Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 82nd Birthday Larry Shinoda

Dateline: 3.26.12

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”?)

Mitchell was itching to go racing and worked out a deal using his new VP clout to acquire Zora Arkus-Duntov’s mule chassis from the abandoned ‘57 Corvette SS project. Bill charged Larry with the task of taking the basic elements of the ‘57 Q-Corvette concept clay model and making a roadster body to fit the chassis of the Corvette SS. The rest, as they say, is history. While Larry didn’t design the Q-Corvette’s unique body (that credit goes to Pete Brock and Bob Veryzer), he did what stylists do – move a line here, push another line there, adjust shapes where needed, and pull the design together.

Of course, the Stingray racer laid the groundwork for the ‘63 Sting Ray, at which point, Shinoda was golden. He worked with all of the GM/Chevrolet legends of his time, Mitchell, Duntov, and others, and became the go-to guy for concept car designs. Consequently, his career portfolio sparkled with advanced performance car designs such as the Monza GT, the CERV II, the ‘61 Mako Shark I (originally called the Corvette Shark), the rear-engine XP-819 (recently refurbished by Kevin Mackay and the Corvette Repair team), and the car that had the most impact on Corvette styling that continues on today, the Mako Shark II. When you think of the classic Corvette “shark” shape, that’s Larry Shinoda’s work.

Shinoda went on to work for Ford, thanks for his relationship with Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen and is credited with another car icon the lives on today, the BOSS 302 and BOSS 429 Mustangs. Some say that Larry used the “BOSS” moniker as a thank you to Mr. Knudsen. And others say that the term was just a trendy expression that meant “cool.” Either way, “BOSS” lives on, as well as the Sting Ray and Shark. It’s interesting that as we wait to see what the C7 Corvette will really look like, there’s a split in the car/Corvette community over whether the C7 Corvette should go back closer to its shark roots or forge a new direction. I guess you could say that the pressure is on for current Corvette chief of design, Tom Peters.

After a brief stint at Ford (just enough to do the BOSS Mustangs and the ‘71 – ‘73 Mustangs) Larry finally went out on his own by forming Shinoda Design and spent the rest of his career as a design consultant for GM, Ford, AMC, and various aftermarket companies. Here and there, Larry penned some interesting Corvette variations, with his most successful project being the Mears/Shinoda C4 body kit. Life was good for the famous car designer until 1996 when it was discovered that Larry had advanced kidney disease that required a kidney transplant. While waiting for a kidney, Larry died on November 13, 1997 from heart failure at the age of 67.

Larry’s daughter, Karen Shinoda started Shinoda Performance Vehicles, an aftermarket company that offers a line of BOSS Shinoda and Cobra Shinoda parts for late model Mustangs. Larry’s concept car designs always had a particular look about them – a look that was in sync with GM’s chief of design, Bill Mitchell. Through this week we’ll be looking back of the Corvette/Chevrolet concept car design work of Larry Shinoda, as well as his post-GM efforts. Larry showed us that often times a great raw design just needs a little finessing – push a line here, pull a curve there, add just the right detail that’s not overdone – ie – styling. Consider the original Q-Corvette shape and what it became thanks to Shinoda’s flair. Almost 50 years later, many call the ‘63 Corvette Split-Window Coupe, “The Original American Idol.” No argument here.  – Scott

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