When Eddie Palaghita was growing up in communist Romania, the only thing he could do to satiate his budding love of the automobile was stockpile collectible gum wrappers with images of cars. Maybe it was because most everything chugging around the streets of communist Romania was a Dacia of some sort, but Eddie developed an intense appreciation for niche cars with unique history or character. And when it comes to unique cars, it doesn’t get much better than a one-off concept.
Most people dream of driving a concept car on the street, but Palaghita’s 1994 Ford Ghia Vivace presents some obstacles to fulfilling that fantasy. For one, it doesn’t steer. The doors and windows don’t open, either, and the interior is basically a fabric shelf even with the car’s beltline. This is a pure piece of design sculpture that was built to sit on a show stand and be observed from several feet away.
“I didn’t even know you could buy a concept car,” Palaghita tells me. “I was looking online for a Karmann-Ghia when I came across this listing, and I just had to have it.”
Ford created the Vivace concept at its Ghia studio in Turin, based on the Mondeo/Contour’s steel platform and its 24-valve, 2.5-liter V-6. Along with its sister car, the Ghia Arioso concept, the project was essentially a styling exercise that also explored the packaging possibilities of using aluminum space-frame chassis construction. The concepts arrived at a time when the Acura NSX and the Audi A8 were topics of major conversation concerning aluminum and lightweighting; Ford itself was experimenting with its Aluminum Intensive Vehicle program.
Although such an aluminum space-frame did not find its way into production Ford passenger cars, the Ghia Vivace 2+2’s curvy, ovoid styling was a major hint at the look of the next Ford Taurus, which came out for 1996. The Vivace’s soft lines, circular lights, and sloping roofline share clear design DNA with the third-gen Taurus, which was a massive departure from the much boxier second-gen car. Although the Taurus’ look proved polarizing—Ford switched to more conventional styling cues for the car’s mid-cycle refresh—there’s no question it remains a memorable period of Ford’s 1990s design language. At the time, many in the automotive press thought the Ghia Vivace and Arioso were indicators of what the third-gen Ford Probe might look like, but Ford canceled that project and came out with the Mercury Cougar instead, which traces its roots more definitively to the 1997 Mercury MC2 concept.
With its striking shape, bubble bumpers, fiberglass body, and plastic wheel covers, a non-running concept like this would leave most people wondering what they’d even do with it. The sheer novelty of it is what makes it so attractive to Palaghita.
“It’s like a cross between the New Beetle and a Ford Taurus,” he says, admiring the car’s proportions. “It’s really cool to see that 1990s heritage that people remember from the Taurus and Contour.”
Palaghita’s passion for cars started early. In Romania, he obsessively tracked down car-themed Turbo collectible gum wrappers and boxes—similar to the phenomenon of Bazooka Joe comics in America—and had dreams of becoming a car designer. He had a sketchbook where he just drew every car emblem over and over.
He moved to his current home of Queens, New York, in 1995 when he was 12 years old, and more than anything else, he was thrilled to see the cars on American roads. “One of the first things I remember when I came to the U.S. was being just blown away by the automatic seat belts in a Nissan Maxima,” he says.
Palaghita eventually went to school for car design but abandoned that dream when he became disillusioned with the dim prospect of actually finding a paying job in what is an exceptionally competitive field. His love of cars did not dwindle, however. He gained some acclaim back in Romania when he drove his 1977 Dacia 1300 across America on Route 66, and in his stable is a Renault 12 barn find, an ARO 244 (a Romanian off-roader in the spirit of the G-Wagen), a 1979 Volvo 262C Bertone, a 1981 Lancia Beta Zagato Special Edition, and a 1985 Alfa Spider.
Obviously, attracted to the allure of classic Italian design houses, Eddie was smitten with the Ford Vivace Ghia concept at first sight. He bought it in Holland, Michigan, for what he describes as a very solid price—the car first sold for $7638 at a Dearborn auction in 2002, when Ford was selling off several other concepts. From there it eventually made its way to the collection of Sarasota Classic Car Museum for several years.
So what’s Palaghita’s plan for his latest out-there acquisition? “I really want to take it to car shows and let people get close to it,” he says. “Maybe somewhere like Ford Nationals at Carlisle.”
Part of the plan is to see if he can make it steerable and possibly fit it with a small electric motor, so he could move it with a remote control.
“The car is funky. I love unique stuff, and the Ghia totally fits the bill.”
Of that there can be no doubt. It is—quite literally—one of a kind.