The House of Ghia
1915 - present
Motoring's fashion capitol has for decades been Turin – for many years it seemed to many that only in Turin would you find designers intent on turning the automobile
into an art form. In scores of design studios and workshops, men created their dream cars in a blending of imagination, flair, craftsmanship and engineering skill which could turn a brain wave which might come to a designer into a shining metal car body.
Despite large-scale volume car production in places like Detroit, Coventry, Wolfsburg, Cologne and even Turin itself dominating the auto industry, there was still a fundamental need for the forward-looking imagination and flair of the Italian stylists. They could design a model which would be produced in hundreds of thousands but with which the individual motorist could identify and reflect their personality, life-style and aspirations.
Ghia Operations of Turin is typical of the styling houses. This famous design shop's skills have, for the past century, been directed mainly towards an elite market. Nowadays, the Ghia stylists and craftsmen concentrate most of their efforts on products which most of us more ordinary mortals can afford. This change of emphasis has happened four decades ago when Ghia became part of the Ford organisation, and there were many other Turin 'motoring-fashion houses' with close relationships with such big manufacturers.
The House of Ghia
'The House of Ghia' began back in 1915 when Giacinto Ghia founded a small coachbuilding workshop in Turin, catering for an elite and exclusive clientele. Those first customers wanted big de luxe cars with daring lines, or refined sports cars. Then Ghia started associations with large manufacturers, and one of his first projects with the big boys was to create the 'Torpedo' high performance cars for Fiat who were also situated in Turin.
The Ghia plant was seriously damaged during World War 2 and Giacinto Ghia died, leadership of the firm passing to the young stylist Boano. In 1953, Boano left for Fiat, the factory moved to via Agostino da Montefeltro, and Luigi Segre took over. Ghia then bought Pietro Frua, appointing Frua as head of Ghia Design (1957-1960), designing the Renault Floride.
During the period of Segre's leadership, Ghia established connections with Detroit, and subsequently built prototypes or special models which included the Chrysler K310, De Soto Coupe, Plymouth Explorer, Plymouth Adventurer, Plainsman, Norseman (which was lost when the liner Andrea Doria sank on its way to the United States) and the turbine-powered Turboflite. And it was under Segre's time at the top that the firm produced a series of special bodies for famous foreign chassis, including Delahaye, Bentley and Talbot.
Ghia's output of cars destined for production, like the Volkswagen 2+2 coupe, and exotic concept cars continued throughout the Fifties and Sixties. There was the famous Gilda of 1955 with its stabilising rear fins which represented a styling revolution, the Ferrari Superamerica, Renault Floride, Volvo P1800, the 'Jolly' cars on Fiat chassis and, for Ford, the Turnpike Cruiser, Bimini, and Futura.
1948 Ghia designed Delahaye 135M 3.5 Litre.
1950 Ghia designed Alfa Romeo 2500SS.
1956 Ghia designed Chrysler Dart, powered by a 400 bhp Chrysler engine.
The Ghia designed 'City Car', literally decades ahead of its time.
The Rowan Controller Company
It was a great loss to Ghia - and to motoring generally - when Luigi Segre died in 1963
at the age of 44. Gino Rovere took over as general manager, only to die the following year and be succeeded by Segre's former secretary, Giacomo Gaspardo Motor. In 1967
, An American company, Rowan Controller Co of. Westminster, Maryland, bought Ghia and appointed Alessandro de Tomaso as President and Chairman of the Board. Ghia went on to produce the Ford-powered Mangusta
mid-engined sports cars, prototypes like the Vanessa woman's car, Pampero and Iso Fidia.
The Ford Merger
Bodies were produced for the Maserati Ghibli
and Spyder and for the Sno-Ghia tracked vehicle. In 1970
the Ford Motor Company bought 80% of Ghia's shares from Rowan Controller, and Jack Head, one of Ford's most experienced finance executives, joined the company to assist Alessandro de Tomaso, who continued as President. This merger with Ford increased the pace of Ghia's operations, and the Pantera became one of the best selling mid-engined sports cars in the world. Work expanded also on the design and construction of prototypes for Ford.
De Tomaso resigned in December 1972 and Ford bought the remaining 20 per cent of Ghia shares held by him. Ghia Operations was founded, incorporating the Turin Design Centre of Ford Italiana, with Jack Head as Chief Executive. Ghia's role within Ford is that of a 'think tank' where ideas can be born, developed and then considered for volume production by the company's plants around the world. Also, Ghia's design and prototype
work increased and two new models made their debut at the 1973 Geneva Show.
The Ghia Mark I prototype
was a luxury-car study based on the Ford Granada and the Mustela II, a theme car for future Ford production models. The first Ford production car to carry the Ghia name was the Mustang II, launched in September 1973, closely followed by Ghia versions of the Granada and Capri II in 1974. By this time Ghia was more closely involved in the harsh realities of mainstream motoring. However, the designers in this Turin studio are still able to exercise their creative flair in more free-ranging areas, as was demonstrated at the 1974 Geneva Show.
Senior stylist Tom Tjaarda produced a styling study of how he predicted the Capri II to look should it have remained in production until the very end of the 1990's. His three-seater wedge-shaped car was the talk of the show, combining aerospace technology with advanced auto safety features. Controversy raged around the car at the show and, subsequently, in the world's motoring press. Once again, Ghia demonstrated its flair and ability to be daring and unconventional. The Ghia styling house during the 1970's comprised a team of eight designers producing the ideas and detailed specifications which skilled Italian craftsmen turned into clay, plaster and plastic-foam models.
If these looked promising, then the Ghia metal beaters turned them into prototype
vehicles - often at incredible speed. Ghia could work very quickly when the pressure was on, as was shown with 'Project Ancona', a prototype
which greatly influenced the final design of Mustang II. In only 53 days, a paper drawing was transformed into a driveable car with a quality of finish that was the hallmark of all Ghia products. Ford's then President, Lee lacocca, was delighted. He had asked Ghia for ideas, and, in just under two months, they had produced a car he could sit in, drive and really assess as a replacement for the Mustang I.
, the Ghia name became Ford's top trim-level in its mainstream model range. The trend began in Europe (Granada Ghia, Capri Ghia, Cortina Ghia, Escort Ghia, Fiesta Ghia, later Sierra Ghia, Orion Ghia, Scorpio Ghia, Mondeo Ghia, Focus Ghia) and the Brazilian Ford Del Rey Ghia but soon spread worldwide, particularly to the U.S, South American and here in the Australian market.