The arrival of the jet plane in the late 1940s had a big impact on car design during in the following decade. Especially American manufacturers showed striking jet inspired show cars and eventually tail-fins and nose-cones also appeared in production cars. The exterior stylists were not the only ones taking an interest in jet planes; the engineers were also very keen to get on the bandwagon. Some of them even believed that jet/turbine engines would eventually take over from the traditional internal combustion engine.
During the 1950s Chrysler built several turbine engined prototypes. So it was no surprise that chief of design at Chrysler, Virgil Exner, asked Italian ‘carrozzeria’ Ghia to build a show car that combined jet inspired design and engineering. It was certainly not the first joint-venture between Chrysler and the Italian company; an earlier cooperation had even led to a limited production run of a Ghia styled Chryslers.
Legendary designer Giovanni Savonuzzi was in charge of the new show car that was tentatively named the ‘Streamline X.’ It later received the nickname ‘Gilda’ in reference to the 1946 film noir classic by the same name that starred the equally aerodynamically shaped Rita Hayworth. Savonuzzi penned a smooth wing-shaped design with a sharp nose and curved surfaces. The small fins on the rear fenders were the most exuberant elements of the design.
The big centrally mounted exhaust-pipe hinted at the presence of a jet derived turbine but under the rear deck there was no engine to be found. The reason for this was quite simple; at the time there was no turbine compact enough to fit in the tightly packaged Gilda. It was also not uncommon at all for Italian built show cars to be completed without an engine. The interior was fully appointed and featured two beautiful wool-covered seats and ‘floating’ instruments.
Painted in a two-tone red over silver finish, the Ghia Streamline X ‘Gilda’ made its world debut at the 1955 Turin ‘Salone dell’Automobile.’ Alongside the Bertone B.A.T. 9 and the Nardi Blue Ray, the new Ghia was one of the stars of the show. Although it did not make it into production, the Gilda did lay the foundations for the ‘Forward Look’ design language. Exner used this for many of the highly acclaimed Chrysler production cars that would built later in the decade.
Shortly after its debut, the show car was shipped to the Henry Ford. It was only rarely shown and remained in storage until 1969 when Bill Harrah acquired the car. He displayed the car in his Reno, Nevada based museum. Shortly after his death, the unique Ghia Gilda was bought by the Blackhawk Museum. Interestingly, Blackhawk still owns the B.A.T. 9 and Nardi Blue Ray show cars displayed alongside the Gilda in Turin. The car changed hands once more in recent years.
The subsequent owner had the ambitious idea to turn the Gilda in a fully functional car fifty years after it was first created. Respecting its highly original condition, he fitted a 70 bhp AiResearch jet engine under the rear deck. Computer simulations have revealed that propelled by just 70 bhp, the slippery Ghia Aerodynamic X would be capable of a top speed of 160 mph. We are unaware of any attempts made to try and match these figures in real life.
In full running order, the Ghia Gilda made a fitting debut at the Art Center College of Design Classic Concours in Pasadena in 2007. Since then it has been shown at the prominent Pebble Beach and Villa d’Este concours. Late in 2008 it was brought back to its spiritual home Turin for the ‘Dream Cars’ exhibition. The Gilda has also been displayed in the Italdesign museum.