In the mid-1980s, as U.S. automakers were kicking the Malaise-Era dust off their tired boots, America’s Sports Car took a European vacation and returned with a distinctly Italian accent. Di cosa stai parlando? It’s the unmistakable 1984 Bertone Ramarro.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of the Ramarro, which translates to “green lizard” in Italian. You might not have seen it yet, but trust us, now you’ll never forget it.
The Ramarro was a Carrozzeria Bertone design exercise that began with a C4 Chevrolet Corvette. Not just any Corvette, mind you, but the 1984 Corvette shown at the 1983 Geneva Auto Show to introduce the newest model to the European press. According to a June 1984 cover story inRoad and Track, the famed Italian design house hoped to unveil the Ramarro on its own turf at the Turin Motor Show in the spring of ’84, but when the event was moved to November, company head Nuccio Bertone decided to push on and introduce it in America instead.
The then-new Corvette platform presented Bertone designers with a challenge, but ideas began to take shape, that shape was a wedge. The Ramarro received a low, aerodynamic nose, low roofline, and high, short tail. In order to make that low nose possible, the Corvette’s small spare tire traded places with the radiator, moving in front of the car’s V-8 engine. With the radiator (and A/C components) now in the rear, Bertone hoped air would funnel nicely into an intake located behind the rear window. The lighter and shorter Ramarro also received experimental Michelin tires—240/45VR-17s up front and larger 280/45VR-17s in the rear—as well as a glazed, bubble-like top.
In addition to the Ramarro’s wedge shape and head-turning green paint, the car sported exotic forward-sliding doors similar to the 1954 Kaiser-Darrin, except they didn’t disappear into the front fenders but instead slid on a track outside the body shell.
The interior retained the Corvette’s factory digital instrumentation, but the car’s automatic transmission was shifted by a large dial located on the console. The Ramarro also received sculpted seats that weren’t individually mounted but moved forward and backward as one, like a bench seat. The seat backs folded forward allowing items to be placed in two small bins behind the seats. As a final touch, the interior was flush with green leather that looked like lizard skin.
The Bertone team rushed to finish the project, working almost non-stop in the final weeks leading up to the ’84 Los Angeles Auto Expo, but those long days paid off. The Bertone Ramarro was a hit with both the media and the public. It toured auto shows around the world and in 1985 received Auto&Design’s Car Design Award for its “bold ideas,” which gave “the Chevrolet Corvette an entirely new personality.”
That new personality was distinctly Italian—and definitely unforgettable.