Not satisfied that his Ghia L6.4 was rare enough, American crooner Dean Martin had it customised by hot-rod king George Barris. Dave Moore takes a look.
Posted on eBay last week is a rare Ghia once owned by Dean Martin, with the seller expecting to receive more than US$199,500 (NZ$259,000) when bidding closes.
Only 26 Ghia L6.4s were built. They were derived from the Dual Ghias developed in the late 1950s and manufactured by Dual, of Michigan, using bodywork by Ghia, of Turin, Italy.
This Italian-American joint venture was the idea of Eugene Casaroll, whose company transported Chrysler products and parts at the time. With Ghia agent Paul Farago, the United States agent for Ghia, he helped commission Dual-Ghias from about 1955, but the boat-like original cars were no beauties compared with the last of the line: the Ghia L6.4.
Introduced as a concept car in 1960, the L6.4 gained immediate admiration, especially among the well-to-do.
They were impressed with the simple beauty of the car, and its slim-pillared roof and glass line, now sitting on a custom unitary chassis, with fitted luggage.
Power for the car was from a 250 kilowatt Chrysler 6.4-litre V-8 with TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle had power steering, power brakes and air-conditioning.
Health issues kept Casaroll out of the L6.4 process, which meant the new car was built and sold by Carrozzeria Ghia, with Farago acting as the North American agent.
The L6.4 was owned by a glittering list of celebrities, including Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and, of course, Dean Martin.
Martin, who died in 1995, felt that his car needed to be a little more special to stand out among his friends' Ghias and the machines enjoyed by others in the Rat Pack, who were rich and not afraid to show it. This was despite the fact that each Ghia was already individually specified and built for its owners.
He turned to California custom king George Barris, already known for his flame-painted hot-rods and film and TV cars, many of which were immortalised by American plastic model construction kit companies Monogram and Revell. Barris' biggest claim to fame around the world is probably the original 1966 Batmobile.
Considering Barris' usually radical ideas, Dean Martin's natural cool must have rubbed off on him with the Ghia L6.4.
His treatment of the car was distinctive enough to fulfil the great singer's brief, while remaining subtle and restrained, never compromising the Ghia's irrefutably well-balanced proportions.
The Martin car still has "Barris Kustoms" stickers in the windscreen's corners and there is a plaque mounted on the car's centre console.
The Barris car has recontoured pontoons, and a black finish that better shows off the car's extensive glasshouse area than the other 25 uncustomised examples, which were usually paler metallics or plain white or yellow.
Barris used oval headlamps instead of circular ones, a Nardi steering wheel and chrome wire wheels with narrow whitewall tyres, highlighted by slim chrome accenting around the wheel arches and sills, with a thin chromed front and side vent trims.
It certainly looks like Barris did a decent job on the car, because unlike many show cars and customs of the 1960s, the Martin Ghia L6.4 still looks smart and relatively blemish-free.
An uncustomised but heavily restored 1962 Ghia Coupe L6.4 went under the hammer in 2007 and changed hands for US$181,500.
We suspect with the Martin and Barris provenance and its general all-around condition, this car could even reach US$300,000.
Let's hope it goes to someone who likes to drive it as well as look at it.
- © Fairfax NZ News