It’s 1954, Dwight D. Eisenhower is President of the United States, and as it’s been nearly a decade since the end of the Second World War, the world is rapidly changing. Unlike the rest of the Western world though, America isn’t sitting in a shadow of reparation and recovery, America is chasing a future of possibility.
Imagine yourself walking into the office of Chrysler’s Director of Styling, Virgil Exner. Sitting on Exner’s desk is a small sleek clay model sculpture of a unmarked and unnamed concept car. The model is finished in a flawless black paint that looks slippery and fast while just sitting there on Exner’s desk. As you begin to imagine the car at speed you can see the air flowing over it’ sleek surface that would allow for it to cut through the air as you would expect only a jet plane could.
In 1954, this model was seen by Ghia’s Chief-Stylist, Giovanni Savonuzzi, and it inspired him to create a car that didn’t just capture people’s imaginations, but gave them an imagination. Appearing for the first time in 1955 at the Torino, Italy Auto Show, Savonuzzi’s design captivated viewers with its aerodynamically streamlined body, futuristic detailing, and jet age color scheme.
Giovanni Savonuzzi named the car after the famous 1946 Rita Hayworth film ‘Gilda.‘ Film campaigns described Rita Hayworth as a super-sexy bomb, and with that description Savonuzzi found the perfect name for Ghia’s concept show car. The Gilda’s revolutionary design aesthetic brought the future into the present as it transported people into a future world filled with promise and prosperity by giving flight to their imaginations.
After touring the European Auto Shows of 1955, the Gilda was shipped to the United States in October of 1955,where it was inducted into the Henry Ford Museum. In 1969 the Gilda went to casino magnate William F. Harrah’s museum collection in Reno, Nevada, where the car remained until 1985 when it became a part of the Blackhawk Collection’s group of showcase Ghia cars. Nearly 20 years later, world renowned Mercedes expert restorer and Pebble Beach judge, Scott Grundfor acquired the rare and beautiful Gilda concept car. Grundfor bought the Gilda sight unseen, but the one of a kind design had long held an impression on Scott Grundfor as he says “you don’t forget that shape.”
The impact of this revolutionary car carried into Chrysler’s Forward Look theme of their1957 lineup. The Gilda continues to capture the imaginations of designers and collectors alike as former Mercedes Design Chief Bruni Sacco credits the Gilda with inspiring him to become an auto designer. Art Center College of Design’s influential professor Strother MacMinn even named it one of the 10 most significant show cars of all time.
The mystique of the Gilda doesn’t end with its era captivating design. Etched into the belly pan under the driver’s seat floorboard is a poem dated September 25, 1955, Ghia-Torino Italia:
“A woman makes you feel like being intoxicated, but then she leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth.”
Concours and Other Car Shows
Petersen Automotive Museum: Aerodynamics Exhibit
Dream Exhibition 2008: Turin, Italy
Historic Photos and Articles
Rita Hayworth Images