For GM styling boss Bill Mitchell, it was the year of LIVING DANGEROUSLY
The 1963 Sting Ray coupe will forever be remembered as the car that changed the direction of the Chevrolet Corvette, but not without massive
In fact, without the changes made for '63, it's quite possible that the Corvette would have died.
Truth be known, "America's Sports Car," as it came to be called, wasn't given much of a chance when it first appeared at General Motors' 1953 Motorama car show. After all, the men behind it, designer Harley Earl and engineer Ed Cole, had barely six months to convert their newly-approved design into an actual running and driving automobile.
Originally to be called the Corvair, it had a fiberglass body attached to a shortened Chevrolet Bel Air frame. Other Chevy parts-bin components included brakes, suspension, steering and two-speed Power-Glide transmission, as well as a 150-horsepower version of the Blue Flame inline six-cylinder OHV truck engine.
After initial positive reception, it soon became apparent that the Corvette's lack of performance along with quality issues with its "plastic" body were a detriment to sales. In its first three years of production,
The one True Believer in the Corvette and its potential was Zora Arkus-Duntov, a fledgling Chevrolet engineer. Being a former racer and a racing-parts manufacturer, Arkus-Duntov understood the meaning of performance and managed to persuade Chevrolet management to let him install the division's new 265 cubic-inch V8 between the Corvette's flanks. The little Chevy turned into a rip-snorting sports machine instead of its original boulevard cruiser persona. Sales spiked and the Corvette mystique began to grow.
The task of designing the Corvette fell to Bill Mitchell, who had taken over from Harley Earl as Chevrolet's vice president of design.
The one recurring theme in Mitchell's mind was that of a shark. With some experience deep-sea fishing, he had become fascinated with their sleek and powerful shape. For inspiration, Mitchell even had his group carefully study a recent catch that was mounted to his office wall. Their original 1957 renderings revealed a shape that was amazingly close to the production version.
Early designs featured a hardtop roof that could be folded behind the seats much like a convertible top. Other plans called for hidden headlights, a movable steering column and gull-wing-style swing-up doors. Most of these ideas never made it to production, but the Corvette's shark-themed bulging front fender lines were considered sacrosanct.
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