The Illustrated Corvette Series “First” continuities with a look back at the FIRST production Sting Ray.
A few years ago, someone created a series of Chevrolet billboards using classic, iconic images of some of the most popular Chevrolet cars. Naturally, there were several layouts featuring Corvettes. While this is a totally biased opinion, I think the above “The Original American Idol” is the best. Four words sum it up perfectly and the back end of the one and only, split-window coupe says a thousand words.
Our friend and VETTE Magazine founding editor, Marty Schorr, recently posted a review of the new 911 Porsche Carrera S at his CarGuyChronicles.com blog site. Writer, Howard Walker expounds on the fact that while the latest version of the classic 911 shares no hardware what-so-ever with the original and first ‘63 911, the spirit of the original 911 is still in tact. It’s an amazing combination of the rear-engine layout and the fact that the car still “looks” like a 911, only bigger and much better. I have often wondered what today’s Corvette would look like had Bill Mitchell never designed the game changing Mako Shark II. As I have written here in stories about Mitchell’s Mako Corvettes, the Mako Shark II was so astonishing, it simply HAD TO BE the next Corvette. End of conversation! And, we’ve moved on from there.
So, buckle up and lets take a blast back to 1963 for a look-see at the first production Sting Ray! – Scott
I call the Corvette the “The American Automotive Horatio Alger Story.” It’s the ultimate automotive rags-to-riches story. You could also call it an automotive Cinderella story. While the C6 has taken more flack than it deserves, it’s good to look back to the very beginning to get a really clear picture of how far the Corvette has come in 60 years. Today, new designs are market researched, but in the ‘50s, it was a seat-of-the-pants approach, driven by men with strong personalities. “Father” of the Corvette, Harley Earl, was the director of GM’s “Art and Color Section.” from 1927 to 1958. His successor, William L. Mitchell picked up the mantle and drove the Corvette where Earl never imagined.
The Sting Ray design began in ‘57 as the Q-Corvette concept and morphed into Mitchell’s weekend warrior Stingray Racer. Mitchell wanted to go racing, and do some informal market research. By ‘59, the Corvette was due for a change and Mitchell had the design already worked out. Late in ‘59, Mitchell assigned stylist Larry Shinoda to make a full-size, clay coupe version the Stingray Racer. By April ‘60 Continue reading
Our New Partnership With FineArtAmerica.com
We are very happy to announce our new Corvette art prints enterprise with FineArtAmerica.com. But first, I must give credit, where credit is due. My lovely wife and business partner Karen, discovered FineArtAmerica.com about a month ago. Partnering with FineArtAmerica.com allows me the freedom to create Corvette art print layouts in any proportion. FineArtAmerica.com allows customers to order my Corvette prints in sizes to fit their budget needs! The optional matte and framing service allows customers the freedom to choosing their color matte and frame style to suit their decor needs.
By offering our Corvette prints through FineArtAmerica.com, customers can order prints as small as 8” x 2-5/8” up to 48” x 16” for our 1×3 proportion layouts and 8” x 8” up to 48” x 48” for our square proportion layouts. Every print can be produced on either archival matte paper, photo paper, watercolor paper, or canvas. Then, if you want, you can have your print custom matted and framed. There are dozens of matte colors and frame styles. You can design your framed print to match your home decor. The possibilities are staggering!
Dave MacDonald: Corvette Racer… Corvette Man… Family Man
You can catch Part 1 of this story HERE.
Being hired by Shelby made the MacDonald’s life almost as fast as the cars he drove. In the 17 months between the beginning of ‘63 through to the ‘64 Indy race, MacDonald raced in 44 events. The ‘64 Indy crash was the first time the 500 had ever been stopped because of an accident. The media at the time, would regularly make big headlines over any auto racing mishap, and were all over the crash. While Indy officials quickly concluded that there was no driver error, the race was hotly debated for decades.
