The 1961 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark (XP-755 Shark) show car was designed by Larry Shinoda under the direction of GM Design head Bill Mitchell as a concept, for future Chevrolet Corvettes. A mako shark captured off the coast of Florida by Mitchell inspired the basic lines of the show car. At the time, Mitchell was a Vice President of General Motors Styling Staff; now know as General Motors Design Center. After a period, Mitchell removed the original body and redesigned it as the "Mako Shark II" in 1965. The original Mako Shark was then retroactively called the "Mako Shark I".
The Mako Shark was very similar to the 1963 Corvette, with some alterations. These included adding two more brake lights in the rear (six total), making the nose of the car longer and more pointed, creating a clear glass roof with a periscope like rear-view mirror, and remodeling the interior.
The Mako was finished in a vary-colored paint scheme based on an iridescent blue upper surface that blended into a white side and lower body resembling the natural coloring of the shark Bill Mitchell landed.
A number of experimental engines have been tested in the Mako, including a super-charged engine with four side-draft carburetors, a fuel injected engine and a V8 engine with two four-barrel carburetors. The present engine is a production 1969 427 cubic inch ZL-1 Chevrolet V8. This engine has an all aluminum block, heads and intake manifold. It is equipped with a single four-barrel carburetor that produces upwards of 425 horsepower.
The Mako Shark was built on a slightly modified production Corvette chassis and was fitted with cast magnesium wheels.
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark I concept car (rear) and the 1965 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark II concept car (front). The Mako Shark II was originally built in 1965 under the direction of William (Bill) L. Mitchell, Vice President of GM Styling Staff, and set the design standard for the 1968-1982 production Corvette. This hand-built Corvette was a favorite of Mr. Mitchell’s and he drove it daily. Its paint scheme matched the original Mako Shark. In 1969, the car was returned to the GM Design studio for more changes. At that time, the name was changed to the Manta Ray.
William Mitchel designed the Corvette Mako in 1966. This is his entire patent reproduced on 8.5" by 11" Antiqued Parchment Paper, and includes the Drawing sheets that show the car in full detail.
"The Mako Shark came with a Latham supercharger. The Latham was quite an elaborate set-up, with the side draft carburetors and all. So to show off this little bit of exotica, we developed some very fine detail for the hood bulge. The radial chrome fin arrangement let you see the supercharger as you eye moved over the hoodline. This feature got a lot of play in the mags." said famed GM Designer Bill Mitchell of his favorite piece of work.
The SHARKS and Bill Mitchell
The first sketches by Larry Shinoda of the new car, the XP-755, showed only minor alterations with the addition of the double-bubble canopy from the XP-700. This was dangerously close to the actual form of the XP-720. A radical new "cover" theme was needed, and this was supplied when Bill Mitchell hooked and landed a shark during a deep-sea fishing holiday off Bimini. The aggressive look and graded coloration of the mounted shark's head set the styling motif for the car that became the Corvette Shark.
From inspiration to realization took no more than a few months, the aim being to debut the Shark during a race weekend at Elkhart Lake in the summer of 1961. Painted in an iridescent blue that blended into a white underbody, like its namesake, the Shark caused a sensation when it toured the course at its Elkhart Lake debut and when it was displayed officially by Chevrolet for the first time at the New York Show in April, 1962.
Broad hints by Bill Mitchell and GM public relations men left no doubt in the minds of most magazine editors that the Shark foreshadowed in some way the shape of the 1963 Corvette, though the writers could not know that the Shark had been built after the shape had been finalized and was not a true predecessor of the coming Corvette.
Among the Corvette-related dream cars and experimental cars, the Mako Shark II was as significant in the history of the production model as the original racing Stingray. When it was designed and built it was no more than an idea, a concept, a product of the creative imagination embodied in plastic, plating and paint. It was one of a handful of different ideas for Corvettes of the future, ideas promoted by different and competitive factions within Chevrolet and Styling Staff. This one had a little something extra going for it: It was the personal project of William L. Mitchell.
Sensing the shifts in the shapes of sports cars, Bill Mitchell decided to extend exploratory probes in new directions. He did so literally the moment the 1963 Sting Ray was in production, for in that instant the earlier dreams, the Stingray racer and the varicolored Shark, became commonplace reality. It was time to forge a new dream of the Corvette of the future and, if possible, to create simultaneously a new and stimulating personal car for GM's top stylist.
There was also a plan to see it as a star attraction on the Chevrolet stand at the New York International Auto Show in April, 1965 - not too far in the future. The last traces of a late snow were still on the ground in March when the Mako Shark II was rolled out to the Styling viewing yard to be photographed by Chevrolet's Myron Scott before its New York appearance. Though it was founded on an actual Corvette chassis, it was at this stage a full-size exterior/interior mockup rather than a running car. It had originally been simply dubbed the Mako Shark, but at the last minute the decision was made to rename the original Shark the Mako Shark I and make the new design the second in the second in the series. It was not the last time the new car's name would be changed.
Painted with the gradations from dark to light used on the first experimental Shark, and rolling on Firestones 8.80 up front and 10.30 in the rear, the Mako II was indeed a powerful attraction on the Chevy stand in New York. When it returned to Michigan again it was changed in only one way: The paint was removed from the external "exhaust systems" and the aluminum surface was buffed all over. While this was being done, work was already well along on the completion of the running Mako Shark II - on which the external exhausts were not used.
