Many of you may read the name, Corvette Italia, and say, "What?!". Yet when you look at this car, you're surely lured in by its beauty. The 1959 Corvette Italia, or Scaglietti Corvette, is a Corvette that never was and it's story tells a fascinating "what if" of automotive history.
Sergio Scaglietti was an Italian coachbuilder, most famous for his bodywork done for Ferrari. The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, 250 GTO, and 250 Tour de France were all built by Scaglietti – with varying amounts of design influence by Scaglietti himself. So how did Scaglietti’s name get on a Corvette? That’s where the story gets interesting…
Carroll Shelby, along with a couple business partners, was looking to take a solid American muscle drivetrain and add a more race-inspired body to it. The group approached Scaglietti for the project, as he not only built Ferrari bodies but also did a lot of work in building racing bodies.
“The Italia was intended to be produced in limited numbers for sale to affluent buyers who liked the exotic looks of a European supercar, but preferred the reliability and ease of maintenance of a vehicle with American underpinnings.” (Petersen Automotive Museum placard.)
GM provided three chassis for the project, sending them off to Scaglietti in Italy. The Corvette Italia is what he came up with…
Sloping front fenders end in covered headlights. An oval-shaped front grill allows plenty of air-flow into the engine bay, topped off with a vented hood.
Vents also appeared at the sides of the front fenders and louvers are prominent on the body’s C-pillar area.
Graceful but aggressive lines sweep back to an aerodynamic rear with sloped window, inset taillights, and nearly non-existent bumper.
The classic European dual two-barrel exhaust exits lead to an all-American factory fuel-injected 283 c.i. Corvette engine.
The interior includes what you’d expect in a European sportscar, leather surroundings and a wooden steering wheel, but basic Corvette items appear as well.
A beautiful car…perhaps a little too beautiful. Chris Brown of the Petersen Automotive Museum recounts, “Enzo visited Scaglietti while the Corvette bodies were in the shop, thought they were very similar to the Ferrari 250 Tour de France bodies, and told Scaglietti that they’d be through if any more were made.”
The similarities between the Corvette Italia and Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France are clear, although if you were to put them side-by-side the Corvette would be markedly larger.
In addition to the opposition from Enzo Ferrari, GM decided it wouldn’t be in their best interest either. Already having a popular sportscar in the Corvette, this Italian version would surely only offer competition…and they wouldn’t want that.
Unforeseeable to them was Shelby’s soon-coming relationship with Ford and the British company AC Ace, both aiding Shelby in creating his vision of a small, light, chassis powered with American muscle.
The Shelby AC Cobra would go on to smoke Ferraris, Corvettes, and other sportscars of the day both on and off the track. If the Corvette Italia had succeeded, car history would have been notably changed. I guess we’ll never know…
See this 1959 Corvette Italia at the Petersen Automotive Museum’s Vault tour (or at times upstairs in various exhibits).
-Pictures: Tim Sutton | Words: Kristin Cline