‘When we built the Ghia prototype, I knew we had a winner’
The legendary designer remembers Ghia’s Lancia Fulvia Competizione prototype, and how it almost changed Italy’s automotive landscape for ever
The Fulvia coupé is somewhat forgotten in classic car circles, yet this vehicle had unique engineering, awesome handling, was easy to maintain and after many years is still a beautiful little 2+2 coupé. But for those that know, this compact gem of a sports car has become an icon and at one point the HF coupé version outsold the Fulvia saloon, with the rally variant winning numerous international competitions. It was penned by in-house designer Pietro Castanero and used aluminium doors and bonnet for lightness, with a 1200cc engine. It was soon upgraded to the 1300 HF version that propelled the compact 2+2 to international rallying fame. The basic suspension gave the car excellent traction, especially during fast cornering.
Now enters Ghia’s Alejandro de Tomaso, who saw the platform as an opportunity to do business. The prototype that we did at Ghia had a three-pronged idea behind it.
First was to design a special styling concept car using the base HF platform to be exhibited at the 1969 Geneva show. Second was to whet the appetite of Ford management to buy the ailing Lancia company outright. Ford CEO Lee Iacocca would then put his bosom buddy de Tomaso in charge, which was Alejandro’s main objective. The third was to engineer the prototype to race at Le Mans. However, things didn’t work out as planned. Fiat got wind of the de Tomaso/ Iacocca scheme and quickly shut it down by buying Lancia outright. The Le Mans objective was intended to reinforce the Ford Motor Company’s desire to buy Lancia but, after Fiat stepped in, de Tomaso’s interest in developing the Fulvia for Le Mans waned, and he shifted his focus to Formula One.
As a styling exercise the car was a success. In 1969 the automotive press talked mostly about Bertone, Pininfarina and Italdesign, but when the Ghia Fulvia was shown in Geneva things started to change – a process that had actually begun a couple of years earlier when Ghia displayed the Mangusta and Maserati Ghibli at the 1968 Torino Auto Salone. The Fulvia Competizione prototype seemed to provide the catalyst needed to bring Ghia back to its original prestige. However, this didn’t last for long because Ghia was now owned by Ford so we were designing proposals for Ford production cars, not exotic Maseratis. Also, de Tomaso was not the type to work for someone else and had hoped to manage a big automotive company like Lancia. At Ghia his role would have become a routine daily job of managing prototype work for the Ford design centre. He had other ideas and had been planning for some time to expand his own circle of business with Maserati and the Benelli and Moto Guzzi motorcycle companies. With funding from the Italian government he was able to buy them, and left Ghia for the last time in 1973.
This Ghia prototype is one of my favourite designs. When we built it I knew that we had a winner. The body was aluminium with the doors weighing only 6kg each. Today it’s a running car with a new owner, Tony Rossi, who recently invited me to have a look at his restoration job. It had been 40 years since I last saw the car and it looked immaculate. Memories of all the intrigue with de Tomaso, Lee Iococca, Fiat and Ford came flooding back, all because of this one- off prototype.
Tom drew up the Fulvia Competizione while at Ghia – and it almost changed Lancia’s fate as we know it