourishes - to produced a series of "Idea Cars."
Among these Idea Cars was the 1953 "Thomas Special": the example for sale at RM. Italy's Carrozzeria Ghia was contracted to build the coachwork, atop a production New Yorker chassis with a "FirePower" Hemi V8 engines. Its design modified Exner's previous Chrysler Special.
Whereas the Chrysler Special was a three-passenger coupe on shortened chassis - debuted in Paris in 1952 - the Thomas Special (named after CB Thomas, then-President of Chrysler's Export Division) placed the same Continental-inspired stylings on a five-seater long hood/short deck chassis.
As can be seen in the photographs, the car sports knife-edge fenders and a trapezoidal grille, while a 180hp engine purrs under its bonnet. It has been extensively displayed across America, and owned and cared for by noted private collectors, including the well-known American restorer Fran Roxas.
More recently, in 1992, the Thomas Special beguiled onlookers at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Thanks to that appearance, it remains in striking condition to this day - billed as "excellent and in virtual show quality" by RM.
One of only six of its kind ever built, and easily one of the most stylistically important automobiles in American automotive history, the Chrysler 1953 Thomas Special will appear at RM Auctions' July 24 Vintage Motor Cars of Meadow Brook sale with an estimate of $350,000-$500,000.
RM's auction will be held in Michigan, US.
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