‘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

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

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

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