Carrozzeria Ghia SpA was established in Turin, in 1916, and they’ve been sharing the sugar with the rest of the world for exactly a century now. One of the most famous Italian design houses has contributed to the automotive world almost as much as any major automaker. Without them, iconic classics such as the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and Volvo P1800 probably wouldn’t exist. Moreover, numerous Ferraris, Fords and even Chryslers would have probably been lifeless husks hadn’t Ghia breathed life into them.
Some Ghia car designs, however, never made it into production. Pity really, since they were unlike any other concept cars out there. Others have been succeeded, but their production counterparts were heavily modified. Ghia concepts are simply otherworldly. Not only are they design masterpieces, but they were often way ahead of their time. In a way, it’s just like they came from another planet – planet Carrozzeria Ghia if you will. Here are 10 such meticulously designed, astounding concept cars designed by them.
1979 Ford Probe I
Ford Probe I was born out of necessity. EPA and 1973 oil embargo forced all car makers to switch from gas-guzzling full-size muscle to more compact 4-cylinder counterparts. Thinking about Probe I and all the rumors that surrounded it from our contemporary perspective, it seems very little has changed during these 40 years. There was a sort of belief that all future aerodynamic economical cars will look alike by adopting sort of a jellybean pattern. In a way, we still believe that. In a way, Ford Probe I probably was like that. Whether it was or not, however, first Probe concept was way ahead of its time.
Commissioned by Don Kopka – then Ford’s head of design department – the Ford Probe I was hand built by Carrozzeria Ghia. Implementing seriously aerodynamic design language was supposed to help Blue Oval achieve much better fuel economy without sacrificing power. When it was finally finished, Probe I achieved wind tunnel drag coefficient of 0.22. A figure around 37% better than that of conventional 2-door, 4-seat coupe which usually had a coefficient of 0.40. Being built on Fox platform and stuffed with 170-horsepower W Code Mustang Cobra 2.3L engine, Ford stated it could have returned up to 39 mpg back then. This meant the experiment was more than successful, but then again, Ford is still saying a lot of dubious things about their cars’ fuel economy.
In any case, the Probe I will be remembered by its striking red paint with black underbody, deep rear wheel skirts, fixed tinted glass roof panel and tinted windows. It was supposed to revive the “American dream car”. A trend started by world’s first concept car, Buick Y-Job back in 1939. After four additional concepts, Probe finally spawned a production car in 1989. Ford Probe sports car, however, had very little in common with the famous Ghia concept – aside from aerodynamic design language. But that was Probe I’s purpose after all. So, in a way, it did what it was supposed to do. And it’s up for grabs in California.
1954 DeSoto Adventurer II
The DeSoto Adventurer would initially become more affordable alternative to the Chrysler 300, but prior to its introduction in 1956, Adventurer name was reserved for two Ghia-built concepts. Second of them, DeSoto Adventurer II sold for $1.3 million in 2012 and for a good reason. It’s one of the most beautiful blends of European grand tourers and American luxury cars. It sits upon Chrysler Imperial chassis and it’s powered by 276ci FireDome Hemi V8. Although only a two seater, DeSoto Adventurer II sports rather unconventional length of 125.5 inches.
Long-snouted concept was built as Virgil Exner-reworked Savonuzzi Supersonic Series car. Just like the concept itself, numerous details found on the DeSoto Adventurer concept also never made production in any subsequent vehicle. Tail-lights that slide back into the trunk are one of them. There’s also the sliding rear window which opens up the coupe in previously unimaginable way. The DeSoto Adventurer II is currently being kept in secluded Colorado Gateway Auto Museum, so if you find yourself on Colorado State Highway 141 crossing the Dolores River, don’t forget to pass our regards.
1969 Isuzu Bellett MX1600
The Bellett MX1600 is nothing like the production compact Isuzu Bellett marketed between 1963 and 1973. In fact, it’s unlike anything Isuzu has ever built. Maybe that’s the reason this wedge-shaped mid-engined sports car never saw production. It didn’t pass into obscurity before serving a purpose, however. MX1600’s designer Tom Tjaarda, who at the time worked for Ghia, recycled some of its cues and later delivered one of his most famous designs – the one and only DeTomaso Pantera.
