Tom Tjaarda sadly passed away last year. He was a designer of great talent, and is probably best known as the man who penned the aggressive De Tomaso Pantera. But his repertoire was much broader than so. I’ve always been amazed that he never received more recognition for his effortlessly elegant Corvette Rondine.
Despite never going beyond the prototype stage, it really ought to be emphasized for its beautiful lines.
Exactly why the Rondine came to be, seems to have been lost in history. Some claim that it was ordered by Chevrolet, while others maintain that Pininfarina initiated the project on their own behalf. Regardless, the finished prototype was displayed at the Paris Motor Show in 1963, where its sleek body is reputed to have caused quite a commotion. The Rondine was built on the bases of a Corvette C2 chassis, and enthusiasts of such will no doubt recognise the stock steel wheels which the Rondine retained. However, the body was shaped in steel as was the preferred method by the various Italian carrozzeria. That makes the Rondine the only Corvette to have anything but a fiberglass body. The powerplant was a V8 Chevy 350 cu.in. with Rochester fuel injection, which resulted in a convincing 360 hp SAE.
The interior and seats appear – to me at least – to be the standard C2 cabin. Perhaps a small detail which doesn’t quite suit the stunning exterior, but equally something which I’m sure most of us could easily learn to live with.
During the early design process, Tjaarda had experimented with an alternative rear window. One version was given a reverse rake rear window similar in style to that of the Ford Anglia or Consul Classic. Tom Tjaarda should really have extra credit for returning to the traditional and characteristic coupé roofline.
One of the most stand-out elements of the Rondine’s design is the dramatic rear. The swallowtail design became such an integral part of the car, that it even led to the name Rondine (pronounced Ron-di-nay), which means “swallow” in Italian. Besides the general expression of that rear end, it’s especially those rear light frames which I find thoroughly pleasing.
Sadly though, the Rondine never went further. The Chevrolet model line-up remained Rondine-free, and the unique prototype ended up living in Pininfarina’s museum for more than 40 years. Perhaps this was the right decision by Chevrolet? After all, 1963 instead gave us the legendary split-window Corvette C2, and I’m sure most of us wouldn’t want to be without its existence. But still. Just imagine if the Americans had opted for the Rondine instead. It would have no doubt made my Top 3 List…
It was not to be – the world and I never got a Rondine. But would this have been the most stunningly beautiful car to sport a proper American V8? Possibly, and it’s a combination which I’m sure would have suited me perfectly. At least Tjaarda’s ideas instead saw the light of day on the delicate Fiat 124 Spider. Look at that rear and you will recognise the sparrowtail. But of course Tjaarda’s 124 Spider deserves a story of its own…