As popular as America's sports car had grown since its 1953 debut, it was time for a change for the 1963-1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray. Even the most superlative design grows whiskers after a decade, and Chevrolet chief Bill Mitchell and stylist Larry Shinoda faced a tough task: to improve a living legend.
Not only did they succeed, but their creation turned into a modern classic -- the most collectible Corvette of them all -- and sent sales soaring to record levels.
Seeds were planted by the Stingray Special racer and experimental XP-720, which displayed a smooth fastback profile and split back window. These and other styling details -- pivoting hidden headlights, doors cut into the roof, a beltline dip -- wound up in the production Sting Ray.
Quad headlights aligned with the pointy front end when shut, rotating open when needed. Luggage space grew, though lack of a trunklid earned few plaudits. Less fiberglass but nearly twice as much steel went into the sculptured-tail body, which rode a shorter (98-inch) wheelbase.
For several years, a removable hardtop had been optional. This generation went further, producing both the expected roadster and a full-fledged (doubly dramatic) hardtop coupe.
What drew the eye most in the coupe's shape was that split window, an idea from Mitchell that was not universally adored. It served as part of a full-length dorsal "spine" that began on the hood, continuing as a creaseline across the roof and down to the tip of the "boattail" canopy.
One of the naysayers was renowned Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, who praised the performance but faulted the coupe's rearward visibility.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Public reaction was far more favorable, but critics prevailed, so a single pane was used the next year. Thus, the split-window Sting Ray later became the most coveted Corvette in history, both for its distinctive silhouette and its comparative rarity.
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