“After Indy, I was hurting so, I needed to change my life, so I moved a few miles away, but stayed close to my in-laws. From Indy on, I didn’t follow racing. My interest in racing was basically ONE RACE DRIVER.” It wouldn’t be until the early ‘90s when Corvette fans started recovering and restoring old Corvette race cars that MacDonald’s all too short racing career began to get attention. “It is so gratifying and nice to meet people that raced with Dave and hear how much they admired him, not only for his skill as a driver, but for being a really nice guy.” Today Sherry MacDonald is retired and as busy as ever with volunteer projects and her large family. Continue reading
Vette Videos: Larry Shinoda and Peter M. De Lorenzo Talk About Corvette Design Legend, Bill Mitchell
Shinoda shares his Mitchell “fish story” and De Lorenzo shares his “”neighborhood kid on a bike” Mitchell story!
Here’s one for the Kawinkydink Department. I thought we were all done with our look back and the life and career of Larry Shinoda – wrong! This morning while surfing around the net, I found a video about Bill Mitchell. Before I knew it, there’s Larry Shinoda telling stories about his former boss, Bill Mitchell!
Most of us in the Corvette community are very familiar with the unique “shark” paint style used on the Mako Shark-I, Mako Shark-II, and the Manta Ray concept/show cars. Larry shared a wonderful story about how the guys in the painting department perfected that distinctive paint scheme.
Also interviewed in the video is the late David E. Davis, former Campbell-Ewald Advertising man, former editor of Car and Driver, and founder and former editor of Automobile Magazine. Here’s the video…
A brief overview of six racing cars and three experimental Corvairs Larry Shinoda designed.
Check out our awesome slide show tribute to Larry Shinoda’s designs at the bottom of this post.
Larry Shinoda’s designs were so strong that when his name comes up, it’s almost always first associated with Corvettes. But Larry’s talent for designing fast-looking cars wasn’t limited to Corvettes. I suppose that when you are the go-to-stylist for a legend the likes of Bill Mitchell, you get a few peach projects. In retrospect, what helped make Shinoda’s design work so edgy was his passion for racing. In a sense, Larry’s NHRA Nationals win in ‘55 put him in the same category as 1954 Le Mans racer Zora Arkus-Duntov. As Bill Mitchell used to say, both men had, “gasoline in their veins.”
Shinoda’s race car design credits include: Pat Flaherty’s 1956 Indy 500-winning John Zink Special, Bill Mitchell’s 1959 Stingray Racer, Zora Arkus-Duntov’s CERV I and CERV II, the GS-II (Grand Sport II), Jim Hall’s Chaparral-2, and Peter Weismann’s 1963 rear-engine Indy car.
Although the Corvair never really caught on as a performance car or a sports car, designers such as Shinoda had some jaw-dropping ideas for Chevy’s rear-engine car. The 1962 Monza GT Coupe was in direct competition with Ford’s mid-engine 4-banger Mustang I concept car. What an interesting Chevy vs Ford battle that would have been! When you work in an R&D department often many “variations on a theme” are explored.
The Monza SS was an open cockpit-type design with a racer-like cut-down windshield. Another version was explored with a more traditional type of windshield. And in the same way that other GM divisions glommed on to Harley Earl’s Corvette concept in ‘53 and came up with their own “Corvette” concept cars for the ‘54 GM Motorama (the ‘54 Pontiac Bonneville, Buick Wildcat, and Olds F88). We have an example of a Monza variation that looks a lot like a roadster version of the 1964 XP-833 Pontiac Banshee. It was very common back then for designs to get tossed about within GMs divisions.
One Shinoda design that was not shared by any of GM’s other divisions was the 1967 Astro I. Corvair production peeked in ‘65 for approximately 235,000 Corvairs built. By ‘67 the number went to just over 27,000! The Corvair-based Astro I concept/show car arrived in 1967 and was probably started around ‘65 – ‘66, before the car started to tank. Unlike the Monza GT that eventually became the ‘67 Opel GT, the Astro I was so over the top, none of its design elements were used in any serious fashion. Instead, Chevrolet used the “Astro” name on one of their full-size vans and there was nothing “Astro” about it. Continue reading
Hot rodder Shinoda teams up with Bill Mitchell and defined the “Corvette look.”
