Car: Ghia Selene, 1959

These two remarkable, rear-engined design studies put the steering wheel, driver, and front passenger forward of the front wheels, and the engine protruding in its own rear compartment. It was “two box” thinking, only in reverse.

1959 Ghia Selene
The Ghia Selene I grew from studies for an extreme rear-engined Renault and then vanished in Moscow while being “evaluated” as a taxi.

The Selene I grew out of a Ghia design program for Renault, itself a champion of rear-engined cars. Unlike the ugly Renault 900 study, though, the Ghia Selene would be startlingly futuristic—oozing the jet-age imagery characteristic of many 1950s Ghia show cars, and with an engine at the extreme back like some contemporary airliners. The work of young stylist Tom Tjaarda, a most astonishing feature was a steering wheel that could switch from left- to right-hand drive, with two sets of pedals permanently in position on the floor. In the rear compartment, two pairs of seats faced each other, with a built-in cocktail bar for mobile “relaxation.”

1959 Ghia Selene car
1959 Ghia Selene car

The car was meant to predict an age of superhighways, where electronic controls did the navigation work and car occupants sailed along in serene comfort. Nevertheless, this didn’t take into account the undoubted vulnerability the Selene driver would feel, pushed out so far in front. Ghia built its gleaming white Selene II in 1960, along similar lines but a three-seater—a single driving seat and two facing seats, and an built-in TV, in the back. This time, the shape was executed by American Virgil Exner Junior, whose father oversaw design at Ghia client Chrysler; it was even more way-out, sportier, and even less practical.

“It might fly if it had wings—or an engine. Two back seats, facing each other, give the back compartment a lounge-room effect, complete with bar.”

Modern Mechanix Magazine, 1960

Specification: model of the car Ghia Selene

YEAR REVEALED: 1959
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Turin, Italy
HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
ENGINE: none fitted, but said to be suitable for engines from 61–153ci (1,000-2,500cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: unknown
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: four-door, five-seater sedan and canopy entry/single-door, three-seater coupé
TOP SPEED: unknown
NUMBER BUILT: two