Corvette Factory Show Cars, Part 1 -1958 XP-700 Corvette

Chevy’s 1950s show car custom 1958 Corvette

Dateline: 7.15.19 – As seen in the January 2018 issue of Vette Vues (All images GM Archives) A new era began on December 1, 1958 when William L. “Bill” Mitchell took over the reins of GM Styling from the great Harley Earl. Mitchell started his career as a young illustrator that loved rendering cars, racing cars, and hanging out with the Collier Brothers, the creators of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). It was Harley Earl that hired 23-year old Mitchell. From there, Bill learned the business end of the automobile business by working directly for Harley Earl and was in fact, Earl’s handpicked successor.

But when Mitchell took over, it was a whole new game. Harley Earl loved rounded shapes and lots of chrome. Bill Mitchell loved slim shapes, with fine, crisp lines. Bill believed that the lines of a car should be “crisp”, like a freshly pressed suit. That’s an important concept to hold on to as we look at the Corvette show cars of Bill Mitchell.

Mitchell’s first indulgence as GM’s Styling V.P. was the acquisition of the 1957 Corvette SS “mule” chassis for a nominal amount (I’ve read anywhere from $1.00 to $100), to use as the foundation of his own racing ambitions. Bill had Larry Shinoda work Peter Brock’s basic Q-Corvette shape into the 1959 Stingray Racer. While Bill was busy racing his Stingray Racer, there often was an accompanying custom Corvette that got a lot of attention.

Mitchell had initiated a policy that all dream cars and show cars would be fully functional. No mockups or static shells. Since Bill liked to drive his designs, they should also have plenty of power under the hood. Mitchell liked his cars “loaded for bear!” This was a trend that all Mitchell show cars had. The XP-700 also showed styling elements that would be used on the 1961 to 1964 Corvettes and believe it or not – the 1997 Corvette!

The XP-700 was built on a 1958 283 Fuelie Corvette. In 1950s excess style, everything is “bigger and better”. The front was pure “custom car design” with an elongated, elliptical nose and a scoop under it. Mitchell wanted to break away from the Earl driven, big toothy grille, towards something slim and lightweight. The now-classic Dayton Knock-Off Wire Wheels were part of the effort to make the car look lighter. The Lucas spotlight headlights are moved forward and also had scoops under them. The recessed hood vents showed up on the 1963 Corvette, but with fake grille inserts, and the 1964 Corvette, sans the grilles. The front fender scoops were shorter versions of the production 1956-1957 fender scoops.

Show cars have to have plenty of flash and sparkle. The 283 Fuel Injected engine was festooned with lots of chrome and black crackle-finished parts. Today, these kinds of parts are easily available through aftermarket Corvette parts companies, but in 1959, this kind of finish was spectacular. Mitchell loved loud side-pipes; consequently most of his Corvette show-cars had them. Looking more like a custom car setup, the side pipes are interesting, but were a little too short, looking like add-ons, as do the scoops behind the doors.

The transparent, bubble top idea was a hold over from the “Jet Age” years of auto styling. To help reduce solar heat, panels of vacuum-deposited aluminum film was placed on the inside of the double-bubble, over the driver and passenger. Between the two bubbles was a metal strip with a periscope rear-view mirror on the top and towards the back cooling vents. The entire top looked like a prop from a 1950s Sci-Fi space movie or something from The Jetson’s animated TV cartoon series. A “transparent roof” option wouldn’t be available until 1978, after years of experimentation with UV Light-blocking transparent films. A toned down version of the twin bubble top roof shape finally arrived in 1997 with the all-new C5.

There were two versions of the tail section. The original version was very short. Then in October 1959 the tail was lengthened, looking more like the production 1961-1962 Corvette. A body crease leads off the tops of the wheel openings and wraps around the back. Below the back edge, the license plate was mounted deep in the center. Now Corvette classic “dual round taillights” flank both sides of the license plate and vertical bumpers were at the corners. The basic shape, with horizontal bumpers, was put into production for 1961 and 1962, and set the design for the back end of the 1963-1967 Sting Ray convertibles.

The interior had features that became standard in 1961, such as the parking-light warning light, dual sun visors, windshield washers, and interior courtesy lights. Yes, early Corvettes had spartan interior amenities. Features that didn’t go into production were the stainless steel foot well grates, the periscope rear view mirror (a primitive version of modern rear-view video monitors), an experimental overdrive unit (tall highway cruising gears are now built into basic transmissions, typically as 5th or 6th gear), and a dash-mounted chronometer (a basic feature that’s now part of the Corvette’s GPS and Performance Data Video Recorder information system). Many of the “gee wiz!” special features of factory show cars from long ago are now either standard production features or special options.

