1953 Chrysler D'Elegance Show Car

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This was the second (the first being the Chrysler K-310 of the Dream Cars Virgil Exner was responcible for Chrysler. The D'Elegance picked up where the K-310 left off, sharing a similar front end. It featured a lot of items that would later appear on production cars. A dash mounted shifter would later appear on the 55s. Power steering and Power braes on the 56s. Gunsight Tail lights on later Imperials.

The Metallic Red sports car is said (by Exner's son) to be Exner's favorite car. It is one of the fortunate one not to have met its fate in a crusher or a sunken ship. It was driven over 100,000 Miles and had at east five different engine/transmission combos.

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Background of The Exner Era Dream Cars

Quick History of Exner

In 1932, A 23-year-old Virgil Exner was hired by GM's Art and color, and Harley Earl immediately recognized his talent. Two years later Enxer was put in charge of the Pontiac Studio, a job he kept until 1939 when Raymond Lowry hired him to work in his studios design contract to Studebaker. A dispute between Lowry and Exner over credit for the design of the 52 Studebaker caused a parting of ways between the two, but Studebaker picked him up for in house designs.

In 1949, Chrysler President K. T. Keller Exner away from Studebaker for the purpose of designing cars that would improve Chrysler's stodgy image. At first he was working secretly on Advance Designs. The designs were already locked in through 1954.

Xner and Ghia


Virgil Exner of Chrysler's Advanced Designs Studio and Luigi Segre of Ghia


  • 1952 Chrysler New Yorker chassis number 321953 was used. It was shortened 10 inches to 115"
  • The original 17" tires on Wire Wheels were replaced with 15" tires becuase of availabilty f 17" tires
  • The car was fitted with Power Steering, some who has driven feel to give little road feel one would expect from this car
  • Rear brakes were 12" drum
  • Front brakes were Ausco Lambert 12" Disc
  • Vacuum Assisted Power Brakes


The body was the second built for Chrysler (the first being the Chrysler K-310) by Ghia in Turin, Italy. It was painted a bright Metallic Red, and featured the following:

  • A long hood and short nose fastback with a surprisingly long rear overhang
  • Spare tire Embossment on the rear deck contained a spare mounted on a telescoping hydraulic assembly
  • Gunsight tail lights
  • Front end look similar, but refined, to the Chrysler K-310 previously build by Ghia for Keller


The black and cream leather interior has a more plain airplane cockpit look than many of the Exner Dream cars of the time. It was not as sophisticated as the exterior. Offset in front of the driver was six large gauges with large speedometer on the left, large clock on the right and fuel, ampmeter, oil and temperature gauges in the center. The dash-mounted gearshift (to make its appearance in 1955) was to the left of the steering column, and a Chrysler push-button radio on the right. The cream colored leather seat advertised for three (but it was strictly a 2-seater) with a hidden pull-down armrest, black leather trim was on the dash. the Interior included a full set of matching luggage, which was stowed behind the seat, as the car lacked a trunk.



  • Engine 331ci Chrysler Hemi 2bbl with 180 Horsepower and 312 Torque
  • Transmission Chrysler's 4-Speed Semi-Automatic Fluid Torque


The second registered owner, after Chrysler disposed of the car in Italy to avoid tariffs was a man by the name of James Colee. He owned the car from 1955 until 1989 - driving it over 100,000 miles. During that time he installed many engine/transmission combos. They include:

  • Olds OHV V8 with Turbo HydraMatic transmission
  • Highly Modified Pontiac 389
  • Mopar 440 Magnum

The current drivetrain is a Chrysler 354 Hemi and Powerflite transmission

Who Copied Who?

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, 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.

Car Shows

The car was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show in October 1952 and was a great success.

Just the Facts Mam

It was at the 1952 Paris car, and has been since, rumored of a limited run of 25 cars for Europe. Exner himself confirmed that this was not the case and the D'Elegance would remain a one-off at the show. The rumors since may have to do with a similar looking Chrysler Dream Car called the 1952 Chrysler Special, later referred to as the. Thomas Special. Chrysler's Head of Export Sales was C. T. Thomas. He contracted to have a pair of "Chrysler Specials" to also be shown at the same Paris Auto Show that the D'Elegance debut at. It was promised that 25 would be made for Export Only Sales. That didn't come to happen, but it is said that approximately six were later built for wealthy Europeans, and they're referred to as "Thomas Specials"


  • Chrysler Advanced Design Studio
  • Shipped back to Italy to Avoid high tariff placed on imported cars at the time
  • Sold to an America by the name of Patushian who was a Machinist in Englewood, CA
  • James Colee who owned from 1955-1999
  • Don Williams of the Blackhawk Collection
  • Owned anonymously (bought at auction in 2011 for $946,000) and displayed at Behring Auto Museum

Magazine Articles

  • Special Interest Autos July/August 1993


  • Special Interest Auto
  • Hemmings

Internet Links

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