Corvette in an Italian suit: Pininfarina's Rondine concept

The Rondine shows more Pininfarina design cues from the back than from the front, even though there are plenty of Pininfarina details throughout to the trained eye.

For a performance nameplate dating back more than half a century, the Corvette has seldom attracted the attention of design houses wishing to give it a bespoke suit. Contrast that to the countless coachbuilt European cars of the 1960s, when it was still common for carrozzerias to completely re-body a car and sell it off the auto show floor.

One of the few exceptions is the Rondine concept by Pininfarina, which made its debut at the 1963 Paris motor show. Built on the new C2 chassis that debuted the same year, the Rondine is unusual in that it was Chevrolet itself that commissioned this concept, contracting Pininfarina to tailor a new suit for the second-gen model.

Designed by Tom Tjaarda at the Turin-based carrozzeria, the Rondine features a number of very recognizable Pininfarina design elements, some of which you may recall from other production and concept cars of the time. But it’s also fairly recognizable as a Corvette — the design does not depart far from the looks of the factory C2 to the point that one would say that it hails from another marque altogether. Of course, we say that with the benefit of hindsight, and with the ability to draw every detail of the C2-generation Corvette from memory, also knowing how the Corvette evolved in later decades.

But there is still enough of a resemblance to make the Rondine a Corvette and nothing else.

The Rondine shows more Pininfarina design cues from the back than from the front, even though there are plenty of Pininfarina details throughout to the trained eye.

If there is one single theme to the Rondine, it is that it appears visually lighter than the factory C2, wearing flowing bodywork that features longer front and rear overhangs. The Sting Ray shape is still there, but the proportions are far more liberal and more elegant — the Rondine was not penned to appear more aggressive, rather adding lightness and softer lines to the same chassis. Up front, you’ll notice that the Rondine still features a split bumper, but the pivoting headlights are hidden under sharp and slightly menacing eyebrows. The beltline that bisects the car is still prominent, but the Rondine wears a slightly more prominent grille. The small round side markers are there as well, but lifted up and to the sides of the headlights.

Gone are the vents behind the wheel arches and the bulges in the front wings, smoothed out in favor of a more subtle surface, and it’s a theme that extends to the whole of the car. Wearing less chrome, the windshield adopts a wider stance, instead of the more upright and chrome-trimmed outline of the original design. Tjaarda smoothed out the rear fenders as well, giving the tail a more tapered profile, but not at the expense of the rear overhangs. The shape of the roof is one of the more Italian elements in this design — it’s easy to picture a Ferrari with this greenhouse design — and so is the rear glass, which is wider than the original split window arrangement.

A thick B-pillar roll bar is the single biggest chrome surface on the car, and it’s a very Italian design detail from the period.

The rear wings and the taillights are also trademark Pininfarina elements of the time, ending in origami-style folded lines and thin, horizontal taillights. Viewed in profile or from the front the Rondine is still very much a Corvette, but it’s an Italian car strictly from the aft.

What happened to the car after it was built? Pininfarina kept it in its museum until 2008, when it was sold at auction and found its way into private hands. The car brought $1.6 million in 2008, which seems a little light a decade later. Where else will you find a carrozzeria-styled Corvette ordered by Chevrolet in the 1960s?

The Rondine spent the night outside at Greenwich Concours 2012, in between the two event days. But another concept car kept it company.

You’re probably wondering by now why the Rondine is spending time in a seemingly empty field in these photos. We spent some time with the car in 2012 and 2016 when it made appearances at the Greenwich concours, and for one long night it really was almost alone, outside, spending the night on the show field under the stars. But it was kept company by a no less important concept car of a prior era: the Chrysler Ghia Thomas Special. The two wowed crowds on Saturday and Sunday back in 2012, but stayed on the field overnight instead of retreating to a car carrier or a garage.

If you haven’t seen it in person and are afraid you’ll never see it again — don’t worry: the Rondine makes appearances at concours events pretty regularly, especially on the east coast, having appeared at a number of stateside events in the past decade. We expect to see it again in a year or two, even though it won’t be at Greenwich this weekend.

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