Gear Head Tuesday – Exotic Iron in Velveetaville

Gear Head

'62 Ghia-Chrysler rf

Once upon a time, the San Francisco Chronicle was a real newspaper and it employed an enormously popular gossip columnist, the late, great Herb Caen. Caen’s column was the first thing most Chronicle readers turned to, Yrs Trly included, upon opening the paper.

Herb Caen

Herb Caen and his “loyal Royal”. Caen pounded his column out daily on his Royal  typewriter even after computers took over the newsroom.

Herb Caen column

Herb Caen, as he noted above in his column, drove a “Mazda-rati”, as Yrs Trly currently does. However, Caen’s was of the Wankel variety. In his column, Caen notes the closing of Playland-at-the-Beach, which faced the Pacific on the north western edge of San Francisco. A Safeway supermarket and a condo development sit now on much of the land Playland once occupied.


After the Transamerica Pyramid. Bank of America tower and Hyatt Regency were built, the San Francisco skyline logo at the top of Caen’s column changed to reflect the new buildings, the Transamerica Pyramid comically tilted.

Caen once noted in his column that a reader had tipped him off to the fact that a supermarket in Chico, CA stocked Velveeta Cheese in the gourmet foods section of the store. Thereafter, if Caen referred to Chico or to California State University-Chico, he usually referred to the town as “Velveetaville” and the school as “Velveeta U”. Ever since then, Yrs Trly has thought of Chico and Cal State-Chico by the monikers given them by Herb Caen.


Yrs Trly noted at the Bring-a-Trailer website that there was to be a Concours at the Butte Creek Country Club just south of Velveetaville Chico on Saturday, 24 August. Ah! Ha! A perfect excuse to take the Mazda-rati up CA 99 to see what iron might be on the lawn of the Country Club.


Yrs Trly’s  “Mazda-rati” – a Grand Touring model with a six speed MANUAL transmission, thank you. No automatics (unless it’s in a ’56 Packard) for Yrs Trly!

Arriving at the Butte Creek Country Club, Yrs Trly was astonished at the exotic iron on display! First in sight was a ’58 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL roadster. The Benz appears to be original and unrestored.

'58 300 SL rf

'58 300 SL rr

Next in the line of sight was a ’65 Porsche 356 SC.

'65 Porsche 356 SC

… and another Porsche 356 C:

Porsche 356 C

… then a Citroën 2CV named “Poubelle” – “Trash Can” (the correct spelling of the French won’t fit on the California Vanity license plate.)


2 CV - r

2 CV-rf

Next, we were treated to an Alfa and an Austin Healey 3000:

Alfa Romeo

Afla engine

Austin-Healey 3000

We were very pleasantly surprised to find there a ’41 Graham Supercharged Hollywood:

'41 Graham f

'41 Graham rr

'41 Graham r

We posted a story about the Graham Supercharged Hollywood in a recent Gear Head Tuesday. There was one other Graham, a ’32, at the show but Yrs Trly didn’t take a photo of it. It was difficult to take photos – we were using the iPhone, it was 102º, the sun was glaring and we couldn’t see the screen in the sun to get a proper set up for the images. Near the Graham was another rare car, a ’47 Frazer Manhattan.

'47 Frazer lf

1947 Frazer Manhattan – the inaugural year for the marque. A 1932 Graham is in the background to the reader’s left of the Frazer.

'47 Frazer l

'47 Frazer r

The dealer frame on the Frazer’s license plate hails from Lafayette, Indiana.

You may recall from our history of Kaiser-Frazer that Joseph Frazer had taken over Graham and that became the nucleus of the newly-launched Kaiser-Frazer after the end of World War II. Thus it seems to Yrs Trly that it was fitting that the Graham and the Frazer were near each other on the lawn.

Nearby was a very nice ’54 Mercury hardtop:

'54 Mercury

'54 Mercury tail light

“Back in my day, son, cars had REAL taillights!”

Yrs Trly never would have guessed that he would find a ’57 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham on display in Velveetaville. Only 400 of these very exclusive Cadillacs were built for their inaugural model year. For the price of one Eldorado Brougham, you could have bought both a ’57 Cadillac Biarritz and Seville from the regular production Cadillac line, the Biarritz being somewhat limited in production itself. The Eldorado Brougham was Cadillac’s response to the Continental Mark II. No doubt this small but prestigious market would have been the target of Packard’s mid-’50s V-12 project

'57 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham f

'57 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham instrument panel

'57 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham interior

'57 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham lr

There were Ferraris and Lamborghinis there that we didn’t photograph but an Italian car that DID catch our eye was this Zagato-bodied Lancia Flaminia Super Sport:

Lancia Flamina SS f

Lancia Flamina SS rf

Lancia engine

As is the case with the Alfa pictured further above, the engine of this Lancia is a piece of jewelry. Sun glare prevented Yrs Trly from getting a better image of the engine.

The styling of this Lancia isn’t as appealing to Yrs Trly as another Zagato-bodied Lancia (front excepted) currently up for auction at Bring-a-Trailer, but it caught our eye because it wasn’t expected in this venue and, anyway, when was the last time you saw a Lancia of any description?

