A TRIBUTE TO LARRY SHINODA
Here at Hobby Car Corvettes, we acknowledge and offer gratitude, to the many exceedingly talented and massively influential individuals who have shaped the Corvette we know and cherish today. Without the design genius of Larry Shinoda, who is to say if the Corvette Stingray would have even come to be. Because the third generation of Corvettes is our absolute favorite, we could not be more pleased with the influences of Shinoda.
In honor of his genius and hard work, let’s take a deeper dive into the chapters of Shinoda’s life.
THE EARLY YEARS
Lawrence Kiyoshi (Larry) Shinoda, was born in Los Angeles on March 25, 1930 to Japanese immigrant parents, Kiyoshi Shinoda and Hide Watanabe. One of two children, Larry had a sister six years his senior. Much like Larry, she was born with innate artistic talents.
When Shinoda was 10 years old, his mother received a phone call from his concerned teacher, who asked her to come into the school. In this parent-teacher meeting, little Larry’s teacher expressed worry about his inattentiveness. She showed his mother elaborate drawings of hot rods on his test papers, as evidence of his wandering mind.
Little did she know, this cause for concern, would afford Shinoda massive success.
1942 was a tough year for the Shinoda family. In this year, the same year of the death of Larry’s father, the whole family was interned into a war relocation camp in Manzanar, CA by order of the U.S. Government. Despite being American citizens, the family spent two years in despicable conditions in this camp.
Not easily discouraged, a young and optimistic Shinoda would sneak out of the barbed wire fences to run free and play as a child should. He also continued to hone his design skills, and made his first recorded functional design while in the camp. For his mother and grandmother, he transformed two old crates into two reclinable chairs.
In 1944, the family was finally released from the camp.
A YOUNG & FREE SHINODA
After the war, Shinoda eaglery made a place for himself in the hot rod scene of Southern California. In addition to his love for design, Shinoda had a deep love for racing. He built many competitive racing machines known as “Chopstick Specials.” In 1955, Shinoda won his class in the National Hot Rod Association Nationals, racing a 1924 Ford roadster powered by an Ardun-V-8 in Great Bend, Kansas.
When it came to Shinoda’s skills and talents, formal education played little to no part. As mentioned earlier, his grade school teachers showed concern due to his inattentiveness. When it came to higher education, Shinoda began attending the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, but was kicked out. Though not the scholarly student, Shinoda’s success was not affected in the slightest.
Shinoda skipped the step of achieving further education and simply returned to the workforce to make his mark and climb the ladder. In 1955, he worked for Ford, he then spent a small stint at Packard, and then finally, he made his way to GM where he would fatefully cross paths with Bill Mitchell and the Chevrolet Corvette.
SHINODA & MITCHELL
It was September of 1956 when Shinoda joined the GM team as a senior designer, after having only worked 18 months in the industry. In no time at all, Shinoda’s influence was visible, contributing to the bat-wing look on the 1959 Corvette.
It didn’t take long for other key players on the Corvette team to take note of Shinoda. Bill Mitchell was fond of Shinoda, not only as a designer, but as a person. He quickly invited him to join him and a select few, working on the SS project in his secret studio. It was this project that would give life to the Stingray, and lay the foundation for the second and third generation of Corvettes.
Shinoda said of the Stingray Racer program
“I ended up being the designer, mechanic, pit crew, and transport driver.”
It goes without saying, he was an essential piece of this project.
The combined genius and tireless efforts of Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda on this String Ray Racer program, truly broke new ground for Corvettes. For the first time, Corvette has a truly unique, American style, that was not borrowed from other sporty cars or European automobiles. This was the pivotal point that would make Corvettes instantly recognizable and their own brand.
OTHER NOTABLE SHINODA ACHIEVEMENTS
Shinoda was without a doubt, one of Mitchell’s most prolific hands-on designers. From the early to mid 60s’, Shinoda played a part in the creation of the Corvette Mako Shark I and II; the Corvair prototypes including Super Spyder, Monza GT, and the Monza SS Roadster; Astro I and II; the ear-engine XP-819 with John Schinella; the Corvette Grand Sport GSIIB; and the Chaparral 2D race car.
If you follow us here at Hobby Car Corvettes, you may recall another big name in Corvettes, Zora Arkus-Duntov, “The Father of Corvette”. Shinoda was also brought on by Zora to work closely on two of his pet projects, CERV I and CERV II.
AFTER SHINODA LEFT GM
Shinoda left GM in 1969, opting to follow Chevrolet general manager Bunkie Knudsen to Ford. There, he hit the ground running with the 1969 Mustang Boss 302, often cited as the best-looking Mustang of all time.
Shinoda remained productive for the rest of his life, later setting up his own design studio in Livonia, Michigan, where he designed racing transport trailers for Roger Penske as well as design projects for Cragar Wheels and Monaco Motorcoach.
Ever faithful to his Corvette ties, Larry never lost his strong ties with the Corvette and even designed the logo for the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
He also designed and sold an attractive aftermarket body kit for the fourth-generation Corvette called the Rick Mears Special Edition.
In 1996, Shinoda began to suffer from kidney problems. Being Shinoda, he was not slowed and he continued to be an active designer. He was the subject of a massive fund-raising effort for a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, before the transplant could be scheduled, he died of heart failure in 1997 at his home in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Shinoda was 67 years old.
His daughter, Karen, formed Team Shinoda (now Shinoda Performance Vehicles), a tuner and performance parts company.
Pete Brock, another major influencer of the Corvette Stingray, said of Shinoda:
“I always admired him because he just didn’t take any shit from anyone… I think that’s why Mitchell admired him. He never tried to be a pleaser. He just wanted to be a leader.”
As always, thank you for stopping by here at Hobby Car Corvettes to learn a little about Corvette history. We find it fascinating and we hope you do too. Feel free to check out all the beautiful Classic Used Corvettes we have for sale. Window shopping never hurt anyone.