Mario Boano's 
Exner Ghias

From Car Collector magazine, Oct1997, 
via the internet:

"...Exner and his advanced styling group at Chrysler, which included Cliff Voss, Maury Baldwin, and consultant Paul Farago, who ran a specialty sports car shop on the out skirts of Detroit, were the guiding force behind the Chrysler Ghia designs. Farago, who was of Italian descent and spoke the language fluently, often acted as Exner's interpreter in meetings with Ghia's Luigi Segre and Mario Felice Boano, who had become head of Carrozzeria Ghia in 1944 upon the death of Ghia founder Giacinto Ghia... 

..In 1948, Boano hired Luigi 'Gigi' Segre to take over management of Ghia. Segre was one of those rare individuals endowed with both business acumen and a talent for design and engineering. He was both a blessing and a curse to Mario Boano, who sent Segre to America in 1949 to meet with Virgil Exner and Chrysler CEO K.T. Keller. The three quickly formed a friendship...

...The transatlantic relationship that formed between Chrysler and Ghia brought forth [dream cars and] an entire series of limited production models, beginning with the Chrysler-Ghia GS-1 coupes in 1954 [sic], which were sold exclusively in Europe by Societe France Motors. Ghia also built the limited production 1954 Dodge Firebomb cabriolets the Chrysler-powered Dual Ghias, marketed by Dual Motors Corporation of Detroit from 1956 to 1958, and the Chrysler Crown Imperial Ghia limousines, manufactured from 1957 to 1965. However, were it not for the efforts of two men, Mario Boano and Luigi Segre, there would never have been a Chrysler Ghia, or for that matter, a Carrozzeria Ghia.

(above, a smiling, flamboyant Mario Felice Boano
leans on a 1953 Plymouth.)

So, beginning around 1949 and continuing well into the 1950s, Chrysler engaged Ghia for the production of its show cars because, in post-WWII recovery Italy, labor costs were a small fraction of U.S. labor costs, and build quality was much higher for these one-off vehicles. These Ghia dream cars were reportedly built for as little as $10K, or about 90% cheaper than in Detroit.

The original Chrysler K-310 "Dream Car", was designed by Chrysler's Virgil Exner and his Detroit team. The K-310 is the earliest version of the distinctive headlight treatment that would soon characterize many Ghia designs in the 1950s, including Alfa Romeo 1900s.  While the K-310 may have gotten Boano's attention, I think the later Chryslers, beginning with the Chrysler D'Elegance, may have been mostly Boano and/or Savonuzzi creations, or at least heavily influenced by them in their final forms. 

I tend to think that the K-310 headlight treatment was original to Virgil Exner and Chrysler, but later modifications, such as seen in the D'Elegance and other cars, may have been inspired by the Bugatti 101 and perhaps was a Boano/Savonuzzi influence on Exner's later designs. The Bugatti 101 sedan which was displayed at the 1951 Paris Auto Salon and is shown here at the former Schlumpf Museum. 

In 1953, Ghia produced the Chrysler d'Elegance dream car, showing a progression of the K-310's treatment of the front end that comes a bit closer to the Alfa-style treatment. "The most significant legacy of the D'Elegance does not involve Chysler at all. Ghia's Giovanni Savonuzzi was entranced with the design to the point that he downsized it for several unique Alfa Romeos", according to RM-Sotheby's description of the D'Elegance for their Icons auction in December, 2017.

Also in the early 1950s, Chrysler began production of a series of 18 Ghia-bodied cars called the "Chrysler Ghia Special" as a follow-up to the d'Elegance show car. This example was sold by Hyman, Ltd. and the photo album on their website reveals this to be a stunningly-restored example of Exner's and Boano's vision.

Original press photo of an Alfa 1900 Supergioiello, also built in 1953, two years after the Chrysler K-310 and the same year as the d'Elegance. This result of the original collaboration between Boano and Exner was spreading to Alfa Romeo and other brands. The Dutch caption above this photo states that this car was a father & son Boano design. The son, Gianpaolo Boano, also designed a somewhat grotesque Lancia Aurelia along vaguely similar lines and "signed" it "B_Junior".

