- One of two such examples built by the famed Italian coachbuilder Ghia
- Part of its current owner’s collection for two decades
- Restored by the well-known Mike Fennel
- Italian style and American engineering at their peak
210 bhp, 331 cu. in. OHV V-8, four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, coil-spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf-spring suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 126 in.
Admiring the car offered here, one would be hard-pressed to predict its origins as anything but Alfa Romeo in the early 1950s. Only its very American size and presence belie it roots, as do the subtle Cadillac script and badging. Underneath its design, the creation of Ghia principal Luigi Segre, is the same Series 62 the average neighborhood banker drove to work in 1953. Such is the power of a coachbuilder to make over a car’s entire personality, transforming a staid Cadillac into something of sensual flash and dash.
Copies of original build sheets on file indicate that a pair of 1953 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible chassis were ordered through the New York distributor; convertible chassis were often chosen by custom coachbuilders for their work, regardless of the intended body style, as they were more rigid and lent themselves to a wider range of designs. Both of these cars were bodied by Ghia to Segre’s dramatic design, with pontoon fenders curved at the front and flared into a slight fin at the rear and headlights and driving lights tucked into rounded “pods” on either side of the traditional upright radiator shell. Long chrome “ribs” were tucked into a subtle Corvette-style “cove” fit into each flank, running the length of the car and accentuating its appearance of low, smooth style. Greenhouse glass was expansive, with both a wrap-around windshield and backlight and narrow chrome pillars twixt the two.
No surprise, then, that the two Ghia Cadillacs are shrouded in romantic mystery. One was apparently delivered to John Perona, owner of Manhattan’s fabled El Morocco and a longtime Ghia customer. Yet another persistent rumor places Rita Hayworth behind the wheel. Virtually no period photographs or documentation for either car survive, other than a press photo of one, taken by Ghia in Italy.
The Cadillac offered here, chassis number 536253053, is distinguished from its sister Ghia coupe by its front-end design, which features a unique grille with thin vertical bars finished in gold-anodized aluminum, as well as no front fender parking lights, different taillights and rear license plate holder, and two half “bumperettes” rather than a full front bumper. It was acquired by Don Williams of the Blackhawk Collection for its current owners some two decades ago; Williams recalls it as a solid original car that was then restored by the late Mike Fennel, the well-known restorer from Santa Clarita, California.
Following its restoration, the car was featured in several memorable magazine articles, including in Exotic Cars Quarterly (Summer 1991) and as the cover feature of Collectible Automobile (December 2008). It was also displayed as an exhibition-only entrant at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1989 and 2002, being reunited at the latter with its sister car, today in the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Maintained in its owner’s collection since, the car remains in good condition, with its engine bay thoroughly detailed in preparation for the sale and only minor age and wear to the golden tan leather interior; similarly, the paint still has a good shine with only minor scratches. Much of the trim throughout the car is finished in gold-anodized aluminum, including that on the decorative chrome “ribs” on the body, badges, and grille bars, matching the Cadillac “sabre” wheels. The dashboard carries a sporting LeCarra wood-rimmed steering wheel, surrounded by gauges, detailing, and hardware with a wonderful futuristic 1950s bent; 34,320 miles show at the time of cataloguing.
The combination of great 1950s American chassis, engineering, and build quality with breathtaking Ghia design is a showstopper. Desired by socialites of the era and wrapped in an air of romantic intrigue, this car ranks as one of the great coachbuilt creations of its age. It needs only a Hollywood starlet wrapped in mink and Givenchy to complete its appeal.