HomeThe MarketGilda, a sublime 1955 turbine car, offered at Barrett-Jackson

Gilda, a sublime 1955 turbine car, offered at Barrett-Jackson


The turbine-powered Chrysler Ghia Streamline X 'Gilda' was designed with the aid of a wind tunnel | Barrett-Jackson photos
The turbine-powered Chrysler Ghia Streamline X ‘Gilda’ was designed with the aid of a wind tunnel | Barrett-Jackson photos

From a time when designers and engineers were attempting to blend automobiles with jet aircraft comes the 1955 Chrysler Ghia Streamline X, nicknamed Gilda after the Hollywood film and its glamorous leading lady, Rita Hayworth.

Gilda was a concept car commissioned by Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner and styled by Giovanni Savonuzzi with coachwork by Ghia of Turin, Italy. It was first shown at the 1955 Turin Motor Show, where it created a sensation.

Remarkably streamlined after wind-tunnel experimentation, Gilda is considered to be a breakthrough design that influenced styling features from Chrysler for the rest of the decade.

Gilda's aerodynamic design features pop-up headlights
Gilda’s aerodynamic design features pop-up headlights

But most incredible is the concept car’s means of propulsion. Instead of a piston engine, Gilda is powered by an AiResearch turbine, a compact unit that shrieks at high rpm and sounds as if the car should be taking off from an aircraft carrier. But no, it stays on the ground despite its extravagant tail fins.

The landmark concept car will be offered for sale this week during Barrett-Jackson’s flagship Scottsdale auction. The Ghia Streamline X Gilda is expected to cross the block Saturday during Barrett-Jackson’s sale of its Salon series cars, representing the top-drawer collector vehicles of the massive auction event.

Following this concept car, Chrysler continued to experiment with turbine engines as the possible wave of the future, most notably its 1964 Chrysler Turbine concept that was made to seem production ready. But never again was there another car quite like Gilda.

The turbine coupe was no mere show car, either, but a forward-looking testbed of experimental aerodynamic design and turbine power.

The turbine engine is located in the rear
The turbine engine is located in the rear

“Styling is the work of Giovanni Savonuzzi and was commissioned by Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner, who wished to explore solutions for crosswind resistance and rear-end grip, as well as turbine power,” Barrett-Jackson says in its catalog description. “Gilda is superbly constructed, with a sturdy, elegant aluminum body atop a square-tube chassis, a separate aluminum floor for the passenger compartment and a full belly pan for aerodynamic efficiency.”

The futuristic interior seems simple by today’s standards, but it incorporates key driving features that visualized the cars of tomorrow. For instance, there are no pedals on the floor, with acceleration and braking controlled by aircraft-like hand levers.

The engine and streamlined body give the car a potential top speed that rivals today’s performance cars.

“Computer and wind-tunnel modeling have determined that the 70 hp turbine would be capable of propelling the car up to 160 mph,” the catalog description notes.

There are no driver pedals, with hand controls instead
There are no driver pedals, with hand controls instead

The current owner is a judge for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, notably for the Preservation Class, and Gilda retains most of its original finishes and equipment, down to its original CEAT tires.

The concept car was housed in the Ford Museum for many years, followed by careful private ownership by a few individuals, the description says.

Unlike most Barrett-Jackson’s auction vehicles, which are sold without reserves, the Ghia Streamline X carries a reserve price that must be met by a winning bidder.

And while Barrett-Jackson is best known for the roar of high-performance engines as cars come up on stage, the high-pitched whine of Gilda’s turbine engine should be quite a unique experience for the auction crowd.

Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction takes place through January 22 at WestWorld in Scottsdale. For more information, visit the auction website.

To see and hear Gilda being driven at the Concorso Villa d’Este in Italy, visit Gilda video.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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