Yrs Trly was happy to find a Packard there, a ’34 Super Eight. Many Packard aficionados consider the ’34s to be the pinnacle of the Classic Era Packards:

'34 Packard Super Eight Goddess of Speed

Above – The Goddess of Speed. Note that the headlamps are shaped to echo the shape of that famous Packard grille.

'34 Packard Super Eight fr

'34 Packard Super Eight engine

'34 Packard Super Eight ls

'34 Packard Super Eight r

Appropriately enough, the Packard has a 1934 California license plate.

It was a grand pleasure to see all of these cars, but to the eyes of Yrs Trly, the crème de la crème, and most unexpected car of all at this concours, was a 1962 Ghia-Chrysler, a rebirth of the Dual-Ghias built between 1956 – 1958.

Eugene Casaroll formed Dual Motors in Detroit to build an exclusive car at a “reasonable” price. The Virgil Exner design was based on a Chrysler show car, the Firearrow, powered by a Dodge Red Ram Hemi V-8 with power transmitted by a two-speed PowerFlite automatic transmission.

Celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden and Desi Arnez bought Dual-Ghias as did (of all people!) Vice-President Richard Nixon.

'62 Ghia-Chrysler rs

'62 Dual Ghia rf

The Ghia-Chrysler is fitted with ’56 California plates, though the car is a ’62. The ’56 plates are likely a hat tip to the first year of the original Dual-Ghia.

'62 Ghia-Chrysler instrument panel

'62 Ghia-Chrysler fitted luggage 1

Fitted luggage with leather matching the interior of the Ghia-Chrysler.

'62 Ghia-Chrysler fitted luggage 2

'56 Dual Ghia lr

The rear of the ’62 Ghia-Chrysler has themes seen on other Mopars: the taillights are akin to the ’61 Dodge, but are more attractive because they aren’t included in the horrid fins that were used on the ’61 Dodge. The rear window and “C” pillar shape is seen again on the ’64 Barracuda and the lights on either side of the license plate are very similar to those of the ’62 Plymouths.

The Ghia-Chrysler started out to be the second generation of the original Dual-Ghia that had been snapped up by Sinatra and fellow Rat Packers. While the “Glitterati” loved the original Dual-Ghia, by 1962 they were ready for something new. The original owner of Dual Motors, Gene Casseroll, was pressed into producing the replacement. Casseroll started the project but then backed out leaving Ghia alone with the plans. Ghia, sensing the need, produced 27 cars over two years. They called it the Ghia L 6.4, the 6.4 referring to the size (in liters) of the Chrysler 383 engine that powered this beautiful car. It is thought that 17 of the 27 remain.

This particular car was Ghia’s New York Auto Show car for 1962. After the show, the car was sold to a devout Ghia enthusiast, a Mr. Berman in Pennsylvania. Thus this car went into the hands of a serious collector immediately after the 1962 New York Auto Show.

Because of its history the car remains in excellent original condition, having been driven only 29,000 miles from new. It is finished in its original dark metallic blue paint with a white leather interior that includes four pieces of matching fitted luggage behind the front bucket seats. It is equipped with factory air conditioning. Of the remaining 17 of the Ghia-Chryslers, it is likely that none of the others are as original as this one.

This Ghia-Chrysler is now in the Ramshead Collection in Sacramento, owned by a man who grew up in his father’s Dodge dealership in New York.

If we had seen no other car, the trip to Velveetaville Chico would have been worth it just to see the ’62 Ghia-Chrysler, a car Herb Caen would have appreciated. Yrs Trly thinks that Herb Caen would be OK with us no longer referring to Chico as (ahem) Velveetaville.

You can see the Ghia-Chrysler at:

The Ramshead Collection
1500 N. Market Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95834

Gary E., one of the organizers of the Chico Concours writes:

“We long-termers in Chico rather take delight in “Velveetaville”. Herb Caen actually was invited to Chico and was hosted by a bevy of CSUC Sorority Girls and others who saw to it that he had a VERY good time. He spoke glowingly of our little town after that.”

For the Bring-a-Trailer readers at >>THIS THREAD<< :

58 Studebaker-Packard ad


Add yours →

  1. Eric Butler 27/08/2019 — 00:49

    Beautiful photos, Paul. And we all miss Herb Caen. I have a framed newsprint where he mentioned me an a bad (?) pun in 1988.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gary Lindstrom 27/08/2019 — 07:54

    I owned a 1954 Mercury hardtop in those same colors. It was a very common color combination on those. I went to that ’54 from my customized ’49 Mercury coupe in Midnight Blue. One evening, in Beacon, NY (the state’s smallest city), I spotted a total of five Mercury hardtops in that same two-tone combination. I was being accused of being places at night where I wasn’t. That was enough for me and I got rid of that car.
    I note the white Volvo 1800 in the background of a couple of shots. I have a friend that has a white 1972 1800 that she bought new. She has only owned new Volvos from a 1959 PV544 Sport to her current small crossover (XC40-?). The 1800 is the only one that she has kept (other than her current car).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That color combo on the Mercury is fabulous. To my eyes, it looks as good now – if not better in the sea of today’s grey cars (my Mazda-rati included). What a hoot that there were five of them that time in Beacon! I can’t say that I blame you for getting rid of your after that!

