Ghia creations of 1950s in Arizona Concours d’Elegance

The 1953 Cadillac Ghia show car was owned by actress Rita Hayworth | Petersen Museum
The 1953 Cadillac Ghia show car was owned by actress Rita Hayworth | Petersen Museum

Carrozzeria Ghia is one of Italy’s leading auto designers and coachbuilders, with a rich history of beautiful concepts and production cars from the company’s founding in 1915 to the present day.

The second annual Arizona Concours d’Elegance welcomes two of Ghia’s most-famous creations from the 1950s – a custom-bodied 1953 Cadillac once owned by Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth and the exquisite 1954 Plymouth Explorer dream car – as part of a special Cars of Carrozzeria Ghia concours class honoring the 100th anniversary of the Turin design house.

The two evocative Ghia automobiles will be shown during the Arizona Concours on January 11, 2015, along with more than 85 rare and exceptional automobiles displayed on the landscaped inner lawns of the historic Arizona Biltmore Resort in Phoenix. Both Ghias are owned by the world-famous Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, which entered them in the Arizona Concours to help celebrate Ghia’s centennial.

The 1953 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe by Ghia became one of the best-known cars of its day when it was presented as an extravagant gift to Rita Hayworth from the wealthiest man in the world, Prince Ali Khan, who was married to Hayworth at the time. The flamboyant coupe was one of two Cadillac concepts built by Ghia for the 1953 Paris Auto Salon, where Khan saw the car and arranged to purchase it for his wife.

 The 1954 Plymouth Explorer was a Ghia design for Chrysler | Petersen Museum

The Plymouth Explorer was a Ghia design for Chrysler | Petersen Museum

Despite the lavish gift, Hayworth and Khan were divorced later that year. But the celebrity connection remained intact for the Ghia-bodied coupe, henceforth known as the Rita Hayworth Cadillac.

The 1954 Plymouth Explorer by Ghia came about because of the Italian company’s relationship with Chrysler Motors, which resulted in a number of important designs and production cars. Chrysler’s then-newly named head of design, the acclaimed Virgil Exner, had turned to Ghia to help the Detroit automaker shed its image for stodgy automobiles. The Plymouth Explorer was one in a series of exotic dream cars that would become part of the automaker’s design language.

On a modified 114-inch Plymouth chassis, Ghia built a sleek, hand-sculpted coupe and painted it a striking green metallic with white horizontal spear accents and exhaust tips that exited from the taillight pods. Interior details include white leather upholstery, fitted luggage and concealed radio controls.

A number of other Ghia-designed automobiles will also appear in their own special class at the Arizona Concours d’Elegance, which once again serves as the startup and focal point for the famed Classic Car Week in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. The premier automotive event benefits Make-A-Wish® Arizona, the founding chapter of the national organization that grants wishes for children facing life-threatening medical conditions.

For more information about the Arizona Concours d’Elegance, including ticket sales, see

Eye Candy: Cadillac Ranch

Photos by Larry Edsall

They sit there in a farmer’s field just south of — and easily visible from — Interstate 40, just west of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. There are 10 of them. All vintage Cadillacs, from a 1949 Club Coupe to a 1963 sedan.

But they aren’t parked in the usual, haphazard fashion of cars left out in some weeded-over field. These have been placed precisely, not only with the military precision of a marching line that runs from east to west, but each with its nose planted into the ground and its finned tails lifted into the sky at the same angle of as the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt.

They were placed here by a group of artists who were from San Francisco and who called themselves the Ant Farm. The installation was commissioned by the recently departed Stanley Marsh 3, an Amarillo rancher, oil tycoon, art patron, media mogul, helium magnate and “merry prankster.”

The installation is, of course, Cadillac Ranch. It was designed as an artistic commentary on American culture, and on Cadillac’s role as a status symbol.

It originally was planted in 1974. However, as Amarillo grew and threatened to overwhelm the installation, the cars were transplanted in 1997 to a different field a few miles to the west.

What’s perhaps most remarkable about the cars is that they’re still here. Nobody’s stolen them, let along considered their restoration to running order, though from time to time a part disappears. A couple of years ago the roof of the second car in line went missing. But someone replaced it, seemingly good as new. Currently, much of the roof panel of the car at the far west end is missing.

The cars are just sheet-metal body shells. No engines. No interiors. Though several retain wheels and tires. Just like the sheet metal, those wheels and tires are constantly being painted and repainted by anyone who happens along.

You see, at Cadillac Ranch, everyone can be an artist.

There is a gate, but there is neither an admission charge nor anyone who might appear to be in charge. The gate is there not to keep people out, but to keep any stray cow from wandering out onto the frontage road or the highway.

Once you maneuver through the gate, you walk less than a quarter-mile south across the flat field and all you need is your handy spray paint can. Oh, you neglected to bring one, don’t fret, you can simply pick up one of the many that others have discarded and use one or more of them to apply your own name or other symbol to the cars.