Fully functional in every detail, the operational Mako Shark II was an utterly fantastic machine in the quality and extent of its advanced equipment. It was launched to newsmen in Michigan on October 5, 1965, before flying it off to Paris, where it would adorn the GM stand at the world-famous Automobile Salon, opening on October 7. Thereafter it became a temporary captive of GM's Overseas Operations Division, which displayed it throughout Europe. It returned in time for the New York Show April, 1966.
By the fall of 1967, the shape of the Mako Shark II began to be mirrored on the road by the new 1968 Corvette, and the Mako II no longer enjoyed its unique avant garde status. It was time, thought Mitchell, for some changes. In 1969 this aquatic creature had switched its species, making a return to the undersea family that had been so successful a decade earlier. Now it became the Manta Ray, through a transformation made mainly from the cockpit to the rear of this elaborate car. Only the tapered "boat tail" motif remained with the addition of a new and considerably longer rear end in place of the abrupt duck tail.
During the winter of 1969-70, the Manta Ray underwent subtle additional changes. These were the last changes to a dream car that had since become reality. Mako Shark/Manta Ray was built at a time, not so many years ago, when an exercise in pure automotive form could be undertaken at its own pace, for its own sake. It had been built in the tradition of the great GM dream cars, the Le Sabre, the Firebirds, the Motorama Corvette, as an automobile whose many advanced features were fully operational. It had not been cheap to do it this way. It had cost some two and a half million dollars to create the running Mako II, and probably close to three million as the car stands today.
Does this mean that the Mako Shark II is the last of the bigtime dream cars from GM? In a world as ephemeral as that of styling there are no absolutes: such a prediction would be rash indeed. But the controversial Mako II sets a standard that's hard to surpass. For the men and women who shape the Chevrolet sports cars that should be challenge enough.
Mako Shark I: Interview with Larry Shinoda
© Wayne Ellwood, 1995
Used here with permission by the author
From Larry Shinoda:
The story of Mako Shark II can't really start without saying a few words about Mako I. After all, the whole "shark" theme was Mitchell's idea and many of the ideas found on Mako II were also on Mako I. The "shark" theme was such an influence on Bill that it just had to carry-on for several years. This was the start of the famous story about the paint guys having to repaint Bill's fish to match the car, too. But since I've told that one so often, I'm not going to repeat it here. It is enough to say that the iridescent blue top body fading to a white underbody was a real challenge for the paint technology of the day but, when you look back, it was really a show-stopper.
So, if I can recap briefly, in 1962 the design work on the new 1963 Sting Ray was already done. GM wanted something to promote the new car and build some excitement. I did a couple of sketches of the 63 with the back clip of the XP-700 (double-bubble roof) added. At first it was about as incongruous as a guy in a tuxedo wearing a pair of tennis shoes but we worked on it a little more until it met Bill Mitchell's approval. This was Mako Shark I, or XP-755.
Everyone had a different opinion on some of the features we put on the car. Bill was very excited about the double-bubble roof, the side pipes and the periscope rearview mirror. Some of us argued against the lexan roof but Mr. Mitchell insisted. Ed Wayne to do the actual engineering for the roof. It was quite advanced technically, with a vaporized aluminum coating on the inside to cut down on heat gain and the periscope rearview mirror built right into it. I wasn't really enthused about it but I think it would be fair to say that, at least in design terms, the roof had some roots in the bomb-shaped headrest that I had done for the StingRay SS. So I guess I can take some consolation in that.
I don't want to dwell on this, but the prism-type periscope rearview mirror was really a big item with Bill and it appeared in several other subsequent cars up to ASTRO I. Maybe the most interesting story about the periscope mirror relates to its application to that car. ASTRO I was originally supposed to meet a 31 inches total overall height. Engineering couldn't meet that target but they did get it down to 33 1/2 inches. After that, they added the periscope rearview mirror and the highest point on the car was now about 35 1/2 inches. Because it was still under 36 inches, GM designed yardsticks with the 35 1/2 inch mark prominently displayed as one of their promotional give-aways for the New York auto show, to emphasize the fact that it was so low. I've got another story about the same mirror on ASTRO III, but I'll save that for the right article.
The Mako I had a lot of other design features that inspired some of us. First, the car came with a Latham supercharger. Wally Wyss wrote about Mako I and called it a "Roots-type" supercharger and suggested that it was made by GM's Detroit Diesel Division. I think that there is a lot of similar technology reflected in these brands, but as I recall it was a Latham. In either case, this was quite an elaborate set-up, with the side draft carburetors and all. So to show off this little bit of exotica, we developed some very fine detail for the hood bulge. The radial chrome fin arrangement let you see the supercharger as you eye moved over the hoodline. This feature got a lot of play in the magazines.
In more technical terms, the car was built on a 1961 chassis and made its debut in 1962. The nose of the car was heavily customized with headlights hidden in the grille area and almost 12 inches of extra length. The tail was upswept and that meant that we had to move the rear-most cross-member forward a little bit.
The Mako Shark I had a number of features that re-appeared on Mako Shark II, as I said. A lot of these were ideas that Bill had developed and that, depending on your outlook, either added to the design or fell in the category of gadgets. This was the first time we did the pop-up brake flaps, which were mirrored panels which raised (electrically) when you applied the brakes. The mirrored coating reflected a second set of upward pointing brake lights and gave additional warning of the fact that you were slowing down. There have been many variations on this theme since and now even the federal government is in the act with its CHMSL. A lot of show cars also use different intensity LED's in the brake light package to show things like the intensity of braking.
I did most of the original design work for this car in the basement studio that they now call the skunk works in Chevy Design III. Bill gave the overall direction and I did a lot of the exterior work.