Any list of the most beautiful sports cars will inevitably be populated with Italian Ferraris but there is one American that deserves to be there with the best: the Corvette Stingray. Appropriately, the Stingray's 50th birthday will be honoured at the 2013 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance on March 8-10.
The car's history really begins in 1959 with a concept racer (top) designed by Bill Mitchell, aided by Pete Brock, Larry Shinoda, and Tony Lapine, featuring fuel injection, independent suspension, and inboard brakes. The chassis came from the sensational Corvette SS "mule" used for testing at the Sebring 12-Hour Race in March, 1957. Driven by John Fitch and Italian veteran Piero Taruffi the SS was the equal of competition from Ferrari, Maserati and Jaguar, but after a good start it went out with mechanical problems. Shortly afterwards, GM withdrew from motorsport and the car never raced again.
Operating out of sight of GM's conservative management, GM design head Bill Mitchell secretly funded a Corvette race car. He began in 1959 by purchasing the 1957 SS chassis for $500, then had Larry Shinoda create a new body. Mitchell's Stingray was successfully campaigned by the "Flying Dentist," Dr. Dick Thompson, in SCCA Nationals and pro events in 1959-60, winning the 1960 Sports Car Club of America’s C Modified National Championship. The car was then retired, given a coat of bright red paint, and driven regularly on the streets of Bloomfield Hills by Mitchell.
It was this car that influenced the striking design of the 1963 production Sting Ray (note spelling). Underneath all that leading edge styling was an independent rear suspension similar to the rear engine grand prix cars of the late 50s. Good weight distribution, lots of horsepower and a friendly price tag made the new Sting Ray an overnight hit. The Sting Ray bumped Corvette sales by 50 percent in 1963.
One of its innovative design features was the split rear window, which Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov never liked because it blocked rear vision. But Mitchell felt it was a key part of the entire design. Arkus-Duntov got his way in 1964 when the split window was changed to a full-width window. Incidentally, the spelling also went from a "split" (Sting Ray) to a "full-width" (Stingray) in 1969.
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this iconic sports car, noted designer Peter Brock and General Motors Vice President of Global Design, Ed Welburn, will head a 90-minute seminar on the development of the Stingray on Friday, March 8th in the ballroom of The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.
[Photos: General Motors]