Perhaps it was “in the stars” that Larry Shinoda was in the right place at the right time. If you strictly look at Shinoda’s resume in 1956, you might ask, “How did this guy get in the front door?” As a young man, the only thing Larry ever graduated from was high school, Army boot camp, and the School of Hard Knocks. Twelve-year-old Larry had his life turned inside out when along with thousands of Japanese-Americans, he and his family were sent to interment camps for the duration of WW II. The experience had a profound effect on his personality. A self-professed “malcontent” Shinoda could be a little difficult to work with.
After his Army tour of duty in Korea, Shinoda attended Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles, but truly hated being there. He could see no purpose in taking the classes in design and the various art mediums, such as watercolor painting. He was a car guy/hot rodder and he wanted to draw and design cars! So he left Art Center without graduating and based strictly on his car illustrations, landed a job at Ford, then Studebaker/Packard. Just a year after starting his career, he landed a job as a designer at General Motors.
The rest is the stuff of legend. Street racing and blowing the doors off of Bill Mitchell’s souped up Buick and quickly being taken under Mitchell’s wing. Things like that happens, but rarely. There was obviously some chemistry between the two men, perhaps it was because both men could be brash and had strong opinions.
Shinoda got his first big break when Mitchell tapped the 28-year-old to translate the body design of the ‘57 Q-Corvette on to the mule chassis from Duntov’s aborted Corvette SS project. The finished car became Mitchell’s 1959 Stingray Racer, which formed the styling theme for the ‘63 Corvette. From there, Shinoda got one peach project after another. It’s worth noting that the design of the Stingray Racer is held in such high esteem that current Corvette chief designer, Tom Peters (C6 Corvette and late model Camaro designer) is on record stating that his ‘09 Corvette Stingray Concept (aka Transformers Corvette) was influenced by the ‘59 Stingray. Continue reading
Tom Benford’s Summer 1997 candid dinner interview with car design legend, Larry Shinoda.
Our celebration of the life and career of car design legend Larry Shinoda continues with this delightful interview that was originally published in the December 1997 issue of VETTE Magazine. Tom Benford and his wife Liz connected with Shinoda in August of ‘97 at the Corvettes At Carlisle Show, in Carlisle, Pa. This may well have been Larry’s last interview, as he died just 2-1/2 months later. Larry’s kidney disease had progressed to the point where he was on the list waiting for a donor kidney.
According to the Pasadena City College Celebrated Alumni Larry Shinoda page , “In poor health, Larry Shinoda remained active to the end. Larry passed away at his home in Michigan of heart failure on November 13, 1997, while working at his design desk with a phone in his hand. Larry had just passed the final tissue-match test for his kidney transplant the day before he died. Though Larry is gone, his legacy lives on.” Continue reading
The next time you see a mid-year Sting Ray or Shark Corvette, think of Larry Shinoda.
He was born “Lawrence Kiyoshi Shinoda” but the automotive and Corvette world knew him as Larry Shinoda – Corvette designer and all-around carguy! Growing up in Southern California, Larry was steeped in the car culture and like many SoCal young men, was into the burgeoning sport of drag racing. In addition to his Corvette accomplishments, Larry also participated in an won his class at the very first NHRA national event in Great Bend, Kansas in 1955.
Larry was only 25-years old when after not completing his studies at Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles, he landed his first job with Ford in 1955. A year later, he briefly went to work at Studebaker/Packard, then went to General Motors late in 1956. Larry not only had an impressive portfolio, he had an intuitive sense of styling. If didn’t take long before his talent caught the keen eye of GM’s Bill Mitchell. But it wasn’t just Larry’s skill at wielding a pen and airbrush that helped acquaint him with Mitchell – it was drag racing.
The story goes that one day Shinoda and Mitchell had a chance encounter at a traffic light. Since both men had what Mitchell called, “gasoline in their veins,” neither man needed much goading to initiate a little stoplight grand prix. The light turned green and Larry put a whoop’n Bill, which may have been one of his best career moves. Mitchell drafted Shinoda into his special forces of car design, headquartered deep inside GM’s guarded facilities in a place called, “Studio X.” (sounds like a ‘50s sci-fi b-grade movie, doesn’t it”?) Continue reading
Former Chevrolet General Manager and all-around car guy, Semon “Bunkie” Kundsen’s “Executive Perks.”
