1954 Plymouth Ghia Explorer Concept Car

Joe Bortz
“What goes around comes around”
“It was during the early 1980s when I was engrossed in collecting pre-war classic cars that I began to realize the 1950s dream cars/concept cars that had been written about in books and magazines as being destroyed after they met their show purposes, in fact, I realized they had not all had been destroyed. One of these concept cars that slipped under the radar that I discovered in September of 1987 was the 1954 Plymouth Ghia Explorer. This was Plymouth’s “idea/show” car for all the major new car shows across the United States.
The lead for this car came from a letter that was written and published by the editor of “Special Interest Autos” in the August 1987 issue. The gentleman that wrote the letter with a picture of the Explorer was John Finch of Highland Gate, UK in which he mentioned he thought that he had discovered an American Ghia concept car. I immediately searched out the owner in Holland and purchased the car and brought it back to the United States.
When the car arrived I noticed that the car had been mechanically modified with an engine and transmission from a Jaguar XK150 and the car even had front disk brakes. Body wise not too much had been changed from the original but it was painted an unattractive gold color.
I recently had occasion to reminisce about the Explorer because it was one of the three American concept cars to be displayed at the Petersen Automotive Museum for the Gala reopening on December 5, 2015. The other of course was the 1955 GM Motorama Biscayne show car, which came from the current Bortz Auto Collection.
It is interesting to note that in reference to the Plymouth Explorer it was designed by Virgil Exner, chief designer for Chrysler Corporation in 1955. During Virgil Exner’s tenure it was typical for Virgil to layout the design of a concept car and have the design made it into a small clay model. At this point the design, clay model and a chassis would be sent over to Ghia of Italy. Then Ghia would make the body as per the Virgil Exner design and attach it to the chassis and send the completed concept car back to Chrysler Corporation in Michigan. The car would then be ready for the national car shows. This is exactly how it happened with the Plymouth Explorer.
As many people know, the cars that were coming in from Ghia received the attention of the US Customs and it was declared by them that all Ghia cars were subject to import duty because so much of the build was of Italian origin. Chrysler was able to cut a deal with the US Customs that if the car stayed in the United States for less then 18 months and was exported before that time the car would not be subject to any duty. That would explain why many of these Chrysler Corp Ghia show cars by Virgil Exner were later found in South America, Europe and Hawaii.
After acquiring and owning the Explorer for a few years, the Bortz Auto Collection used the unrestored Plymouth Explorer in a trade situation to get a restored concept car. The Explorer was subsequently restored by others and finally became part of the Petersen Automotive Museum as a very beautiful tribute to Virgil Exner and the Ghia Body Company of Italy.
The Bortz Auto Collection is proud that it could be part of saving this great piece of automotive art for everyone to enjoy in the 21st century.
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