The XP-700 was the first of the street-worthy Corvette show cars. Silver and red were Mitchell’s favorite colors to use on most of the show car Corvettes. The XP-700 wore both colors in its early years. Unlike today’s show cars, Mitchell actually drove many of his show cars to and from work – even the Stingray Racer! From the days of Alfred P. Slone, GM has always had a tight corporate structure, and when Bill Mitchell was rising through the ranks, everything at the corporate level was blue and gray suits. Mitchell was definitely a corporate “Rebel With An Attitude” and was well known for his bright-colored, flamboyant suits.

As Chuck “The Chrome Cobra” Jordan (Chief of Styling from 1986-to1992) used to say concerning Mitchell, “The man had flare!” Thanks to Mitchell’s “flare” from 1959 to his retirement in 1977, Corvette fans were treated to a steady flow of exciting Corvette show cars. – Scott

George Barris’ Out of This World – Asteroid 1963 Corvette Sting Ray

The King of Kustoms’ George Barris’ Most Famous Corvette


Dateline: 6.28.17  (This story was first published in the April 2016 issue of Vette Vues Magazine)Senior Vice President of GM Design, Bill Mitchell knew how to stoke a crowd. After the basic design of the new Sting Ray Corvette was approved for production, Mitchell kept Vette fans on the edge of their bucket seats with two Corvette dream cars. After the 1959 Stingray Racer won the SCCA C/Modified Championship in 1961 and was retired from racing, the car was refurbished into a show car. But that wasn’t enough. Mitchell had Larry Shinoda design a teaser Corvette to tip his hand, just a little, as to what the next Corvette would look like. The 1961 Mako Shark (the car wasn’t called “Mako Shark I” until after 1965 when the Mako Shark II was created) was based on a 1961 Corvette with styling hints of wild things to come. Actually, the car was a unique blend of a 1961 Corvette and the Stingray Racer.The ploy worked such that when the 1963 Sting Ray came out in autumn 1962, Bob Nordskog bought a new ’63 Split-Window Coupe and after only driving the car for 10 miles, took the new Corvette to Barris Custom Shop to be made into a drag/show car.

What’s not known is if the finished Asteroid was what Nordskog had in mind, or if he handed the new Corvette over to Barris and said, “Customize my Vette.” Custom cars tend to polarize opinions – people love them, or hate them. But from the perspective of 1963, the Asteroid was a hit. Continue reading

George Barris’ Out of This World – Asteroid 1963 Corvette Sting Ray”

1954 GM Motorama Concept Cars – Corvette Wannabees

Dateline: 4.24.12

Corvette’s Motorama Kiss’n Cousins

In 2009 when GM was getting negative publicity because of its financial troubles, I received a few emails with images of the 1954 GM Motorama Concept Pontiac Bonneville Special, Buick Wildcat II, and Oldsmobile F-88. For 1954, these are very cool-looking cars and you can’t miss the Corvette connection. The basic message in the email was, “Look at what the Corvette could have been if GM hadn’t let Chevy have the design. These cars had bigger engines and were nicer cars. GM got it wrong.” To which I say, “Ah, no.”

To begin with, the Corvette came first. Harley Earl started his small sports car design in 1951. By the end of ‘52 the hand made XP-112 Corvette was ready for its debut at the ‘53 Motorama Show on January 17, 1953. The concept was a completely unproven and much to Earl’s delight, was very enthusiastically received. So the car was rushed into production with almost zero development. By June ‘53 the first of only 300 Corvettes was released. Compared to the 332,497 Chevy 210 Deluxe 4-door sedans sold in ‘53, 300 Corvettes almost doesn’t qualify as “production.”

But before the numbers came in, Pontiac, Buick, and Olds wanted to take their shots at the 2-seater sports car concept. But unlike the spartan Corvette, the other divisions went in the direction of the ‘50s – big and bold. All three cars were typical concept cars – over festooned, and not produceable at a reasonable cost. The Corvette, also a concept car, was much more realistic for production. Continue reading “1954 GM Motorama Concept Cars – Corvette Wannabees”

Dana Forrester’s New “Motorama Treasures” C7 Corvette Art Print

Master Corvette Artist, Dana Forrester, Dishes Up Another Corvette Art Beauty!

Over the last few months there’s been a real absence of official news from GM about the next generation C7 Corvette. While GM’s fortunes have turned around recently with their successful IPO stock offering and very good sales of the core line cars, Corvette sales continue to slip. It’s not for a lack of selection, as the ‘11 Corvette line offers buyers a true Corvette boutique of choices. Could it be that buyers are content with their existing Corvettes and are simply waiting for the C7? Or, is it just “the economy, stupid”?

Of course it’s anyone’s guess, but it provides excellent fodder for endless speculation. Back in November 2011 I posted a collection of C7 Corvette concept renderings that clearly shows that a lot of talented designers are putting pen to paper and working their computer graphics magic. With so many interesting designs out in cyberspace, it’s worth remembering that the Transformers / Centennial Corvette concept show car is the ONLY official visual from GM. And lately, they’ve been VERY quiet.

However, I did find the following interesting comment at that addresses the Transformers design, Continue reading “Dana Forrester’s New “Motorama Treasures” C7 Corvette Art Print”