Classic Race Cars

Bill Mitchell’s Sting Ray (1959)

December 22, 2011

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Concept 1959_01Bill Mitchell, GM’s famed design director and hand-picked successor to the legendary Harley Earl, was a firm believer in the influence that racing brought to improving production cars. Unfortunately, the American Manufacturer’s Association banned factory-backed motorsports efforts in 1957. Undeterred, Mitchell received permission to race privately and bought an experimental Corvette racing chassis from Chevrolet – with the stipulation he alter the bodywork so there was no mistaking it for the earlier factory-fielded Corvette racers. Mitchell and his protégé, Larry Shinoda, got to work and developed the Sting Ray’s design.

As it was based on a racing chassis, the Sting Ray was small and light, with a 92-inch wheelbase and a curb weight that was almost 1,000 pounds less than a 1959 Corvette. It was originally powered by a fuel-injected 283-cubic-inch V8 that developed about 315 horsepower, which helped deliver a strong fourth-place finish on its inaugural outing at Maryland’s Marlboro Raceway, in April 1959. It was driven by Dr. Dick “The Flying Dentist” Thompson. The car went on to win an SCCA National Championship in 1960.

The Sting Ray was retired from racing after that championship season and was later reborn as a concept vehicle, after a passenger seat and other passenger-car features were added. Undoubtedly the greatest legacy of the Sting Ray was its influence on the Mitchell-style 1963 Corvette’s lauded design. It translated the Sting Ray’s blistered fenders and long nose/short deck proportions, but in a sleeker representation, thanks to the Corvette’s longer wheelbase and overall length. The redesigned Corvette even wore Sting Ray badges.