While Bill Mitchell was busy racing his Sting Ray Racer, there was an accompanying custom Corvette that was getting a lot of attention. Mitchell had initiated a policy that all new car designs would be fully functional -- no more full-size mockup "dream cars." Since Bill liked to drive his designs, the XP-700 would have plenty of power under the hood.
What's really interesting about this car is that it clearly showed styling trends that would be used in the '61 and '63 Corvette and eventually the '97 Corvette. It also showed the classic '50s era of "more is better."
The midsection is clearly stock Corvette design. Vents on top of front fender vents have no reason to be there. The sidepipes are interesting, but are too short, looking like add-ons, as do the scoops behind the doors. The twin bubble top is nicely mated with the stock windshield and clearly points towards the '97 Corvette. The mirrors are also nice.
The front of the car is very strange. In '50s excess style, everything is "bigger and better." The nose is elongated with an elliptical opening and has a scoop under it. The headlights are moved forward and also have scoops under them. The vents on the hood were used on the Sting Ray Racer '63 Racer and the production '63 Corvette.
The back end of the car was nearly perfect. A body crease leads off the tops of the fender openings and wraps around the back. Below the back edge, the license plate was mounted deep in the center. Dual taillights flank both sides of the license plate and horizontal bumpers were at the corners. The design was so well received that it was put into production for '61. It also set the shape for the back end design for the upcoming '63 Sting Ray.
Since this was a functional prototype, the interior had many features that became standard items in '61, like a parking-light warning light, dual sun visors, windshield washers, and interior courtesy lights. The narrowed transmission tunnel also made it into production. What didn't go into production were items like a periscope rear view mirror, experimental overdrive unit, and a dash-mounted chronometer.
The XP-700 was the first of the functional Corvette show cars. Later Corvette show cars would be knock-out beauties. Unlike today's show cars, Mitchell actually drove this car to work. That would never happen today! - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 21 - 1963 Corvette Show Car - "Showing Off"
The 1963 Sting Ray was one of the few Corvettes that was a smash hit right out of the box. American car magazines were falling all over the new Sting Ray and rightfully so. There was nothing like it anywhere.
The car had almost everything a car enthusiast could ask for; speed, style and sophistication. Independent designers such as Pininfarina and George Barris, couldn't resist the temptation to design their own Sting Ray. The Rohm & Hass company made experimental parts like a clear acrylic roadster hard top, clear headlight covers, metal finished acrylic wheel covers, and fender-to-fender lighting strips across the rear of the car.
Several months after the 1963 Sting Ray made its debut, stylists unveiled a showcar version of the roadster. Like most showcars, this beauty had all sorts of one-off parts and items that were completely undo-able for a production car. Most notably, the outrageous chrome header/side exhausts. In the '60s, side- pipes were a favorite theme for experimental and showcars. Knock-off wheels were another option that that came from Corvette's racing experience. Other special touches were the modified front fender openings and racing stripe. The interior features modified leather covered white seats with blue stripes, modified door panels, floor grills, a prototype console, tight-weave carpeting and a special two-spoke steering wheel.
There were actually three versions of this car built. The first was the original showcar. The second car was a retirement gift for the Corvette's father, Harley Earl, and had non-functioning side pipes. The third version was street driven by Chevrolet general manger Simon Bunkie Knudsen until 1967.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Bill Mitchell, Larry Shinoda and crew were finishing up the stunning 1965 Mako Shark II. - K. Scott Teeters
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lIlustrated Corvette Series No. 26 - 1965 Mako Shark II - "Simply Stunning"
Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda scored big in the automotive world with the 1965 Mako Shark II Show Car. It was a total original, nothing was like it, and it just screamed, CORVETTE !
Bill Mitchell started working on the next generation Corvette the day production on the 1963 Corvette started. He knew that things change quickly in automotive styling , so it was critical that he go way outside the envelope. The first step was to build a functional, single seat, open-wheeled car that would push everything to the extreme. The "X-15", named after the experimental U.S. Air Force jet, was never shown to the public and was later sent to the crusher.
Shinoda and crew had to make a real car now. The styling elements of the hood bulge and the side exhausts were taken directly from the X-15 exercise. Back tracking from the extreme, Mitchell set the guidelines.
He wanted the following; "a narrow, slim, center section and coupe body, a tapered tail, an all-of-a-piece blending of the upper and lower portions of the body through the center (avoiding the look of a roof added to a body), and prominent wheels with their protective fenders distinctly separate from the main body, yet grafted organically to it."