Only thing MX1600 had in common with the production car was the 1.6L in-line four-cylinder engine from the GT-R Bellett. There were two additional Bellett MX1600 concepts that followed in 1970 and 1971. MX1600 II was only marginally different than its predecessor while third one called the Bellett SportsWagon featured, as its name suggests, a wagon style body. Whether they really influenced the DeTomaso Pantera has never been officially confirmed, but it certainly looks like that.
1954 Dodge Firearrow IV
The Firearrow concepts were a series of extravagant, forward-looking designs that were supposed to shake Chrysler cars up. Like so many concepts from the golden era of the American auto industry, they never saw production. Again, like many of their coevals, these concepts have survived to date. The Dodge Firearrow III was even sold for $880,000 in 2009, while II and IV both went for $1.1 million in 2007. They were all designed by Luigi Segre under the watchful eye of Virgil Exner. First of them was apparently based on a model submitted by the 16-year-old son of a Ghia woodworker.
The Firearrow I was a non-running prototype while the Firearrow II fixed that thanks to the 250-horsepower Red Ram Hemi V8 engne. However, it lacked door handles and side windows so it wasn’t the most usable of concept cars. The Firearrow III and IV, on the other hand, were. The III is a 2-door, 2-seat sports coupe, while IV is a 2-door, 4-seat convertible. All of them were hand built in Turin on the Dodge Royal’s 119-inch long chassis. Moreover, all apart from first one featured the same Red Ram Hemi engine.
Dodge’s Firearrow IV was painted red, and sported black soft top and harlequin style black and white leather upholstery. Unlike the Firearrow II, it also had side door windows and real door handles which made it a fully functional, drivable car. It’s a pity Dodge never proceeded with their production as they probably would have been the best rival a Corvette could have had.
1967 Oldsmobile Thor
Even design masterminds like Bill Mitchell required help sometimes and Ghia was always happy to step in. Incidentally, that’s exactly what they did in 1967 when they tried helping GM spice up the Oldsmobile Toronado. Problem was, the Toronado debuted in 1966 and this one-off concept came in 1967. Maybe it was supposed to point the way in which the redesigned Toronado was supposed to go, but Mitchell never liked it. There were even rumors that he had it destroyed, but since Ghia was sold to Ford in 1969, there’s very little chance that’s ever happened. Instead, another rumor suggests that the Olds Thor ended up in the DeTomaso factory museum from which it departed in 2004. Thor’s current whereabouts is unknown. Thor was built upon the Toronado’s chassis and the mastermind behind this polarizing concept was none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro. Whether you like it or not, the Thor does have a certain flashy presence.
1983 Lincoln Quicksilver
Although Citroen pulled out from the American market a long time ago, some US car lovers likely still remember French automaker’s uniquely designed cars prior to 1974. But what does Citroen have to do with Ghia-built Lincoln concept car that was presented a full decade after the French left? Nothing at all, but it sure looks like one. Mostly thanks to its Kammback tail and rear wheel side skirts. In any case, the Lincoln Quicksilver proved to be one of the most popular concept cars never to spawn the actual production model. After its noticeably successful debut in Geneva, the Quicksilver ran the global auto shows until 1986.
One of the strangest things about the Quicksilver is its platform. Ghia used chassis of the British AC 3000ME sports car for it, which barely makes sense. The way I see it, Ghia only did so because they already created one concept using the platform prior to creating Quicksilver. It was the 1981 AC Ghia. Anyway, Lincoln’s Quicksilver featured mid-mounted 2.8L Cologne V6 engine and 5-speed manual trans. It was so exquisitely aerodynamic that it achieved drag coefficient of 0.30. Futuristic theme carried over inside as well where the Quicksilver featured steering wheel buttons. Maybe that’s a trend now, but that certainly wasn’t the case back in mid eighties.
The question remains why didn’t Lincoln utilize the Quicksilver’s potential? They sure could have benefited from a few contemporary ideas and Ghia concept had them in abundance. Instead, Lincoln continued creating boxy hulking old timers showing lack of vision in the process.
