The Testudo may look as extreme as any “dream” car of the early 1960s, but it had one crucial difference: it worked.
Almost as impressive is the fact that the Testudo was conceived and constructed in a mere two months, from January to March 1963, causing a wave of excitment when exhibited at the Geneva Motor Show.
Smooth and aerodynamic, the car’s windshield, glass roof, and doors all hinged forward as a giant, one-piece canopy to admit driver and passenger. The lack of windshield pillars was matched by a thin instrument panel set into the dashboard, where the main feature was a prominent grab handle for the passenger—after all, the driver had the steering wheel to hold on to while hauling himself over the high sill.
The very low frontal area, with no radiator grille and headlights that swiveled up from their lie-flat position on the hood when switched on, was made possible because the car used the floorpan of the rear-engined Chevrolet Corvair Monza. Air was drawn to the flat-six engine in the tail through intakes just aft of the canopy.
On a hot day, with the sun blazing down through the glass top, the Testudo would no doubt have been unbearable. But in spring 1963, conditions were almost perfect for driving the Testudo, which Nuccio Bertone did from his Turin headquarters to the Geneva Motor Show; this was a long trip across the Alps, making the journey even more of an achievement for such a hastily completed concept car.
“Then [in 1963], the St Bernardo and Mont Blanc tunnels linking Italy with Switzerland did not exist. It was undoubtedly a demonstration of faith in the reliability of the Testudo.”
Bertone Press Release, 1995
Video: Model of the car Chevrolet Corvair Bertone Testudo
Specification: Model of the car Chevrolet Corvair Bertone Testudo
YEAR REVEALED: 1963
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Turin, Italy
HISTORICAL STATUS: prototype
ENGINE: flat-six-cylinder, 164ci (2,683cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 142bhp
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: single-canopy, two-seater coupé
TOP SPEED: unknown
NUMBER BUILT: one