The Prince and the Movie Star Car—Too Good to be True?

Photo credit: Petersen Automotive Museum

Photo credit: Petersen Automotive Museum

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Rita Hayworth was a major star and a world-class beauty, so it’s not surprising that she inspired extravagant gifts. It’s well documented that in 1941, film director Orson Welles presented her with a new Lincoln Continental coupe. She kept the car for three decades and donated its bumpers to a World War II scrap drive. That car, magnificently restored, will be auctioned by Worldwide April 23.

Photo credit: George Rinhart - Getty Images

Photo credit: George Rinhart – Getty Images

Popular history has it that Rita Hayworth was later gifted with an even more extraordinary car by a wealthy lover. In this case it was her husband, the immensely wealthy Prince Aly Kahn. Tired of his philandering (reportedly with actress Joan Fontaine), Hayworth decamped with her daughter to Nevada to begin divorce proceedings. According to lore, Kahn was distraught, and around this time he saw an exclusive Ghia-bodied Cadillac, one of two built on spec, at the 1953 Paris Auto Salon.

In an attempt to win Hayworth back, the story goes, he bought the Cadillac off the stand and sent it to Hayworth in Nevada. She reportedly kept the car but not the husband, who had also offered her $1 million if she would raise their daughter as a Moslem. A subsequent German owner lent the car to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The Petersen eventually purchased the Ghia-Cadillac and gave it the striking dark burgundy paint it wears today as seen in the top photo. (The other one is blue.)

That was Petersen’s story until two years ago, but as with paintings, provenance can change. Joseph Harper, associate curator of the Petersen, said via email, “I can understand your interest in the vehicle, however [the Ghia Cadillac] was never owned or built for Rita Hayworth. After some extensive research, the museum stopped representing it as such some time ago due to a complete absence of evidence—despite previous claims made by previous owners.”

Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

Photo credit: Bettmann – Getty Images

Harper further explained that Leslie Kendall, the museum’s curator, investigated the claims of celebrity ownership, didn’t find anything corroborating them, and “decided that we not perpetuate the myth or legendary connection. This decision was made only a couple of years ago, so many of the things found online may still use such wording.” And they do.

Kendall told Autoweek that the Ghia Cadillac is “a gorgeous, lovely and important car” even without star power. It’s certainly quite beautiful, reflecting the exquisite, high-beltline designs by Italian coachbuilder Ghia in the postwar period. There’s a strong resemblance between Ghia’s Cadillacs and the show cars it built for Chrysler around the same time. Under the skin, Ghia’s car is a stock 1953 Cadillac, with a 210-horsepower, 331-cubic-inch V8 and an automatic transmission.

Photo credit: Petersen Automotive Museum

Photo credit: Petersen Automotive Museum

The Cadillac (even minus Rita Hayworth) is even more exclusive than the Lincoln, and would definitely top it in auction pricing if both cars had been owned by ordinary civilians. It’s one of just two, and the ultimate expression of Ghia flamboyant styling. The Lincoln, by contrast, is a production car. But the Rita/Orson connection is a big incentive for bidders.

Juan Diego Calle, CEO and co-founder of Classic.com, estimates Hayworth’s Lincoln will bring $80,000 to $120,000 at auction. But the two cars will likely never go head-to-head, because Petersen says its exclusive Cadillac is staying put in the museum’s extensive collection.

Share your thoughts on Rita Hayworth and her Ghia-bodied Cadillac in the comments below.

Ann C. Toledo

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