Ghia Dodge Firearrow III Coupe
During the 1950s, the American public was captivated by the intrigue of all things new and technologically advanced, like travelling by airplane and even trips to the moon and beyond. Developing their own galaxy full of aircraft-inspired Dream Cars was the Chrysler Corporation.
In 1953, Dodge unveiled its first special, the Firearrow, a sleek roadster that provided a glimpse of what everyone's new automobile would look like in just a few years. While this sleek open-top car looked like it was ready to ply the highways of tomorrow, it was just a rolling concept display model and had no running gear. But the public response was strong enough that approval was given to design and build an actual running prototype, thus was born the Firearrow II. Taking many of it styling cues from the first static model, this car also won the praises of both the press and the public, and fueled talk that there might even be a limited production model down the road.
It was decided that another refinement of the design was needed, and that this car should be an aerodynamic masterpiece, a closed coupe with all the amenities needed from the modern driver. Since 1951, Chrysler had looked to the Turin, Italy-based firm of Ghia for their expertise in producing one-off concept cars. Both the original Firearrow and the running second series had been effectively designed and produced at this workshop. Chrysler's Chief of Advanced Design, Virgil Exner, is often credited with many of the corporation's show car designs and executions during this period. However, unlike some design leaders who insisted that they be credited with everything produced under their direction, Exner felt that credit should be given to those who actually put the pen to paper. In charge of what would evolve into the Firearrow III project was well known stylist Luigi Segre.
Having served with Ghia for several years, Segre had already been instrumental in several earlier projects with Chrysler, including the C200 roadster and the later K310 coupes. Having established a working relationship with Exner, both men seemed to be on the same page when it came to what these show cars should look like. No detail was overlooked in the design of this show car. Generous amounts of glass were utilized, providing excellent visibility all around. Despite standing under five feet high, the interior design of the Firearrow III is really quite spacious for the driver and passenger.
As with the earlier versions of the Firearrow, this series III coupe was mounted on a regular production chassis from the Dodge Royal, the running gear was left in stock form with the 'Red-Ram' mini-'Hemi' V8 engine providing plenty of power. Suspension was also taken straight from production models as was the recently introduced fully automatic Torque-Flite transmission. Studies were conducted to optimize weight distribution which resulted in handling that was far superior to the production cars from which the chassis had come from.
Upon delivery to the Chrysler Corporation, the blue coupe was earmarked to be the center of attraction at the opening of the company's new Chelsea Proving grounds in June 1954, at which point entered a daring young woman by the name of Betty Skelton. By the early 1950s, Miss Skelton had made quite a name for herself. While her first love was flying, (she had flown solo at age 12 and by age 20 was considered one of the best aerobatic pilots in the world) she had taken on a job as a charter pilot and in the course of transporting race drivers between events became friends with NASCAR founder Bill France. He told her about the excitement surrounding Speed Week in Daytona and offered to try and find her a sponsor so she could attend. That year, Betty Skelton was the talk of the beach as she piloted a variety of Chrysler products to several records, before being invited to take part in this special event.
Also invited were the top three drivers from that year's Indianapolis 500 race and after being challenged by the men, Miss Skelton was given the privilege of driving Jack McGrath's second place-winning race car. But the real reason she was there was to take the Firearrow III out on the new banked oval and open it all the way up. She did, and in the process set a new world record for a woman on a closed course of 143.44 miles per hour, and this while wearing a dress and high heels! After Betty Skelton's speed runs Firearrow III was placed on the show circuit.
Chrysler had made a deal with the U.S. Customs Department that in order to avoid paying some hefty import duties due to the Italian coachwork by Ghia, the car would go back to the country of its origin. In early 1955, the Firearrow III was crated up and sent back to the Turin shops of Ghia. From there Firearrow III was sold to a private individual in France where it remained in the same ownership for the next 30-plus years.
During the next three decades, Firearrow III was at first used on a regular basis, and later driven or exhibited sparingly. Thought to have been lost it was during the 1980s that an inquiry to an automotive magazine caught the attention of then GM Chief of Design, the late Dave Holls. A letter to the editor from the owner of the car, still in Italy, was trying to locate some information about this unique coupe. Holls alerted a car-collector to the car's whereabouts and the pursuit to add this one-of-a-kind dream machine to a growing collection of similar historic concept automobiles was launched. After several months the Firearrow III was purchased and returned to the U.S.A. Since that time Firearrow III has been treated to a ground up restoration by Fran Roxas, where it was returned to its original appearance. In 2009 the car was auctioned by RM Auctions for 880,000.- USD.