Remember those little Ghia wing badges that Fords had in the eighties and nineties? I used to love them. They were a sign that the Ford you were looking at had class. Top spec. A glance through the slightly-tinted window and you’d be looking at seats that looked more comfortable than your favourite sofa. You may notice a smaller than usual hole in the stereo. Yep, that’s a cassette player. Look up my friend and you might see sky.. because this car has got a tilt and slide sunroof. Sheer craziness.
But what exactly was Ghia, and how do we link a 1977 Ford Fiesta to a De Tomaso Pantera?
Enter Carrozzeria Ghia. He started coach building in 1916, specialising in car bodies made from aluminium, which led to him building the Mille Miglia winning Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 in 1929. With this came fame and many more high-profile orders from bigger fish. Both Lancia and Fiat came knocking, and the with the latter, Ghia helped create the Fiat 508 Balilla sports coupe – a car that I had a picture of on my wall when I was about five.
WWII hit hard and the small Ghia factory was destroyed. A year later, Ghia himself died. The next few years were unsettled ones, with the company changing hands a couple of times before one Luigi Segre took control. Under him, the Ghia name became the pinnacle of Italian car design. The big guns came knocking once more, and some iconic cars were born. Volvo’s P1800 and VW’s Karmann Ghia to name but two of the most recognisable classic cars we know and love today. They even received a call from Ferrari and combined to create the Ferrari 212 along with Vignale.
So how did the Ghia name end up on the side of a Fiesta? Well, in 1963, Luigi Segre died. The company was sold to Ramfis Trujillo in 1966. That’s Ramfis Trujillo, the Spanish playboy and, for a period in 1961, harsh controller of the Dominican Republic. Trujillo then sold Ghia to Alejandro De Tomaso a year later. De Tomaso was a former racing driver and had turned his hand to creating sports and racing cars (he built a Formula One car for Frank Williams in 1970) at a time when he also acquired Vignale (1969) – which we will come on to again a bit later.
De Tomaso however struggled to make Ghia and Vignale profitable, and looked to rid himself of the two and focus on his own brand, the De Tomaso sports cars we know of today. Namely, the Vallelunga, the Mangusta and the Pantera. The Pantera was built using an engine sourced from Ford, a V8 – showing that there was already a relationship forming with Ford at the time. It was Ford who purchased Ghia and Vignale from De Tomaso in 1973. De Tomaso went on to save Maserati from bankruptcy in 1975 – perhaps using some of the funds acquired from Ford.
Almost immediately, Ford had plans and slapped the Ghia name on its flagship models throughout the US and Europe, and then in South America. It stayed as a constant indicator of the highest spec on Ford cars right up until 2010, when Ford dropped the Ghia name and switched to Titanium. In 2013, Ford unveiled plans for the Vignale name. It will be used to denote upmarket versions of the basic Ford models – an ‘exclusive’ brand. As for Ghia? Its now Ghia Studios, a concept division of Ford. So for now, the badge has been put to rest.
So next time you glance at a Ghia badge on a pre-2010 Ford, you might think about Italian coach builders, the struggles and WWII. Cars such as the Volvo P1800, Spanish-dictators, Formula One cars, a De Tomaso Pantera and of course, Mr Carrozzeria Ghia himself, slaving away building some achingly beautiful cars in Turin in the 1920s and 30s. And yes, you may even think of the humble Ford Fiesta, a car that wore the Ghia badge with pride for nearly 32 years.