Earlier this month, at the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance, Joseph and Margie Cassini’s moonglow blue 1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Phaeton outshone 179 competing vintage cars to be named “Best of Show.” The classic car was specially designed by renowned automotive designer Ralph Robert for his wife as an anniversary present – and is the only one of its kind in the world.
Check out the family’s photo of the car above. This 1933 set of wheels has an extended fender line and rear-fender skirts, along with spare tires placed in the rear instead of the usual fender wells – the only 1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Phaeton ever built with these features. The unique paint job is also eye-catching. It has painted radiators – they’re chrome in more conventional versions – and oddly-placed, painted headlights. This is one sleek car. It has a long-louvered hood; French disc wheels, which are designed with a unique elegance and flow and often seen in French coachwork; and, famously, a second windshield behind the driver protecting the backseat passengers from splatter when the tan soft top is down.
“After a first glance and seeing the competition, I knew this was going to be in the top three,” says Merry Harlacher, event co-chair of the festival. He says the 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster, 1935 Auburn 851 Boattail Speedster, 1932 Duesenberg J, and 1934 Pierce-Arrow 840A Silver Arrow were other strong contenders. But at the end of the day, the one-off Chrysler won the hearts of the judges, including Manfred Erlacher, BMW’s chief executive of manufacturing.
The car’s owners, Joseph and Margie Cassini, are from West Orange, New Jersey, and tell Penta they purchased the rare Chrysler for $1,210,000 at a 2012 auction. Joseph Cassini says its value has gone north of that now, but, back in 1933, the model sold for around $5,000, which is around $90,000 in today’s dollars. Today, the more conventional versions of the model still in existence sell for a quarter million to more than half a million dollars.
But this car, with its impeccable pedigree, is special.“When you look at the car and envision it being built in 1933, you think that it’s such a wonderful work of art,” remarks Cassini. The Cassinis retained the Chrysler’s original and well-built details crafted during the Great Depression, including the engine and transmission. Remarkable, this car, still has its odd side curtains, which came with the original model.
“The sedan is an outstanding representation of a Chrysler car, because of all of the cars the company has made, six or eight really jump out at you – this is one of the few that do,” says Harlacher.
This is not the first time this rare car has driven away with the blue ribbon. One of Cassini’s favorite memories, he says, is last year’s family trip to Pebble Beach, where they indulged in a ride up and down the California Pacific Coast Highway. “Driving with a long-wheelbase down from Carmel to Big Sur, and then back, well it doesn’t get much better than that,” he says. A tradition intact since 1996, the family was vacationing during the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance when their car picked up that event’s “Best in Class.”
Do back-to-back awards overstate the case? It’s a question of a compelling story and great design. Ralph Robert built this singular beauty with much affection, and that, simply put, is a pedigree that’s hard to downplay.
This article originally appeared on Barron’s.