The Rondine - The Spaghetti Westerner

The Rondine; One of Only Four Italian-Built Corvette Show Cars

Kevin Shaw Jul 24, 2008 0 Comment(s)
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Designed after the avian muse for which it was named; the Rondine, or swallow, features a sleek fiberglass skin similar to the aforementioned bird's characteristic slender streamlined body, with long pointed wings, a stubbed bill, and long tail. Based off of a '63 split-window, the Italian-built showcase vehicle crafted by Pininfarina sadly never caught on, and ultimately, slid off into the shadowy annals of historical Corvette obscurity. So ambiguous was the Italian coupe's account, that many, if not most, Corvette die-hard enthusiasts have never even heard of it.

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While the epidermis told a different story, underneath the skin the Rondine was no different from its '63 split-window cousin including the fuel injected 327 and the full accented gauge cluster and lush bucket seats. Pininfarina, obviously, took great care to recover nearly all the surfaces in high quality materials like the rich black carpet and soft Italian leather bucket seats.

Like so many show cars, the Rondine barely enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame before critics and coachbuilders lambasted the one-of-four hand-built coupes. The Rondine's initial unveiling was met with sneers and confusion which would incur the hurried modification that would debut a year later. The two versions of the coupe would still befall dour interest and fail as a limited production American-Italian sportscar. The Rondine, though distinctively Italian in its design was ultimately wholly American with its blistering horsepower emanating from underneath the smooth hood and jet aircraft-inspired gauge pod and interior.

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The second time around, the Rondine returned to the show circuit with this revised rear window which replaced the original reverse rake backlight. The back glass ends just short of the race-inspired flip-top gas cap situated in the center of the long tail.

Since the days of Harley Earl, General Motors had enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Italian carrozzeria, Pininfarina, which continued on until Bill Mitchell took over as chief designer in 1958, succeeding Harley Earl. Corvette enthusiast and historian, Tony Thacker recounts, "It was perhaps as a result of the friendship between 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."

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Looking aggressive and slightly perturbed, the low hanging brow-line covering the tops of the fixed headlights would rotate electronically when engaged for nighttime driving.

It would be there that the chassis would undergo a sequence of retro-fitting and redesign. The now-legendary "Mako Shark"-influenced body would be nearly unrecognizably altered to a more angular, razor-edged coupe that utilized one-off taillights, which were little more than "afterthought" reflectors, and bumperettes similar in style to the Sting Ray and a large recessed license plate box and a quick-release race-inspired gas filler door. The front end styling demonstrated a tubular-style grille flanked by low-slung eyelids which electronically rotated to better reveal twin, fixed round headlights.

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"Rondine," translating to swallow in English, claims its namesake by its sharp, lengthy tail similar to the light, streamlined birds for which inspired the coupe's styling.

The high beltline swept around the front of the body, across the doors, dancing up over the simple lock and concealed handle before racing back to form the upper lip of the tail fins. Initially, the Rondine featured a classic Raymond Loewy-inspired roof treatment reminiscent of a '53 Studebaker. The notch-back, roll-up window replaced the iconic split window backlight, highlighting a reverse rake, electrically-operated rear window. In this configuration, the Rondine would be unveiled at the Paris auto show in October 1963.

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Notice the reverse rake rear window, strikingly similar to that of a '53 Studebaker. Electronically powered, the rear glass could roll down into the rear sill. Deemed awkward and curious, Pinin Farina would retreat the Rondine back to his coachworks and return the next year with the larger, swooping back window shown previously.

Although stunning and substantially unique from the conventional Corvette from which it was based, the Rondine's unconventional rear window treatment received enough unfavorable criticism that Pininfarina hurriedly recalled the show car back to his facility and, as evidenced by the color photographs, replaced the rakish backlight with a more slippery wraparound greenhouse. The newly updated Rondine would appear once more, during the Geneva international car show in the next year in 1964 before being retired and sent back to the Italian stable.

But the Rondine's avant garde styling would not fall on blind eyes. The Italian-sculpted Corvette's racy tail and sharp lines appear once more, but not on any domestic-built vehicle, but trace queues manifest themselves in the production Fiat 124 Spider in 1966. While the speculation of the Rondine's DNA appearing in the later Fiat is purely conjecture, the near-forgotten existence of the Pan-Atlantic Corvette is the biggest enigma of them all. Had the Rondine's fate been different, the potential of a production GM-powered Italian sportscar (similar to Lincoln-Mercury's DeTomaso Pantera) could have conceivably survived. Oh, what could have been...

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