      I’ve been cured of Volvo-itis. I’ve had four – each less reliable than the previous one. Never again …


  3. Thank you for visiting our show and for this lovely article. We have been working hard at producing this Concours for 41 years now and are energized to set up for year 42 in 2020. The show has indeed been something of a sleeper for those outside of our general area. But we are proud to be able to showcase some truly quality cars thanks to gearheads local and from out of the general area.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Skip Lackie 27/08/2019 — 14:45

    Nice review of some interesting cars. It seems I share your taste in cars and newspaper columnists. Although I live on the East Coast, I used to visit SF frequently and always made an effort to read Herb Caen. And thanks also for noting that the Calif plates on the Ghia-Chrysler were actually issued in 1956, so could not have been on the car since new.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Luis Jourdan 27/08/2019 — 17:49

    The Ghia- Chrysler was my favorite in the photos before arriving to the event. To my surprise I was honored to park my Maserati on the right side. That car is a time machine capsule .

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Actually, the license plate has the correct 1962 registration sticker on the rear plate. There were no “new” California plates after ’56 until the yellow-on-black plates issued in 1963. Look it up. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Skip Lackie 28/08/2019 — 04:57

    I should have been more specific in my comment about the 56-62 Calif plates. It’s the NUMBER on the plate that is not correct for a 1962 car. The Calif plates that were actually issued in 1956 started with AAA-001 and ran through somewhere in the Mxx series. Plates actually issued in 1962 would have had a prefix that begins with an X or Y. The Ghia’s plates have an APJ prefix, which means they were issued in 1956, not possible on a 1962 car. Admittedly, someone who was in love with their plates could have paid to transfer then to a later-model car, but it’s rather more likely that they were put on that car much more recently under the year-of-manufacture program.

    “Natural” year plates (often based on the number, sometimes on other features) are kind of a big deal to license plate collectors, less so to old-car owners.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kenneth Lackie 28/08/2019 — 13:36

    This normally insignificant info has become more important because of the great interest in cars with Calif black plates — presumed to mean that the car is rust free, due to having been in dry California since at least 1963-69. The trouble is that pairs of black Calif plates are for sale all the time on ebay and other sites. If they’re in good enough shape, the Calif DMV will allow you to put them on your old car (for a fee) under their YOM program. So the number on the plates, plus the number of old stickers, can be a clue as to whether the plates are likely to have been on the car since it was new. A 1956 car could legitimately have black/yellow plates with a 1962-issue number on it — if hadn’t been brought into the state until 1962. But a 1962 car couldn’t have been issued a Calif plate with a number on it that was issued in 1956.

    As I mentioned, I fell into the trap of using license plate collector terminology. When I referred to the flack/yellow Calif plates, I was referring the that particular set of plates, not 56-62 plates in general.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kenneth Lackie 29/08/2019 — 05:01

    We have made contact.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was going to comment on the license plate and the fact that between 1956 and 1962 there were no “new” plates (non-1956 style) issued in California. All said “56” on them. Only year update stickers were issued. If you bought a new car you still got the 1956 plate with the present year sticker on it. But I see this issue has already been commented upon.

    One other point, having worked for Mazda Corporation for 20 years, I can assure you the company took great efforts NOT to refer to their Rotary Engines (RE) as “Wankel.” Mazda made so many changes and improvements to the Wankel that they only referred to their engine as “Rotary Engine” or R.E. or simply “Rotary.”

    As for the Ghia shown, I believe these were always referred to as “Ghia 6.4” or in some cases, “6.4L” or “L 6.4”. While they were obviously powered by Chrysler engines, I just never recall these cars being known as “Ghia-Chrysler.” While most of the Sinatra “Rat Pack” had Dual Ghias, not all had Ghia 6.4 models. Incidentally, Mr. Sinatra’s car like this one is in the National Automotive Museum in Reno, Nevada. I have photos of myself posed with it taken years ago. Finally there was a Ghia 6.4 driven (actually driven hard) in the racing movie “The Lively Set” along with Chrysler Gas Turbine cars built by Ghia.The original movie stills I have from the film identify the car as “Ghia 6.4″…and I also interviewed the guy who drove it in the movie when I was writing the history of the Chrysler Gas Turbine car program in the 1970s. He called is a “6.4”…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Correct that last sentence to “He called it a “6.4”…”


  12. Also, if you look at the Ghia 6.4 recessed tail lights and then look at the Corvette tail light of the same era (such as the one parked behind it on the field) you may note something more. The recessed Corvette tail light is very, very similar to the Ghia 6.4 tail light (or vice-versa)… right down to the chrome plated “sugar scoop” sleeve. The Ghia version is just turned sideways.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m still blown away by the photos here…I also love the Dual-Ghia and think it’s too bad more weren’t produced.

    Liked by 1 person

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