Ghia’s Greatest Designs

The Italian coachbuilder and design house, Ghia had a hand in some of the 20th century’s most awe-inspiring and iconic automotive designs. 

Masters of Style 

1962 Type 14 VW Karmann Ghia - sv1ambo on wikimedia.org
1962 Type 14 VW Karmann Ghia - sv1ambo on wikimedia.org

Ghia is best known among casual car fans as one of the three companies responsible for the charming and distinct Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. For those steeped in automotive history, you’ll also recall Ghia’s wide-ranging design and coachwork for major carmakers from Fiat to Ford throughout much of the 20th century. Below, we’ll run through some of their most elegant and inspirational designs, but first a bit of background.

Ghia was founded in Turin, Italy in 1916 by Giacinto Ghia as coachbuilder for new automotive companies. Early work from Ghia focused on aluminum bodywork for cars like the Fiat the 508, 510 Spider, and 519 as well as the Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 and RL Super Sport.

Like most car companies at the time, Ghia was pressed into war production during WWII. An Allied bombing raid demolished Ghia’s factory, and the stress of rebuilding put a strain on Giacinto Ghia, so much so he died of a heart attack in 1944. The company was then sold to two of his associates, Felice Mario and Giorgio Alberti.

The 1950s saw Ghia at its apogee, designing chassis for Ferrari and doing design and build work for Ford, Renault, Volkswagen, and Volvo. Ghia’s collaboration with Chrysler and Chrysler design head Virgil Exner was especially fruitful, resulting in some of the era’s most striking concept cars.

Ownership and leadership continued to shift at Ghia. A stint under the ownership of Alejandro De Tomaso, starting in 1967, saw the birth of the De Tomaso Pantera. The company was finally sold to Ford in 1973 where the Italian brand became a common designation for the company’s high-end trims in Europe (the Ghia was the top trim for the British Fiesta for just over thirty years, from 1977 through 2008).

Below, we highlight some of Ghia’s greatest and most fetching designs.

Ferrari 195 Inter 

1951 Ferrari 195 Inter Ghia - Mr.choppers on wikimedia.org
1951 Ferrari 195 Inter Ghia - Mr.choppers on wikimedia.org

One of the Ferraris Ghia designed was the 195 Inter, one of Ferrari’s charming GT cars, this one debuting in 1950. The beautifully proportioned 195 Inter was powered by Ferrari’s trademark Colombo V12, this one a 2341 cc making 128 horsepower. Just 28 were produced as the 195 Inter was succeeded by the 212 Inter the following year.

Fiat 508 Spider Sport  

1934 Fiat 508 Balilla Spider Sport - Sicnag on wikimedia.org
1934 Fiat 508 Balilla Spider Sport - Sicnag on wikimedia.org

From Ghia’s early days, the Fiat 508 Spider Sport of 1934 was a stylized, sporty variant of their popular 508 model. Technical upgrades for this sporty version of the 508 pushed output up to a whole 36 horsepower.

Fiat 8V Supersonic 

Fiat 8V Supersonic - Braniff747SP on wikimedia.org
Fiat 8V Supersonic - Braniff747SP on wikimedia.org

The Fiat 8V Supersonic was Ghia’s extravagant take on the 8V. The 8V did not last long, in production from 1952 through 1954, but thanks to its 2.0L V8, it did see racing success if not commercial success. The Ghia-designed 8V Supersonic takes the rotund 8V body and widens and lowers it for a radically distinctive look.

Renault Caravelle  

Renault Caravelle - Tennen-Gas on wikimedia.org
Renault Caravelle - Tennen-Gas on wikimedia.org

Unlike the above cars, the Renault Caravelle was a mass market success in production for a decade (1958-68) and saw over 100,000 built in that time. Though it’s a French car, the Caravelle’s Ghia design takes the basics of the Dauphine and adds a lot of Italian flair, starting with the cabriolet body style.

Cadillac Ghia coupe  

Cadillac Ghia coupe - Chris Kaiser
Cadillac Ghia coupe - Chris Kaiser

Built on spec, Ghia created two Cadillac coupes in 1953. To say these cars are stunning is a gross understatement. The design is utterly enchanting with its body strakes and long hood, a u-shaped grille reminiscent of Bugatti’s, and a split rear window. One version was finished in maroon with a beige interior, the other was done in blue. The maroon car was originally owned by model and actor Rita Hayworth and now resides at the Peterson Auto Museum.

Aston Martin DB2/4 Mk II Supersonic  

Aston Martin DB2/4 - astonmartins.com
Aston Martin DB2/4 - astonmartins.com

Another special variant, the Aston Marting DB2/4 Mk II Supersonic of 1956 gives the same “supersonic” treatment to the DB that Ghia did for the Fiat 8V. The trademark Aston grille is swapped for a more conventional oval and the body is redone with new space-age streamlining that makes the quick DB look positively rocket-like.

Dual-Ghia  

1957 Dual-Ghia D-500
1957 Dual-Ghia D-500

The Dual-Ghia was, as its name suggests, the product of a joint venture between Ghia and Dual Motors. The exclusive, high-end luxury car they produced from 1956 to 1958 was marketed to the Hollywood types and had celebrity owners that included Frank Sinatra, Richard Nixon, and Dezi Arnaz.

Jaguar XK140 Coupe 

1955 Jaguar XK140MC Ghia - Mr.choppers on wikimedia.org
1955 Jaguar XK140MC Ghia - Mr.choppers on wikimedia.org

The Jaguar XK140 got the Ghia treatment in 1955 with three coupe variants built. Its fastback coupe design and modest rear fins were a stark departure from the original’s very British roadster.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia 

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia - Greg Gjerdingen on wikimedia.org
Volkswagen Karmann Ghia - Greg Gjerdingen on wikimedia.org

Produced from 1955 through 1974, the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia is one of longest-lived Ghia designs. The Karmann Ghia was the product of a three-way venture with Ghia providing the car’s singular look and German coachbuilder Karmann executing the tricky bodywork for Volkswagen. The car’s design owes much to the Chrysler d’Elegance (1952), one of Virgil Exner’s concepts he come up with during his collaborations with Ghia.

The Chrysler Designs 

That collaboration between Exner and Ghia produced not just the d’Elegance, but a host of concepts during the 1950s. In addition to design work, Ghia did the finishing builds for the Chrysler Imperial limousines from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. The renowned and highly experimental Chrysler Turbine got a conventional (by Ghia standards) look to go with its very unconventional propulsion system. Another gorgeous Ghia/Chrysler design was the Plymouth Explorer coupe from 1954. Exner’s XNR (1960) concept was a radically styled experiment in asymmetry that inspired Ghia’s later Asimmetrica (1961).

Maserati Ghibli  

1967 Maserati Ghibli - maserati.com
1967 Maserati Ghibli - maserati.com

One of Maserati’s most important and well-known marks began in 1967 as a Ghia design penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro. In the Ghibli one can see the emerging hallmarks of Giugiaro’s wedge designs, particularly in the car’s truncated fastback rear end.

De Tomaso Pantera 

De Tomaso Pantera - Brian Snelson on wikimedia.org
De Tomaso Pantera - Brian Snelson on wikimedia.org

While Ghia was under the ownership of Alejandro De Tomaso, Giugiaro did the design work for both the De Tomaso Mangusta and De Tomaso Pantera, both further evolving the wedge-shaped body lines from Giugiaro’s earlier Ghibli design.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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