1953 Cadillac Coupe
The Cadillac Coupe built by Carrozzeria Ghia back in early fifties represents the epitome of class. Actually, the Italians created two such prototypes – one in white and another in light blue. The white one was purchased by Prince Aly Khan who gave it to his now ex-wife Rita Hayworth. Whether he tried to win her back or not doesn’t really matter. They never reunited but one of Hollywood’s brightest stars still got the car. Today, the car’s been restored and features a new brown paint job. It was sold at Sotheby’s Arizona auction for $1,430,000. The light blue specimen, on the other hand, was owned by John Perona, the owner of Manhattan’s El Morocco. It appeared on the cover of January 1955 issue of Road & Track.
The Cadillac Coupe rides on a Series 62 chassis and packs 210 horsepower, courtesy of a 331ci OHV V8 engine and Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. Bedazzled with 126-inch long classic sports gold-anodized aluminum trim outside, and lots of high quality leather and Lecarra wood-rimmed steering wheel inside. The Cadillac Coupe by Ghia was one of the first attempts to showcase the sublime Italian designing capabilities on an American chassis.
1956 Ferrari 410 SuperAmerica
Hands down, the 410 SuperAmerica designed by Ghia is one of the most awkward looking Ferraris I’ve ever seen. Unlike the Pinin Farina SuperAmerica production Ferraris of the time, this Ghia specimen was a one-off concept. And very few people liked it. Considering that fact, it comes as no surprise this was the last Ferrari ever designed by Ghia.
Giovanni Savonuzzi’s offspring bore much resemblance with the Chrysler 300 S Dart Super Gilda concept car from the year before. Large fins which towered over the rear fenders and massive chromed rear bumper looked like they came straight out of Detroit. And that didn’t stick well with Ferrari fanatics of the time. It likely doesn’t stick well with them today either. But, in one strange way of looking at things, this is also one of the most unique Ferraris ever made. Never had an Italian icon come closer to representing a mashup of both Italian and American styling cues. Never say never, but I highly doubt we’ll see such turn of events ever again.
1957 Chrysler Diablo
Chrysler may have been known for softening the Diablo’s edges and in turn, directly influencing one of the most famous supercars ever when they owned Lamborghini, but this wasn’t the first time they’ve fiddled with the devil. The Italians were there the first time around too. Virgil Exner and Carrozzeria Ghia were quite a duo, weren’t they? This Diablo concept convertible sits upon the Chrysler 300 chassis and draws breath from a 392ci FirePower V8 engine with dual four-barrel carburetors. It sports automatic push-button transmission and still goes for one of the largest ever Ghia-built convertibles. No wonder, given it’s just under 21 feet long and wider than conventional cars of the time.
Maybe it was big, but it certainly didn’t lack aerodynamics. In fact, Exner designed it in the wind tunnel. Furthermore, the Chrysler Diablo was packed with tech features of the day. It had the air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, power windows, four bucket seats, a star wars dashboard and power top. No wonder it sold for $1,375,000 at Barrett Jackson’s 2013 Scottsdale auction.
1955 Lincoln Futura
Designed by Bill Schmidt and John Najjar, and hand-built by Ghia, the Lincoln Futura represents the pinnacle of the finned cars evolution. Boasting a double canopy top made of clear plastic, unique headlights and a gaping grill, the Futura certainly wasn’t lacking in charm. Ford used it as a show car for a few years before lending it to MGM who featured it in 1959’s It Started with a Kiss starring Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford. After the movie and the prolonged hibernation that followed, George Barris finally bought the car for $1 in 1965 and converted it into the Batmobile.
Even though it was a show prototype, the Lincoln Futura was more than driveable. Its 368ci Y-Block V8 engine and 3-speed Turbo Drive push-button automatic were behind it. Moreover, the Futura was fully loaded with modern features such as air conditioning, air cooled brakes, a center console with a hidden telephone, and concealed dash controls. It was one highly advanced car for its time – as its name proudly suggests. Before it became a Batmobile, the Futura was painted red for the 1959 movie. When it first appeared, however, the concept car featured an iridescent blue/green/silver hue. Very few pictures of its initial look exist today (and of those that do, none are of decent quality) and it’s hard to discern the exact color just by looking at them. In 2013, Barris sold the Batmobile Futura for $4.62 million at the Barrett Jackson Scottsdale event.