At least temporarily.

Though not seemingly owned by anyone, and without any billboard promotion and barely a mention in the local visitors guide, Cadillac Ranch draws a steady stream of visitors, so many people adding so much more paint that the cars’ appearance metamorphoses a couple of times each week.

Of course, you don’t have to add paint. You can simply stand there and marvel at why so many people seem so eager to leave their mark on something.


Classic Profile: The Mighty Cadillac V16

A 1931 Cadillac 452A V16 Fleetwood is shown off on the beach in the 1930s | Courtesy of the author
A 1931 Cadillac 452A V16 Fleetwood is shown off on the beach in this vintage photo | Courtesy of the author

In the enthusiasm of the late 1920’s, Cadillac developed its trend-setting 16-cylinder engine of 452 cubic inches – developing 175 horsepower.

While it is true that Packard introduced the landmark Twin-Six, its 12-cylinder engine, in the 1916 model year, it was the Cadillac V16 that set off the American “cylinder wars” at a time when car sales were plummeting due to the escalating economic depression.

Even in those difficult times, many American luxury brands join the fray, including Marmon with its V16, Auburn and its 12-cylinder engines, as well as Packard’s re-introduction of the Twin-Six in 1932.

Not to be outdone, Pierce-Arrow and Franklin introduced V12’s, and Lincoln joined in as well. Although it’s hard to image today, these larger engines were not developed for performance but rather for increased torque and reduced vibration. They were intended to pull long-wheelbase, formal cars as smoothly and with as little noise as possible.

Introduced in January 1930, roughly 2,000 16-cylinder cars were sold by Cadillac in the first year. Sales dropped off quickly, although amazingly Cadillac continued production through 1937 and then re-designed their V16. These later 16-cylinder cars were sold through 1940 in very small numbers.

The 1931 Cadillac shown here in a period photograph wears a 1932 New Jersey license plate and is proudly being shown-off on the broad beaches of the Atlantic shore. As with the majority of first-series 16-cylinder Cadillacs, this car wears a Fleetwood body. The Fleetwood company was founded in 1909 in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, and would be purchased by the Fisher Body Company in 1925. In 1931, General Motors absorbed Fisher/Fleetwood and moved the company to Detroit.

This car wears Fleetwood style number 4376, which was probably made in Pennsylvania prior to the move to Detroit. Originally priced at $5,950, this was one of more than 50 different body styles offered for the V16. What’s interesting about this car is that it was ordered without the typical side-mount spare tires and without the more common wire wheels. Only 98 units of this body style were produced and at least one is known to survive today.

The Classic Cars of Perry Mason

Decades before modern day Law and Order, Perry Mason ruled the TV court room and the roadways too. Airing from 1957 to 1966, the show followed a ruthless Los Angeles defense attorney commanding the court room with crafty cross-examinations, often revealing unexplored evidence and solving murder mysteries in his client’s favor during the proceedings. Perry was just as notable on the highway as he was in the courtroom. Perry and company drive from episode to episode in some of the most coveted classic cars in the collector’s world.

Although Perry drives a myriad of automobiles during the shows nearly ten year run time, he’s most often seen in classic Ford and General Motors models in the early episodes. Take a look back through time at some of Perry’s retro rides.

Cadillac Series 62
Throughout the first few years of the series, Perry seems to favor the Cadillac Series 62, which is no surprise considering General Motors was a major advertiser for the program and network. Perry cruises from crime scene to court room in the convertible model known for its unique tail design. He is seen in the 1957-1959 models most. The body featured iconic bullet shaped tail lights embedded in a fin shaped bumper, a departure from the more rounded shape of prior models.

The Cadillac Series 62 was a fairly diverse model. It was available as a 2-door and a 4-door, and also as a coupe model. Production of the Series 62 continued into the mid 1960’s, until it was eventually replaced by the Cadillac Calais.


A 1958 Cadillac Series 62 featured in Perry Mason

Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner
Perry also favored the Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner. Produced from 1957 to 1959, the Skyliner might seem like a standard convertible to the laymen. But classic car lovers can agree that the Skyliner was an innovative model for the 1950’s: featuring a unique a retractable hardtop, the first of its kind at the time of production. Perry is seen in the model both at work and at play. He is seen driving around town with the top up, and charming ladies on night time cruises with the top down.

The retractable roof fueled sales for the only three years of production. But aside from the novelty of the roof, consumers were relatively unimpressed with the build and performance compared to other Ford models of the time. Especially because of the price. The Fairlane 500 Skyliner was priced a lofty $400-$500 above similar convertible models. Production plummeted from over 20,000 models in 1957, to a little over 12,000 in 1959. But because of the unique hardtop function, it’s still a favorite for classic car collectors.

A Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner featured in Perry Mason

Check out more of Perry Mason’s favorite cars at the internet movie cars database.