The Ghia City Car is the only surviving example in today's sale from the brief period when Ghia was owned by Alejandro deTomaso prior to Ghia's acquisition by Ford. The Ghia City Car is typical of the late Sixties - early Seventies focus on transportation modules to accommodate what was seen as ever-increasing, and ultimately strangling, traffic congestion in the medievally-constricted city centers of Europe.
The Ghia City Car is one of the earliest of many examples of compact - even diminutive - people movers developed by Ghia and other European designers and manufacturers that concentrated on packing the greatest occupant density into the smallest volume. All, like the Ghia City Car, are powered by the smallest possible engines. They reflected the 1973 energy crisis, either in advance as foreseen by Ghia's designers in 1970 with the City Car or reacting to it in subsequent years. At the time "engine management" was only the dream of a few engineers laboring in secluded garrets far inside the manufacturers' castles and the solution to air pollution was seen as incredibly small engines tuned to maximum efficiency at peak power and working as hard as they could all the time.
That describes the 500cc engine that was intended to power the Ghia City Car. With seating for four and provision for luggage space over the rear-mounting engine location, the Ghia City Car could be loaded with nearly a half-ton of passengers and luggage.
And yet, as Ford's J Mays noted recently, the city cars of the Seventies, personified by the Ghia City Car, "were ten to twenty years ahead of their time. What are now successful city cars, the SMART, Mercedes A-class and Fiats, are all tied to the family tree of these experiments."
The Ghia City Car, with its reverse-hinged "suicide" doors and rear hatch is an almost impossibly compact package, an expression of Ghia's talent in creating an "industrial" design - one created to maximize its physical attributes - that also is aesthetically pleasing.
Only 54 inches wide and 101 inches long, the Ghia City Car is only 6 inches wider and 5 inches longer than a standard US 4'x8' sheet of plywood. It is built on a wheelbase barely 5 feet 3 inches long.
Currently a non-running concept, the Ghia City Car is in remarkably good condition for its age. The doors and rear hatch work. Its metal body is smooth and straight with even panel gaps. The windows are made of glass. Riding on tiny 10" cast alloy wheels with 145 SR 10 Goodyear tires and a working suspension, the Ghia City Car is very presentable although there are some small paint defects on the nose and stress cracks showing at the top of the windshield posts. Its flaws are remarkably minor in view of its maturity.
While the Ghia City Car is showing its age, it also displays the talent of Ghia's designers and the Ghia artisans who turned the designers' concepts into metal. A one-off Turin Motor Show concept, the Ghia City Car meets the threshold criteria for the most important and prestigious concours and, if it were accepted, would be a standout participant amongst the Ferrari, Lincoln and Rolls-Royce. That's hard to buy at any price.