DREAM CARS HISTORY
review on GHIA
It is perhaps a sad reflection that to most people Cilia
means a trim-level badge on their humdrum lord. That all stems from Cilia's
197:5 acquisition by Ford, but its history as one of the most illustrious
Italian design houses stretches back to the early years of the 20th century.
GHIA’s main business was creating bespoke (dedicated) coachwork
for high-quality Italian chassis, in which it was extremely successful.
These were the original dream cars – one offs built for wealthy
clients, certainly not “show cars” in the accepted sense.
In 1950, Chrysler sent a Plymouth chassis to Turin, and GHIA rebodied
it to become the XX-500. Although it looked that led to Cilia building
many of Chrysler's 50s dream cars. Cilia got into and the 1953 Fiat 1100
Abarth and Fiat 8V were trend-setting.
Aerodynamics and style
Undoubtedly, the 1955 Cilia Streamline (or Gilda) was one of the most
spectacular shapes of the 1950s. Created in a wind tunnel at Turin Polytechnic,
this long, radically finned device mutated through several generations,
still being displayed at shows with great success as late as 1960. Aerodynamics
were a GHIA specialty, as proven by the Nibbio record breaker, which reached
100 mph (161 kph) on 350 cc. GHIA also made the beach-car milieu its own
with a string of wicker seated Fiats called Jolly, and manufactured its
own range of sport scars with the Dual-GHIA Firebomb, L6.4, 450/SS and
A very talented man called Tom Tjaarda became one of GHIA's main stylists,
and he made a big impression with the 1959 Selene, a sort of super-sleek
forward-control "people carrier'. Its follow-up, the Selene II of
1962, had a central driving seat and two rear seats facing backwards.
Then another brilliant stylist called Giorgetto Giugiaro joined Cilia
from Rertone and designed many exceptional production cars. He also penned
some attractive Cilia show cars, such as the Maserati Simun, the De Tomaso
Pampero and the Oldsmobile Toronado Thor.
After its acquisition by Ford Cilia in 1973, Cilia were used as the European
styling and prototype wing of Ford's global organization. Immediately,
Cilia came up with a string of concept cars, inevitably based on Fords.
Early examples were the Mustela (a Capri alternative), the Tuareg (an
off-road Fiesta) and the Microsport (a truncated Fiesta-based sports coupe).
Its best designs in the 1970s were also it’s most radical. The
1974 Coins was a striking curved wedge with a single rear- sited door.
The 1977 Megastar was a Granada-based saloon (sedan), though you would
never guess so from its amazing glass-house molding (the front doors were80
per cent glass). The Corridor was a chunky little safety-orientated sports
Probably the most striking GHIA show car of all was the 1978 Action, the
most severe wedge shape ever seen. Designed by Filippo Sapino, it had
a rear-mounted DFV Formula I V-eight engine and completely enclosed rear
In the 1980s, GHIA continued as a prestige carrozzeria. Its Granada Altair
project was dignified in its simplicity, while the Avant Garde and, in
particular, The Rrezza (both Escort-based) were delightful compact coupes.
GHIA also produced an attractive body for the mid-engine AC ME3000.
A host of microcars followed: the five-seater but small Pockar, the Shuttler,
the three-wheeled Cockpit and the Trio. It was a shame to many that more
was not made of the Barchetta, a Fiesta XR2-liased roadster, which might
have been a modern Ford-badged answer to the MG Midget. Eess successful
was the seven-seater APV, a car which the then UK Prime Minister, Margaret
Tlialclier, famously wanted to be redesigned.
Via, Zig/Zag and Connecta
Much comment was attracted by the 1988 Saguaro, which predicted the softer,
rounder styles of the 1990s in a sporty, four-door package. The 1989 Geneva
showing was the Via, a "Ford Sierra Cosworth for the next decade".
Designed by a team of British stylists — brothers lan and Moray
Callum, David Wilkie and Sally Wilson — it was a very smart and
sleek four-door saloon with an intended specification that included a
turbo V-eight engine and six-speed gearbox. One of its highlights was
a fibre-optics system for navigating in fog; another was a fully detachable
photo- sensitive glass roof.
An interesting pair of leisure cars was created for the 1990 Geneva Motor
Show, both based on a cut-down Fiesta platform. The Zig was the most engaging
of the Zig/Zag pair (the Zag was a van). Designed by David Wilkie, the
Zig had a very short bonnet (hood) flanked by pinhole headlamps and a
perspex (clear plastic)-shrouded cockpit. The Sally Wilson-designed interior
was strikingly finished with dashboard instruments painted blue, green
and orange and a rear-view mirror that sprouted tentacle- like, from the
Having an Escort van as a basis might not sound very exciting, but GHIA’s
1992 Connecta was an important show car: it was Ford’s first electric
show car. The body-shell was in lightweight carbon-fibre and could seat
six people (four forward-facing, two rearward) in a length of only 166
in (421 cm).
Focus and Lagoda Vignale
One of the most radical and adventurous dream cars ever the GHIA Focus,
presented at the 1992 Turin show. Based on a shortened Ford Escort Cosworth,
it was naturally a very rapid sports car. But it was Taru Lahti’s
styling that made the biggest impression. Novel features included whale
like front stabilizers, interesting headlamp architecture, distinctive
air intakes, and alien-like grabbing handles down the body sides, scalloped
rear fins, central rear-exit exhaust and amazing "bubble" rear
lights. The cabin was equally avant garde, combining organic shape and
natural materials with an exposed, stark treatment and curious, off-centre
detailing. The Focus might have made production as a Ford but was judged
too radical and too expensive.
Of the Lagonda Vignale shown at the 1993 Geneva show, much was said and
even more expected, for tills might have made a future four-door Aston
Martin GHIA and Aston were now owned by Ford). Moray Callum designed the
Lagonda Vignale, which was variously "marvelous" and "the
ugliest car around" — it all depended on your viewpoint. There
was certainly nothing retiring about this substantial saloon (sedan),
least of all the grille, the high waistline, huge wheels and drooping
GHIA cemented its reputation as Ford's think-tank with two concept cars
launched at the 1996 Turin show. One was a clear signal of how the forthcoming
Ford Ka would look: the radical Saetta's front end was shared with the
Ka. In other respects, it was wildly different. Ford's prevailing edge-design
mentality being taken to the limit. Dominated by a central roof rib, its
geometric shapes, especially the rear lights. The oilier Turin debutant
was the Alpe sports-utility, based on the Escort, with chunky, solid styling
and a hint of off-road ability.
GHIA's role is less as a creator of dream cars and more as a design dynamo
in Ford's global empire, and a useful prototype-building facility in Italy's
car design heartland. The GHIA badge persists on Ford products as an indicator
of the highest level in its car ranges, but it is perhaps more fitting
to remember the great legacy of the GHIA name by its impressive back catalogue
of striking and innovative car designs. If only Ford had tile courage
to produce such brilliant creations as the Focus, the motoring world would
lay a better place.