Semon Knudsen was the son of former GM president “Big Bill” Knudsen. Although technically a “rich kid” Semon didn’t just have everything handed to him – he had to work his way up through the ranks and pay his dues. For those that are able to climb the corporate ladder into the rarified upper atmosphere of the corporate world, there are perks. And when you work for a car company, there are sometimes special “car perks.”
GM executives were able to have special custom-build versions of production cars, built to their specifications. Not all GM VIPs were offered custom cars, but those that were, got some awesome machines. Bunkie had at least three custom Corvettes built – a ‘63 Roadster and a ‘64 Coupe for himself, and a Mary Kay-like, pink ‘64 Coupe for his wife, Florence. Sweet! For my Illustrated Corvette Series column in the May 2012 issue of VETTE Magazine, I covered Bunkie & Florence’s custom rides. Below is the story copy and the art. Continue reading
The Civilized Grand Sport Corvette Replica – Sort of…
Today you can go to your local Chevrolet dealer today and buy a Grand Sport Corvette to your liking. Almost 50 years ago, there were only five Grand Sport Corvettes in existence and they were NOT for sale. “Unrealized potential,” “the ultimate could’a been Corvette” and many other expressions tell the original Grand Sport Corvette story. Unlike today’s C6 Grand Sports, the originals were all-out racing Corvettes, designed to give the Cobras a good run for it.
But GM had a completely different attitude about racing back then that can be nicely described as “backward.” Fortunately, all five original Grand Sports are still around. Along the way, there have been numerous companies that offered Grand Sport replicas – some, better than others. But today there is only one “officially licensed” by GM, Grand Sport replica, and that is the Duntov Motors Grand Sports.
Watch “The Master of Oversteer” Enjoying a Day’s Work!
It’s been a pleasure to get to know the family of Corvette racer Dave MacDonald. The April 2012 issue of VETTE Magazine has part 1 of my story about the career of MacDonald and the May 2012 has part 2, the conclusion. While pictures and words are great, video just adds some dimension. So, I thought some vintage MacDonald videos were in order.
MacDonald’s racing career path was similar to John Greenwood’s, in that like Greenwood, MacDonald started out in drag racing. But like many guys that like to drive Corvettes in, shall we say, a “spirited” way, it didn’t take MacDonald long to get used to not only thundering down the straight-aways, but sliding the back end around the corners. MacDonald was known as “the master of the oversteer” and his tail-out driving style was very popular with the spectators.
Back in the day, there was little-to-no video coverage of motorsports, so what we have are essentially home movies. Sometimes the manufacturers would produce promotional movies, Continue reading
Dave MacDonald: Corvette Racer… Corvette Man… Family Man
Could there have been a more exciting time and place to be into cars than Southern California in the 1950s? Probably not. It was postwar America, California only had about 1/3 its current population, Rock’n Roll was in its infancy, and the car culture was revving up. El Monte was just a semi-rural community in Los Angeles County, the perfect place for young Dave MacDonald and legions of other guys to pour their hearts and souls into cars. What’a time!
MacDonald’s Professional Racing Career
Dave’s first car was a fast 1953 Cadillac. But when Chevy put the small-block 265 into the ‘55 Corvette, 19-year old MacDonald had to have one. He saved his money and a year later, bought his first Corvette, a Gypsy Red ‘55 Corvette. The Caddy was fast and Dave did some street racing with the car, but it was the Corvette that got him into drag racing and eventually road racing. In February 1960, MacDonald had his first official “ride” as team driver for Don Steves Chevrolet at Willow Springs Raceway, and won the Sunday main event. In his first year, Dave entered 15 regional races, taking 1st place in three events, three second place wins, and 4 third place wins. Very impressive for his rookie year.
