Welcome to another installment of Cars Of Future Past, a series here at Jalopnik where we flip through the pages of history to explore long-forgotten concepts and how they had a hand in shaping the cars we know today. Last week we turned the clock back to 1991 to chat about a featherweight, rear-wheel drive two stroke-powered Toyota sport coupe called the AXV-IV. This time, we’re going even further back — nearly 40 years back, actually — with a Ghia-designed Ford concept that aimed to take on the Pontiac Fiero.
Meet the Ghia Brezza. After penning classics like Volkswagen’s Karmann Ghia, the Turin-based design house landed under Ford ownership in 1970, where it brought a great many concepts to life for the Blue Oval. One of those was the Brezza in 1982, which was actually based on the Ford EXP that hit showrooms the very same year.
But where the EXP was a front-engine, front-wheel drive Escort-derived coupe that in Rob Emslie’s words “resembled a sad frog,” the Brezza was a bit more aspirational. OK, a lot more aspirational.
For one, Ghia moved the EXP’s 1.6-liter inline-four behind the driver, which explains all those vents and the flared bodywork that didn’t exist on the production car. Ford supplied Ghia with two EXPs for the Brezza’s build, both of which were hacked apart to produce this prototype. A bit of insight on that process from the July 1982 edition of Road & Track, quoting then-Ghia director Filippo Sapino, via Car Styling:
We had made the AC Ghia to explore solutions to the mid-engine coupe arrangement with Ford power. But that was not a real Ford. We took two [Escort] EXPs, chopped one off at three-quarters length, just ahead of the back axle, and the other just behind the front wheels, forward of the front bulkhead. We fitted the short engine front-end unit at the back of the three-quarter length chassis pad [and] removed the engine from the three-quarter length chassis. In that way we created a driveable car, though it was not properly engineered.
The Fiero arrived a year after the EXP did, and quickly proved the be the winner in the marketplace. The Brezza was a way for Ford to flex that it could match General Motors in the mid-engine sports car game if it really wanted to, though Dearborn was reportedly never seriously considering production. It debuted at the Turin Motor Show in ’82. Shortly after, Ford condemned it to storage.
It’s a shame the Brezza didn’t enjoy a second life in production, because it’s really cool — especially from the outside. For that, we have Marilena Corvasce to thank, who led the concept’s design.
Although it wasn’t well known upon the car’s unveiling, Corvasce envisioned the Brezza’s appearance in its entirety, inside and out. Some say it’s the first car “fully” designed by a woman, though there were certainly women car designers before the ’80s, and some that headed up projects, like Dorothée Aurélie Marianne Pullinger, many decades prior.
You see, when she starts a new project she takes a ream of paper and sketches out hundreds of ideas. She creates mountains of sketches that she doesn’t even show us. She continues this process until she arrives at a solution of which she is convinced.
Regardless of whether the Brezza deserves the designation of being the first car predominantly designed by a woman, it was certainly an uncommon feat in the industry. And if you ask me, Corvasce absolutely nailed it.
The Brezza’s profile is much more cohesive from front to back than the Fiero’s (sure, the Fiero was tooled for production, but the point still stands). The wedge silhouette and covered rear wheels made it look like a baby supercar, while the daytime running lights and six slats extending down the B pillar contribute real character.
One of my favorite cues that Corvasce lent to this car is the cut line that trails off ahead of the rear wheel cover and rises to bisect the front wheel arch. It really slims the vehicle down and accentuates those wedge proportions.
All this streamlining resulted in a drag coefficient of 0.30, which was quite slippery for the time. And the Brezza wasn’t merely pretty — it was fully functional. Between that inline-four and the rear axle was a three-speed automatic transmission. Had the car actually reached production, it may have also had the option of a manual with either four or five gears, according to a press release obtained by Automobile.
Ford entertained proposals for modest, sub-Mustang coupes for many years after the EXP and Brezza, continuing on with cars like the Probe and ZX2. But it never brought a mid-engine one to market.
Over the years, we’ve learned about a project internally named GN34 — also designed in part by Ghia while incorporating some De Tomaso Pantera components — that made it decently far in development before being shelved. While pictures of test mules are out there floating on the web, the closest we got to a peek at a finished design may have been the 1986 Ford Cobra 230 ME concept. A subject for a future Cars Of Future Past, perhaps?
Unsurprisingly, no! In fact, outside of the Karmann Ghia appearing in a handful of titles, and the Ghia trim-level models of the Mondeo and Focus in Gran Turismo 2, the Turin coachbuilder’s name has been regrettably absent from racing games over the years. Unfortunately, Ghia’s years of prominence in the mid-to-late 20th century didn’t quite overlap with those of video games, or at least games that featured licensed cars. My dream of a racer that exclusively consists of long-forgotten COFP-fodder vehicles grows stronger with every passing day.