The full-size mock-up just blew everyone away. Built on a production Corvette chassis, the Mako Shark also had a mocked- up interior.
The Mako Shark II had an interesting blend of soft curves and sharp break-lines. The tucked in center section, called the "coke-bottle" gave the center of the car a taut, trim look, while the curved fender lines made the car look like it had been working- out. The low, pointed nose made a bold statement while the tapered and pointed tail gave the car a high-speed, wind-swept look.
Since the Mako Shark II was a show-car, it had plenty of gimmicks and was overdone here and there. Some of the grille vents and other details were a little fussy. However, compared with other cars in 1965, the Mako Shark was a vision of the future.
When the car was shown at the New York International Auto Show in April 1965, the press and the public went wild. It was called beautiful, embellished, convoluted, aerodynamic, perfect, and many other things. And this was only the mock-up. On October 5, 1965 the fully functional Mako Shark II arrived. Oh WOW! - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 28 1966 Mako Shark II Show Car Corvette
"The Running Prototype"
When the Mako Shark II was first shown at the April 1965 New York Auto Show, jaws dropped and the automotive press gasped. However, making a beautiful clay show car is one thing, making a functional road version is a completely different story.
GM tech experts Ken Eschebach and Art Carpenter headed up the crew that put every conceivable performance and luxury goodie you could think of into the running Mako Shark II. The chassis and running gear used standard 1966 Corvette parts. Under the hood was the brand-new 427 Mark IV engine coupled with the not-yet-available-in- the-Corvette three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission.
The entire front end tilted forward like an XK-E Jaguar. The headlights were made up of three quartz-iodide beams that were covered with "eyelid" panels. The top surface of the hood had cooling vents and round lids for fluid refills. The windshield wipers were hidden in a closet at the base of the windshield. At the back end, the window slats, bumper and spoiler were all electrically controlled from the interior. The seats were in a fixed position, while the gas and brake pedals were adjustable. Seat frames had racer-like, four-point seat belts. The roof- mounted headrests were adjustable, and had speakers connected to an AM/FM radio. Lights and windshield wiper controls were on the turn signal stalks and the dash had neon digital readouts. The car used seventeen electric motors to power various features.
In October 1965 the Mako Shark began a six month European tour and was the "avant garde" machine. For a show car, the Mako Shark was the closest to an actual production Corvette. Over 30 years later, it's still a stunning machine. - K. Scott Teeters
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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 146 - Bill Mitchell's Mako Shark Corvettes
Starting in 1956 with the arrival of fresh styling and the 265-inch Chevy small-block, Corvettes have been about guts and glamour. Zora Arkus-Duntov provided the guts, and Vice President of GM Styling Bill Mitchell, provided the glamour. While the public got to enjoy this unique blend, deep inside the Chevrolet design center, a war was being waged between these two strong-willed men.
Mitchell joined GM in 1935 and was heir to the throne of legendary GM designer (and Corvette creator) Harley Earl. Duntov was hired in 1953, and by 1957 he had been promoted to director of high-performance sales at Chevrolet. In Mitchell’s world, everything was about style. From his silk suits to his long white sideburns and passion for fast cars, style was everything. From Mitchell’s perspective, “engineering never sold a damn thing.” Duntov, on the other hand, was a consummate engineer, a mechanical man for whom form followed function. The glue that kept these two men together was their shared passion for fast cars—especially Corvettes.
The evolution of Mitchell’s shark cars began in the mid ‘50s. The 1957 Q-Corvette was the genesis, but it never went beyond a full-size clay mock-up. Mitchell enlisted the help of stylist Larry Shinoda to design a roadster version of the Q-Corvette body that would be fitted to the mule chassis from the aborted Corvette SS racer. Mitchell had two objectives. First, he liked fast cars and wanted to go racing, and second, he wanted to test the public’s response to the new shape. Named “Sting Ray” and raced with Mitchell’s funding, the car won the SCCA C/Modified Championship in 1960. The public loved the new design, and by early 1960 it was decided that the ’63 Corvette would use the styling of the Sting Ray racer.
Duntov did not like the new design and let Mitchell know it. The practical Duntov saw the long hood/short deck configuration as being stuck in the ‘30s and an impediment to the driver’s forward vision. Mitchell was outraged that an engineer on a low-volume Chevy would dare to question his design. Mitchell called Duntov “Zorro,” and Duntov called Mitchell “a red-faced baboon.” Obviously, Mitchell won the day, so Duntov set about making the new Sting Ray as good as he could. As work progressed to bring the car to market, Duntov was working on the RPO Z06 “racer kit” option and was letting select drivers—but not Mitchell—sample the new package in a mule car.