The 1953 Dodge Firearrow, another Chrysler show car, clearly is following the frontal styling direction established by the Chrysler d'Elegance. And the fender line and headlight treatment continue to be very similar to that of the Alfa 1900 Supergioiello two-seaters and the "America" 4/5 seaters such as *01078* and *01085*.

Can there be any doubt that the same hands and mind crafted this car that crafted the Chrysler and Dodge show cars above? Assuming that Boano was following Exner's 1951 theme from the K-310, Boano must have liked the style very much, as he incorporated that look into many non-Chrysler products.

  It has been suggested by others that Carrozzeria Ghia borrowed heavily from the Chrysler d'Elegance when finalizing their design for a sport coupe for Volkwagen around 1954-1955. After viewing this comparison, I think there can be no doubt of that, at least where the "greenhouse" and rear fender line are concerned. And why not? Mario Boano headed up Ghia during the early 1950s and his work would probably have been considered an "in-house" design resource to be freely used by subsequent designers.

And in 2017 I came across this lovely Fiat 1900 Ghia, which more closely resembles the Chrysler Elegance dream car than the Alfa 1900 Supergioiello. This Fiat, like the Elegance, was done in 1953.

This Cadillac Ghia, also from 1953, bears a closer resemblance to the Alfa 1900 than to the K-310. Since Exner would have had no involvement in the creation of a Cadillac show car, the principal designer must have been at Ghia itself, in Turin, Italy, not in Detroit.

This 1952 Ferrari 212 Inter Ghia coupe, shown at the Paris Salon in October, 1952, is clearly a Boano or Boano-inspired design.  

This 1954 Fiat 8V (Otto Vu) has a general form more similar to the Fiat 1900, above, than the Alfas or Chryslers, so the shape was clearly evolving. However, the literature clearly attributes this car to Mario Boano. In none of the online references is there any mention or even hint of Giovanni Savonuzzi, the other major Ghia designer who is sometimes said to have designed the SuperGs and who was responsible for the Fiat and other Supersonicas, as well as the Supersonica-style Alfa 1900s.

Boano left Ghia in 1954 but, two years later, this 1956 Cadillac convertible "concept" by Ghia shows the unmistakable hand of Giovanni Michelotti in the treatment of the fender form, but the headlight treatment borrows from Boano's early 1950s work on Chryslers and Alfas.

And, remarkably, this same Michelotti/Boano  treatment can also be seen on this 1957 Cadillac custom. Though "watered down" from the 1956 Cadillac example, the headlight and fender treatments look very familiar, don't they?

But wait...there's MORE! Remember the Dual Ghia, from Dual Motors? Yep. A Ghia production using Mario's front-end treatment yet again. Dual Ghia production started in 1957 and ran, with some updates, through the mid-1960s. The car in the photo at left is the progenitor of the original run of Dual Ghias, the 1954 Dodge Firebomb (I don't think such a name would fly today!!). It is virtually identical to the first run of production Dual Ghias.

There's also a great similarity between the rear-end styling of the great Chrysler show cars of the early 1950s and the Alfa Super-Gs. Compare the rear treatment of the Chrysler GS-1 variation of the Thomas Special (at left) with that of the bumperless Alfa Supergioiello *01505*, below left, and the Chrysler "Special", below right. It seems quite clear to me that these came from the same designer, either personally or by team leadership.

Finally, while the interiors of these many Boano creations varied considerably, the similar dashboard layouts of the 1953 Chrysler d'Elegance (at left) and Super-G *01505* (at lower-left) is certainly no coincidence, allowing for differences in American and continental tastes.

But how much of this work was Mario's and how much was his son's? Could we be seeing a son's work but crediting the father? Judging by the clumsy form of Gianpaolo's Lancia Aurelia (bottom left), I'd say Mario was was calling the shots and his son, if involved in these cars at all, was merely an aide.

There you have it. Mario Boano was the designer of the Alfa 1900 Supergioiello and the frontally-similar Alfa 1900 "America" and benefitted substantially from his association with Chrysler's Virgil Exner. 

*Disclaimer: Please note that I'm not an expert on these Ghias or even on 1900s in general, so the opinions and speculations expressed are strictly my own. 

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