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 “A Look Back At Race Cars & Corvairs Designed by Larry Shinoda”→
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 “A Look Back At Corvettes Designed by Larry Shinoda”→
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.
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 “Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 82nd Birthday Larry Shinoda”→
Every so often a car design comes along that is “perfect.” It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you end up stopped dead in your tracks. You find yourself almost unable to STOP looking at the car’s shape. For me, the 1959 Stingray Racer is such a car. The 1959 Stingray Racer was an outgrowth of the dead-on-arrival 1957 Q-Corvette, which never made it past the full-size clay model stage. But the pint-sized concept had a nuclear-powered punch because it set in motion a design process that is still with us today. Consider the lineage…
Q-Corvette leads to… 1959 Stingray Racer leads to… Mako Shark I show car leads to… 1963-1967 Sting Ray leads to… Mako Shark-II-inspired C3 “shark” Corvette… that leads to… C6 Corvette (look closely at the front and rear fenders of the C6 – there’s a C2 Sting Ray in there).
Back to the timeless ‘59 Stingray. Clearly, Bill Mitchell wasn’t done with the design of the proposed Q-Corvette. So, with a borrowed chassis from the aborted ‘57 Corvette SS racer (1957 was a VERY GOOD year for the Corvette!), Mitchell designed a roadster version of the interesting Q-Corvette around the small, lightweight birdcage tube chassis from the mule version of the Corvette SS project. Continue reading “Vette Videos: The STUNNING Corvette Classic 1959 Stingray Racer”→
Dateline: 11.2.11 Hemmings Motor News old sister publication takes a look back at the first special-built Corvette race car, the SS Corvette
(Be sure to check out the SS Corvette video at the bottom of this post!)
Back in the early ‘80s there was a new trend in the car magazine biz – specialty publications. Marty Schorr’s VETTE Magazine was ahead of the curve when it came out in ‘76. VETTE was the first “Corvette-only” news stand magazine ever published. By the early ‘80s there was a specialty publication for most brand cars. Hemmings Motor News branched out with a unique magazine called, “SIA – Special Interest Automobiles.” While I remember seeing the magazine on the news stands it wasn’t something I was interested in back then, as it featured many pre-WW II “classic” cars, and I was interested in other things at the time.
Fast forward to today and the wonderful world of blogging, Hemmings has one of my favorite car blogs. It’s the preverbal “box of chocolates” because “you never know what you’re going to get.” (thank you Forrest Gump!) Recently at http://blog.hemmings.com/ they posted an interesting and detailed story about the 1957 SS Corvette race car from theOctober 1988 issue of SIA magazine.
Don’t let the rather scathing introduction put you off, “…the SS was little more than a poorly executed and slapdash affair, deserving of its failure at Sebring and merely spared the pain of further embarrassment… “ The actual article from SIA is very good with lots of pictures, statistics, and some nice technical illustrations of the SS Corvette.
This is just my opinion, but I think that the introduction was a little unjust for the following reasons. While it is true that Duntov and his team copied the Mercedes 300SL race car’s birdcage frame and chassis, so did many other cars. The design was the standard road racing layout of the day. General Motors of the mid-’50s was arguably the least prepared auto company to even take on such a project, as they had NO experience what-so-ever in building race cars. The only part of the car Chevrolet engineers were familiar with was the 283 Fuelie engine. Plus, the small-block was only in its third year of production and F.I. unit was brand new. Continue reading “Special Interest Autos’ – SIA – 1957 SS Corvette Feature Story”→