We’re definitely not in Kansas any more, Toto. But where in heck are we?
Acquisitions by Detroit big-hitters was not a phenomenon restricted to the latter-1980’s – it began well before that. Ford had made several stabs at acquiring Ferrari in the late ’60s to no avail, but in 1970, they purchased (from Alessandro de Tomaso of all people) the Italian coachbuilder, Carrozzeria Ghia. In addition to using the Ghia logo as a ‘brougham’ trim level, initially for their European model lines, Ford also used Filippo Sapino’s Ghia studios as an advanced styling skunkworks, commissioning a series of conceptual styling studies and pre-production prototypes over the following two decades.
One of these was the 1981 AC Ghia concept, first shown at that year’s Geneva motor show. Built as a feasibility study for a Ford-sanctioned rally car and/or image building sporting production model, Sapino’s muscular and tightly sculpted body style was draped over the internal body structure and mechanical layout of the contemporary AC ME 3000; itself powered by a mid-mounted Ford 3-litre Essex V6. Championed by Ford’s Bob Lutz, the AC Ghia was unsurprisingly passed over by Ford’s beancounters – one of whom told Car’s Steve Cropley in 1981, “The fact is, we’re not in business to make sports cars”. Go tell that to ‘maximum Bob’…
Nevertheless, Sapino was an industrious man and two years later, at the Geneva show, eyebrows were raised, not only by a striking resemblance to the earlier AC concept, but more importantly at the badge on Quicksilver’s wind cleaving nose. Built on a stretched version of the AC ME body structure, it also shared the British low-volume sports car’s mid-engined layout and chain-driven five-speed manual transmission.
Sleeker in the flanks than Sapino’s earlier incarnation, Quicksilver’s clean surfaces, flush glazing and truncated tail suggested Giugiaro’s 1981 Medusa, as did the low drag coefficient – (0.30). While the nose styling was a close approximation to that of the AC Ghia, the tail featured distinctive strakes at the rear three quarters, semi enclosed rear wheels and large tail-lamp units which bore more than a passing resemblance to products of Italdesign’s studios. The overall effect then was one of Quai de Javel meets Turin, via Thames Ditton.
The Lincoln badging remains something of a mystery however, given that Ford never made much of an effort to market the nameplate in Europe. Perhaps Dearborn executives for a time at least harboured ambitions in this direction. If they did, they didn’t do so for long. Quicksilver did the rounds of the show circuit until 1986 before being retired from active duty. While it may not have prefigured a production machine with either a Ford, Lincoln or indeed an AC badge, concepts like Quicksilver did go a long way to alter perceptions of the Blue Oval amid the motoring public – an early and more creatively satisfying form of Unlearning if you will.
But what is more depressingly apparent is that almost everyone, apart from the denizens of Quai de Javel themselves seem to have been permitted to produce more convincing looking Citroëns than Citroën themselves. This lexicon grows ever longer.