Steel-bodied 1963 Corvette Rondine Still Amazing Fans After 49 Years
Here’s a trivia question for you: Has there ever been a Corvette made of anything but fiberglass?
If you knew the answer is yes, then you probably know the story behind the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Rondine, a rare prototype that was commissioned by the Italian coachbuilder Pininfarina—and was made of steel!
The unique Corvette Rondine set a record at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in 2008 when it sold for a cool $1.6 million to a Connecticut collector. Pininfarina had held onto the car in its museum for some 40 years and also displayed the Rondine at various events, including the 2005 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d/Este as part of the coachbuilder’s 75th anniversary, before finally deciding to auction it off.
Interestingly, Zora Arkus-Duntov, the first Corvette chief engineer, was a fan of the car and was once quoted as saying: “For the first time I now have a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe.”
While crafted in Italy, the Rondine still had its American roots since U.S.-born design legend Tom Tjaarda penned its sleek lines while working in Italy for Pininfarina. Tjaarda also designed the Ferrari 330 GT 2+2, Fiat 124 (which arrived in 1966 and featured many styling cues from the Rondine), and DeTomaso Pantera.
Since it was made of metal, the Rondine was much heavier than the stock Corvette. The front end slopes forward along a smooth curve that ends with a thin, horizontal chrome grille that provides air to the engine. This was an attractive yet practical design element to keep the engine cool. The side panel is accented by a sharp line originating from the grille. The angle runs along the front fender, through the side of the car and ends at the crest of the rear fender, giving the “Rondine” a slender, European look. The rear end features the celebrated “swallow tail” arrangement, which minimizes the visibility of the car's tail due to projecting rear fenders. Under the hood of the mesmerizing teal sports car lies a 327ci, 4-speed manual, fuel-injected V8 that pumps out 360 horsepower. The interior design remained pretty much like the GM version, though the stock seats were re-covered in sumptuous Italian leather and the floor covered with rich black carpet. The door jams were also chromed and decorated panels were fitted.
If you’re wondering the reasoning behind making the Rondine in the first place, it was built for the 1963 Paris Auto Show, the result of a long-running relationship between GM and Pininfarina. Corvette enthusiast and historian Tony Thacker once told Corvette Fever magazine: “It was perhaps as a result of the friendship between (Corvette designer Bill) Mitchell and Pinin Farina, the founder of the Italian design house, that a ’63 Sting Ray found its way to Turin's Valley di Susa for Pininfarina to re-body in any way they wished.”
As a styling exercise, the car has its good points. But based on the lukewarm reception from the public, the Rondine just never caught on as a possible Italian-American collaboration similar to the DeTomaso and was quietly retired to the company's museum. We’ll stick with Larry Shinoda's original Sting Ray design, thank you.
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