So Mitchell decided to build his own hot-rod Sting Ray. Named the Mako Shark, after a shark Mitchell caught while on vacation in Bimini, the car was an exaggeration of the production car that was then being built. Once again, Larry Shinoda was charged with working out the styling. Though based on a production ‘61 Corvette, every surface of the Mako Shark was stylized. The car had supercharged 327, a double-bubble Plexiglas roof, side pipes, gills for front cornering lights, vents, scoops, a rear-view periscope, wire wheels, and iridescent blue paint that faded into white along the lower edge. The car was shown at Elkhart Lake in the summer of 1961 and was a smash hit. No sooner had the ‘63 Corvette hit the streets than Mitchell was busy designing the next Corvette. Once again, Larry Shinoda and a small staff were brought in to assist. But this time, Mitchell had an unusual design mandate.
Mitchell wanted to see a “narrow, slim, selfish” center section and coupe body, a prominently tapered tail, an “all of one piece” blending of the upper and lower portions of the body, and prominent wheels with protective fenders that were separate from the main body yet grafted organically to it. The end result was the Mako Shark II, and jaws dropped when the full-size mock-up was shown in April ’65. There were two immediate responses: first, build a functioning show car, and second, make the car into the next Corvette.
Built on a production chassis fitted with the new 427 engine, the functioning Mako Shark II was loaded with special features. The public was blown away, but again, Duntov was not happy. Management liked the concept because there was little hard tooling to create. Duntov saw it as representing no forward progress and moving further away from his vision of a mid-engine Corvette. Again, Mitchell won the argument, and the Mako Shark II was rushed into production as the ‘68 Corvette.
But Mitchell wasn’t quite done with the Mako Shark II. Renamed “Manta Ray,” the car was restyled with a tapered tail, a scooped-out roof, side pipes, and a ZL1 engine. As great as the C2 Sting Ray design was, the Mako Shark II shape would forever define the look of the Corvette. Despite their differences, both Mitchell and Duntov had deep respect for one another. As Mitchell liked to say, they both had gasoline in their veins. Thanks to Duntov and Mitchell, Corvettes would always have glamour and guts. - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 37 - 1968 Astro-Vette Show Car
By the late '60s, automotive stylists and engineers were seriously looking at aerodynamics. Race cars were using all sorts of exotic wings and spoilers. Even hot street cars were using chin spoilers and rear deck spoilers or wings. C2 Corvettes always had a front end lift problem at high speeds. The new '68 Corvette had a small chin spoiler and a slight up-lip at the back end, but the car still had lift problems.
The Astro-Vette was an aerodynamic study to see how slippery the Corvette could be made. Although some criticized the car as being pure schmaltz, two notable styling features were picked up in 1973 and 1974. Pontiac was already offering "Endura" front bumpers on the GTO, so it looks like designers may have been thinking in that direction.
What they probably were not thinking about in 1968 was 5- mph front and rear bumpers. In 1973, when most cars got huge, chrome, front bumpers, Corvettes got the Astro-Vette treatment. Then in 1974, the tail end was restyled, a la Astro-Vette. Designers went with the sex-appeal of a roadster. If they had really been serious, a coupe version with a low, tear-drop, C2 Sting Ray roof line would have been sweet.
The obvious features on the Astro-Vette were the extended nose, roadster windshield, closed rear wheel openings and extended tail. The nose was extended considerably and the grille opening was kept to a minimum. The long hood has no budge, indicating that the car was a small-block. Scribe-lines on the front fenders were to be pressure actuated flaps that opened if under-the-hood pressure was too high. Designers took advantage of the B-pillar by crafting an airfoil to minimize air drag. Taking cues from the hot cars of the '30s, the Astro-Vette had smooth wheel disks on very narrow tires, and rear fender skirts that were hinged at the top for tire access. Like the front, the back end was extended and tapered. Designers even added partial front and rear belly pans to smooth underside airflow. The interior was medium blue and stock, except for the racing steering wheel.
Most folks didn't know what to make of the Astro-Vette. Chevy insiders called it, "Moby Dick," in essence calling it a big, white, whale. The Astro-Vette faded away, eventually making its mark on Corvette styling. But a serious Bonneville attempt would have really had our attention. - K. Scott Teeters
lllustrated Corvette Series No. 41 - 1070 Aero Coupe Corvette Show Car
"It's Good To Be Sr. V.P."
