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by Steve Temple  More from Author

Gazing at Frank Sinatra’s Ghia

      During the heyday of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra was the epitome of cool. That included his cars as well, which included a ’61 Ghia L.6.4 Hardtop built in Italy on a Chrysler chassis. Powered by a purring 335hp OHV Chrysler V-8, this high-style touring machine wasn’t just for steppin’ out on the town. It had some surprising Sinatra touches, such as a concealed gun compartment underneath the front seat. (Just in case he had a run-in with some “Good Fellas” in Vegas.)

       That’s not the only thing Sinatra changed. Known for doing things “My Way”, he was annoyed by all the unidentified chrome knobs and switches on the dash. So he had some bright orange plastic labels applied to the brushed-metal console so he could tell at a glance what they were.

       Besides these signature Sinatra items, the Ghia has some distinctive history all on its own. Virgil Exner designed a series of “dream cars” for Chrysler in 1950, but due to limited sales potential, the company later sold the rights in 1955 to Gene Casaroll, owner of Automobile Shippers, Inc. and Dual Motors Corporation of Detroit. 

       The Dual-Ghia, inspired by the Chrysler Firearrow prototype, began production began in 1956, initially on convertibles. The rugged and dependable Dodge chassis’ were shipped to Torino, Italy, to be shortened and fitted with the elegant yet conservative Ghia bodywork (not unlike the tailored suits worn by the Rat Pack). Upon completion, a Dodge Firebomb V-8 engine was installed back in Detroit, Michigan. 

       Production of a hardtop Dual-Ghia began late in 1960 with a 335 hp Chrysler V-8 engine (yeah, it’s got Hemi, but the older, less powerful version. Even so, it still hauled the mail). Complete assembly took place in Italy, under the name Ghia. Sinatra purchased the first Ghia L.6.4 built, shown here on display at the National Auto Museum. Just 26 of the sleek Ghia L.6.4 coupes were built, and 17 are accounted for today. Sinatra and fellow rat-packer Dean Martin both bought black ones. Other celebrity owners of these high-priced (for the time $7,600 luxury rides included Lucille Ball, Debbie Reynolds, Sterling Hayden, and Richard Nixon. Reportedly Ronald Reagan owned one as well, supposedly lost in a high-stakes poker game with then-President Lyndon Johnson.

       Later on Dual became simply the component supplier and exclusive American agent, having sold all design and manufacturing rights to Ghia. Many of the Ghia’s mechanical components were from Chrysler, including Chrysler's Torqueflite automatic transmission, suspension, air conditioning, power steering and brakes. American buyers were able to have their cars repaired and serviced at any Chrysler Corporation dealer. 

       The interiors are very luxurious, having an impressive instrument panel with a console that drops and curves onto the transmission hump. The leather-upholstered seats were thick and soft, the door jambs overlaid with chrome, and even the trunk lid was padded.

       “Nice ‘n Easy” was a Sinatra hit at the time—and that’s the way he liked it. Cruising from Beverly Hills to Palm Springs or Vegas demanded a slick ride and the Rat Pack had the cash to buy the best. With their continental-cut suits and skinny ties, they were slickest guys in town, and their Ghia’s reflected the Rat Pack’s groove.

National Automobile Museum
The Harrah Collection
10 South Lake Street
Reno, NV 89501


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