1961, was even better. MacDonald entered 20 races, won 13 victories, and three second place finishes. Dave’s last win of the year was in his purpose-built, tube frame, lightweight Corvette Special. This car is a story unto itself. 1962 was the year the spotlight really shown on MacDonald. While he didn’t totally dominate the year, he did finish on the podium in 16 races, including 10 victories. It’s also worth noting that MacDonald won every race entered from early February to June – seven wins in a row. The first three wins were with the lightweight Corvette Special. After that, the lightweight car only raced two more times. MacDonald had one race behind the wheel of another lightweight tube frame car, a Devin Corvette that provided Dave with a second place win. Continue reading
Bill Mitchell’s longer, lower, louder, sleeker Mako Shark
Bill Mitchell and his design team cranked out an amazing number of concept and show cars through the ‘60s. The ‘69 Manta Ray was the end of the line for Mitchell’s shark theme that started in ‘61, and was somewhat overlooked for a time. Those were heady days between the new production Corvette, Chevy and other exciting muscle cars, and tremendous advances in all kinds of race cars. The Mako Shark-II-based Manta Ray was kind of, “been there, done that” by 1969. Designers often have concept ideas that they just want to try out in full size, and it seems that the Manta Ray was such a car.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the whole Mako Shark-II story is the fact that the configuration of the the running Mako Shark-II is gone! When Mitchell decided to try out a few more design elements for the Shark Corvette, the quickest way to get there was to start with the ‘66 running Mako Shark-II. The running Mako Shark-II was a stunningly beautiful car, so can you imagine what it might have been like for the designers and builders that were tasked with the job of CUTTING THE CAR UP to make the Manta Ray? Oh, that first cut must have been painful! It must have felt like sacrilege taking a zip saw to such a beauty. Continue reading
The Non-running Mako Shark-II totally jazzed GM’s management, the RUNNING Mako Shark-II was mind-blowing!
While the non-running Mako Shark-II was dropping jaws at the ‘65 New York Auto Show, there was one major project and one minor project in the works within the Corvette design group. The engineers and stylists were jam’n trying to figure out how to translate the show cars body shape to fit into a car that could be mass produced. What perhaps looked like a no-brainer turned out to be not so easy.
Even though the new production Corvette would use the existing frame, suspension, engine/transmission, and drive train from the then-current Sting Ray, getting everything to fit within an even tighter package was a major challenge. There were issues with front and rear bumper requirements, headlight height and configuration, interior ergonomics, and forward visibility of those gorgeous front fender humps. Getting the design right, plus making all of the parts for tooling was impossible to accomplish in one year for the new design to be a ‘67 model. It’s surprising to me that GM’s upper management couldn’t see that. Another year was added to the development schedule and in retrospect, it should have been two years.
The minor project on the Corvette design team’s plate was to produce a running version of the Mako Shark-II. If you think the production C3 Corvettes were tight, take a close look at the image of the running Mako Shark-II in front of a preproduction ‘68 Corvette. And note how Bill Mitchell towers over the Mako Shark-II. And Mitchell wasn’t a big tall fellow either. The shot of Mitchell getting into the Mako Shark-II shows him slightly bent at the knees. No, the Mako Shark-II was a tiny Corvette. But the shape is brilliant and is a classic example of Mitchell’s ability to style and shape the proportions of a car such that a smallish car looks much bigger without any size reference. Take a look at Mitchell’s early Buick Riviera by itself and than next to a full-size car and you’ll clearly see that the Riviera was not a big car, it just had big car proportions. Continue reading
A Look Back At the First of Bill Mitchell’s STUNNING Non-running Mako Shark-II Corvette Concept Car
No sooner had the‘63 Corvette Sting Ray been released, Bill Mitchell was at it again with another one-of-a-kind concept car. Never one to rest on his laurels, (you know the saying, “He who rests on his laurels, gets knocked on their rears!”) Bill went for something really far out. Now, it’s essential to know this first. Mitchell was often the generator of ideas, but didn’t necessarily pen out all of the details. That’s where the “stylists,” such as Larry Shinoda came in. So, if you were a stylist/designer, how’d you like to get an assignment like that?
Bill told his designers 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.” That’s all. Or as my grandmother used to say, “Yea, clear as mud!”
As his designers and stylists came back with their sketches, Mitchell would art/design direct from there. “I like this… I don’t like that… More here… Less there… That’s not it…That’s it…” etc. It seems that Mitchell had a vague notion of what he wanted and directed the design process. It’s also worth remembering that the design of a single Corvette concept car was just one of MANY design projects that Mitchell was responsible for. Continue reading