Last Night’s Dream: 1953 Chrysler Ghia D’Elegance

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(first posted 7/30/2013)    The next stage of the evolution of Exner’s Ghia Specials, the 1953 D’Elegance, came by virtue of using a shortened Chrysler chassis and a very different approach to the roof compared to the K310. It may have been new for Exner (and Ghia), but not so much for Pininfarina:

Pininfarina’s milestone 1946 Cisitalia (CC here) was hard to ignore, and few did. It is considered perhaps the single most important car in the development of design in the post-war era, and was widely praised and copied at the time. Exner’s D’Elegance (lower) is of course much more elongated, but the Cisitalia’s hips, roof, and front fender line are all too apparent. Exner’s inevitable (and unfortunate) favorite affectations, the gun-sight rear tail lights and the toilet seat trunk might distract one from the clean underlying shape; or perhaps he was afraid that the similarities were too obvious.

Chrysler D'Elegance Coupe 1953 side

Regardless of the degree of its originality, the D’Elegance has a terrific profile, and fine lines, and the powerful presence of its size and bearing, thanks to being a big car of its type.

But I can’t look at it without seeing the svelte little Italian Cisistalia (1100cc) engulfed inside the D’Elegance’s ample American body.

The front end is an evolution of that K310 front end, which of course wasn’t really original either. There may be older examples, but this one is from the ground-breaking 1938 Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia.

Of course, the D’Elegance is credited with the inspiration for the Karmann Ghia, and rightfully so. Some books claim that the roof was a perfect copy, but even the most casual glance tells otherwise (KG CC and design history here). Frankly, the K-G roof is as least as different from the D’Elegance as it is from the Cisitalia. Everybody borrows, except the very few.

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Exner was a great synthesizer and embellisher, but  not quite up to Pininfarina’s caliber. That’s not to diminish his finest work in the Ghia series, which is yet to come.

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