Being the Senior V.P. of Design at General Motors sure had its perks for Bill Mitchell. The actual car that was made into the "Aero Coupe" was born as an off-the-assembly line 1968, small-block Corvette. Over the next seven years the car lived through three incarnations: the "Aero Coupe", the "Scirocco", and the "Mulsanne." When the car wasn't on-duty at car shows, it saw duty as Bill Mitchell's personal ride. What a job!
The first thing that Mitchell's Design Staff did was to remove the 327 small-block and drop in one of the new ZL-1, all-aluminum Can-Am engines. For several years the ZL-1 used an experimental Rochester fuel-injection unit and an experimental, four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission. The ZL-1 was awesome, but the four-speed automatic was replaced with a Turbo 400 unit. And what Bill Mitchell show car wouldn't be complete without side-mounted exhausts? Mitchell described the Aero Coupe as a "bear!"
With plenty of power under Bill's right foot, the Design Staff started work on the body. It may have been slightly overdone, but that's what show cars like the Aero Coupe were supposed to do. They are "officially" called "Research and Development Vehicles." The Aero Coupe had many interesting styling cues. The egg-crate front grille and side vents were the only design elements that made it into production. The front end had a deep, "shovel-style" front spoiler that wrapped around its chin. At the rear, there was a matching, wrap-around spoiler similar to the '70-1/2 Z-28 Camaro. The side pipe covers were similar to the optional, production side pipes, except for the section under the doors that had six groups of vertical scribe lines. The windshield and roof were interesting. The A-pillars were curved at the top corners, allowing the glass and roof to have a smooth, continuous line. The removable roof panel was a single piece and hinged at the back. Since the car was using Chevrolet's ZL-1, the ZL-2 hood option was used. And continuing with the Can-Am influence, fat Goodyear tires were monuted on wide, Chaparral-style alloy wheels.
The interior was very plush for a Corvette. It was completely trimmed in tan leather and deep-cut carpet. Years later a crude digital unit was added to the dash that projected the car's speed on to the windshield. The Aero Coupe was completed with a deep, candy apple red paint with heavy gold metalflake, gold striping, and Corvette, and ZL-1 badges.
This very special Corvette went on to delight Corvette fans for 7 years, with each version getting more wild. When if finally became the Mulsane in '74, only insiders knew that it was really a '68 small-block Vette on steroids. - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 55 1974 - Mulsanne Corvette Show Car
Only Bill Mitchell could get away with this. Bill always managed to have a hot daily ride. Engineering prototypes that weren't street-legal stayed behind the fence, but many of the show car Corvettes managed to go home with Bill. His usual statement on his "design study" cars was, "This thing runs like a bear!" For the Mulsanne Bill added, "This is the best Stingray ever."
The Mulsanne actually had three previous lives. Born as a stock 350 '68 Corvette, the car was originally the '69 "Aero Coupe" show car used to preview the '70-1/2 styling changes. It had a ZL-1 all-aluminum engine and a prototype four-speed automatic and was, well, a "real bear."
A short time later the Aero Coupe received the slim, Manta Ray-style side pipe covers, got a new paint job with the front bumper-grille assembly painted body color, and was renamed the "Scirocco." For the next four years the car worked as a pace car at Can-Am races. These were the days of heavy ZL-1 powered McLarren dominance. Mitchell thought it was cool that his Mulsanne pace car had the same basic engine as the McLarens. Like all of the Mitchell show cars, the Mulsanne had a large crowd around it at the '75 New York Automobile Show. Bill didn't pen every line on the Corvette, but his style was always present.
Painted bright metallic silver, the Corvette Mulsanne wore '75-style front and rear bumper covers. The pop-up headlights were replaced with four rectangular lamps under body-fitting clear plastic covers. The new hood had a raised center section with recessed, functional scoops on both sides. The curved
A-pillar, high-mounted racing mirrors, and electric rear window were all carry-overs from the Scirocco exercise. Since the Mulsanne was made to be a pace car, Mitchell kept the removable one piece roof panel, but added a periscope rearview mirror system. The interior was completely trimmed in leather with fixed seats and adjustable pedals and steering wheel.
Bill couldn't have a "stock" ZL-1, this engine was bored out to 454 cubic-inches and wore an experimental Rochester fuel injection system. Chaparral lace wheels and flames exiting the fender vents added show car splash.
