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.
Even though $2.5 million had been spent on the Mako Shark II, General Motors spent almost another $3 million on the Manta Ray! The biggest change between the two Sharks was the long, tapered tail, a ‘la the Astro Vette Show Car. Clearly, they had aerodynamics on their mind, which was kind of odd because the Shark Corvettes were notorious for their front end lift at high speed. That’s what the interesting front spoilers were attempting to correct. Endura bumpers gracefully covered functional metal bumpers. While GM’s experiment into the “Endura” body material didn’t last long, it did show that they were moving in the direction of bumper covers that started to show up on the ‘73 production Corvette and are now how all cars are built. The roof line featured a beautiful, sweeping, tapered style, similar to a Sting Ray roof, but scooped out with a small slot for a rear window. The rear bumper cover “sort’a” hinted at the ‘74 bumper cover. For hard braking and turn signaling, flip up lights popped out of the rear deck. This design element hinted at additional brake lights that eventually became the now standard third brakelight. Four taillights were fared in under the rear bumper line with a center-located license-plate holder.
The shape of the nose of the car was basically unchanged from the running Mako Shark-II, except for an extended bumper ring around the air inlets, and small chin spoiler. Normal side view mirrors were deleted in favor of small, bullet-shaped mirrors that were attached to the top of the A-pillars. Like the previous Mako Shark cars, the Manta Ray was painted dark blue with pearl white fogging along the lower edges. Special badges and Corvette crossed-flags insignias completed the car.
An awesome show car should have an awesome engine. The Manta Ray used the new, all-aluminum, ZL-1 engine with a special air cleaner. Side pipes were beautifully crafted into the side rocker panels and sounded great. Bill Mitchell loved loud Corvettes with side-mounted exhausts. They were one of his trademark design elements. You can hear the Manta Ray’s ZL-1 engine in the below YouTube video.
This may have been the last “pure” show car Corvette and thankfully is still alive and well today as part of the GM Heritage Collection. Since Corvette designers are long over their shark phase, the odds of the Manta Ray being cut apart to be made into something else are ZERO. As it should be! – Scott
PS – Next up, the Motion Maco Sharks
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