Mitchell wanted the speedometer to look like a gunner's site. So a roller-type speedometer reflected speed numbers on to the windshield. This was so that the driver could watch the road while "blasting" past lesser cars. Designer Chuck Jordan said, "The man had flair!" - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 78 - 1988 Geneve Corvette
"A Well Received Study"
People have always wanted the Corvette to be something different. Inside Chevrolet you had the full range of ideas from quasi-racers to four-seater Corvettes. In the aftermarket world there has been a steady stream of custom Corvettes. Most were kooky, many were very good, and a few looked even like production cars.
ASC of South Gate, Michigan, specializes in sunroof and convertible conversions for the big-three car makers. ASC began a Corvette convertible development program in 1984 that eventually arrived on the showroom as the '86 Corvette convertible. As an R&D developer for Chevrolet, the ASC team was aware of the Corvette Indy project. Armed with this knowledge, ASC did their own styling analysis of what a Corvette Indy-inspired C4 Corvette might look like. The concept drawings were blessed by Design VP Chuck Jordan and Sr. Designer John Cafaro, and ASC had the green light to build a prototype.
Concept cars are always "far-out." Prototype and show cars are much closer to real cars. When a new model is finally released, it has hints that came from the original concept. ASC looked at the Corvette Indy and asked, "what would this look like on an existing Corvette?" The Corvette Indy had wild proportions and applying those styling cues to an existing Corvette would be quite a challenge.
ASC began the Geneve project early in 1987 with a stock, 230hp Corvette that would serve as an armature for the new body parts. The Corvette Indy could be characterized as "smooth and sleek." The ASC team set out to emulate that aspect of the Corvette Indy.
The front auxiliary lights were mounted under the bumper and integrated with the new front spoiler. The hood dome was simplified with a single bulge instead of the stock design. Front and rear wheel openings were reshaped to incorporate new side sills that flared out and were integrated with the rest of the body. The rear end design had a low top deck spoiler that jutted out, as well as a lower spoiler. Taillight lenses were flush mounted, and the side marker lights were long and narrow. With the blood red paint and new 17-inch wheels, the car looked fantastic.
At the 1988 Geneva Car Show, Jordan and Cafaro were very impressed and ordered new exterior, interior, and power top styling studies. The ASC Geneve was a hit. Before the car went to Geneva, a spy photo showed up in the magazines as the "The Next Corvette!" The automotive press has always been hungry for Corvette appetizers, and the Geneve Corvette show car was a very tasty treat. - K. Scott Teeters
lllustrated Corvette Series No. 86 1990 Sting Ray III Concept Car
Designing the "next Corvette" is a never-ending job for the elite Corvette Design Department. It's also one of the most challenging design tasks in Detroit. Between the egos and budget concerns, it's amazing it ever gets completed.
The late '80s and early '90s were some of the worst economic times GM had ever experienced. The management chess game was mind-boggeling. Dave McLellan was unsuccessful in fulfilling Duntov's vision of a mid-engine Corvette and retired in '92. GM's new president, Bob Stemple put the C5 project on hold while the GM cash-crunch was solved. No one was sure of when the next Corvette would hit the road, despite many attempts to define the new design.
The task-master for the new Corvette was Chuck Jordan, know as the "Chrome Cobra." Jordan secretly staged a 3-way C5 internal competition between John Schinella's Advanced Concepts Center, Tom Peters' Advanced 4 Studio, and John Cafaro's Chevy 3 group. The designs were unique and the competition was fierce. Schinella's California-based studio concept, the "Sting Ray III" was the first design completed and was well received at the '92 Detroit International Auto Show. However, the Detroit-based design groups were less than thrilled with the car.
After the structure and drive-train placements were determined, a series of styling sketches were made, presented, debated, and finalized. Next a full-size clay model was built to work out the styling details. The completed shape had to look "new," yet had to have traditional Corvette styling elements. The curves and fender budges were reminiscent of the Mako Shark II cars of the mid-'60s. Once the shape was completed, a running prototype was built.
The backbone chassis and the engine-transaxle placement determined the proportions of the car. With the heavy side rails gone, interior access was much improved. The wheelbase was a 6.8-inches longer, the length increased by 2-inches, the width grew by .9-inches, and the height was .8-inches taller than a stock Corvette. Most notable was the long, slopped windshield, the narrow fixed headlights and the roadster-only roof design. Unfortunately, there was a V6 under the hood.
The Sting Ray III never came close to production, although the new C6 now has fixed headlights. But a good design is never wasted. The basic shape became the Cavalier convertible. I'm sure that's not what Schinella had in mind. - K. Scott Teeters