A PIVOTAL FISHING TRIP FOR CHEVROLET’S HEAD OF DESIGN BILL MITCHELL
Who would have thought that a deep-sea fishing trip taken by GM’s head of design Bill Mitchell, taken to relax and recoup from work, would inspire some of his most unforgettable work. On this particular trip, Bill caught a Shortfin Mako Shark, and was drawn to its silver-blue scales, pointed snout, and sleek lines. He was so taken by this creature, he had the shark mounted in his office. This proud catch would later become the sole inspiration for the design of the Mako Shark concept car.
The Mako Shark became a concept car designed by Chevrolet in the 1960s, that had heavy influence on the eventual launch of the second and third generation Corvettes. Unlike most concept cars, the Mako I and Mako II both caught the attention of the general public, and many Vette enthusiasts started to manufacture kits to convert stock Corvettes into their very own Makos. People decided if Chevrolet wasn’t going to make the Mako Shark available, they would make them on their own. We will be releasing a post discussing these kits and the companies who made them in greater detail, in two weeks. Do check back for that post!
Here at Hobby Car Corvettes, in addition to our love for the third generation Vettes, we also have a soft spot for these impressive and inspired Mako modification cars. We currently have two Makos on the lot, and have sold others recently. For those of you less familiar with the fascinating history and details of the Mako, we will shed a little light on that for you now.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SHARK
In 1961, Bill Mitchell took his deep-sea fishing inspiration, and turned to designer Larry Shinoda for the eventual creation of the XP-755 concept car, the Mako Shark I. This car was designed as a concept for future Chevrolet Corvette production cars. The initial Mako Shark I design had heavy influence on the C2 Corvettes, rolling out for a 4 year stint from 1963-1967.
In April of 1965 the original non-running “clay” of the Mako Shark II was shown at the New York International Auto Show. This prototype cost nearly $3 million dollars to create. While the model was aesthetically incredible, it bore features that rendered it unfit for driving. The necessary adjustments were made and six months later, in October 1965, a running version of the concept car, powered by a Mark IV 427, was shown at the Paris Auto Salon.
Both the static display and functional prototype reveals of the Mako Shark Corvette were received with enthusiasm and admiration. It was this design of the Mako Shark II Corvette that would greatly influence the launch of the third generation of Corvettes. Seeing as how the third generation of Corvettes was the longest running generation, it stands to reason that the Mako Shark Corvette was the most successful design to date.
The Mako Shark wasn’t just pleasing on the eye, it was fitted with gadgets and gizmos aimed to enhance safety and please the driver’s need for comfort and convenience. Designer Shinoda described it as a “James Bond Car.” Externally, the car had large fenders and a back spoiler that could be adjusted from the driver’s seat to optimize performance.
With the mere touch of a button, the top raised for easy entry and exit. A new 427 inch Chevrolet V8 with a 3 speed hydramatic was an obvious inclusion in the design. A vacuum operated gas filler cap controlled by a release on the instrument console, was both easy to open and aesthetically necessary. Staying with the flush design and desire for convenience, the engine could be serviced for oil and water through two round ports flush with top of the hood.
The designers made sure to keep all controls at the drivers fingertips for easy access. Also included were direct digital instruments that was easy to read. The controls for the AM/FM radio were a drum type design and all switches were either recessed or flushed to provide greater safety. The steering wheel was easily tiltable and since the seats were solidly anchored and could not be moved, for driver comfort and safety, the foot pedals were adjustable.
A unique safety feature was a pair of stabilizing retracting flaps in the rear. In the up position, they make use of the air flow over the body to put more load on the rear wheels for better traction. Adding to the shark-like design, available on the fastback design are remotely controlled louvers, that can be opened for ventilation and visibility to the rear.
Although the design of the Mako Shark is noted as Bill Mitchell’s, and let’s not forget about Larry Shinoda’s, greatest work, the car was not stable at high speeds and so the Mako Shark would never be released for purchase by the public. However, after the necessary changes were made for road safety, the 1968 Corvette was born.
THE STORY GOES: A Paint Job Story
While we can’t confirm the validity of this story, it is far too amusing not to entertain. As mentioned earlier, after his fishing trip, Bill had his Shortfin Mako Shark mounted and hung on his office wall. Being so fond of the color of the shark, Bill ordered his team to paint the car to match the distinctive blue-gray upper surface, which would blend seamlessly into the white underside of the shark.
After multiple attempts to match Bill’s instructions failed, the story is that the team hatched a brilliant, albeit mischievous, plan. The team snuck into Bill’s office and stole the mounted shark, and instead of matching the car to the shark, they painted the shark to match the car’s current paint job. Story goes that Bill never realized the difference and pronounced that he was pleased at how greatly the team had matched the car to the shark’s natural appearance.
OUR GRATITUDE TO MOTHER NATURE
Had Bill Mitchell not gone on that fishing trip and caught that beautiful beast of the deep, the Shortfin Mako Shark, who knows where Chevrolet would have ended up. We would have missed out on decades of Corvettes inspired by the beauty of nature.
Here at Hobby Car Corvettes, we are grateful for this fateful turn of events, and for Bill Mitchell’s eye for exquisite design in all things. If you want to learn more about the Mako Shark’s we have sold or have currently on the lot for sale in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, feel free to reach out. We love to talk cars and share our stories. The two Mako Shark’s below have made a home at Hobby Car Corvettes, the 1969 is part of our private collection but the 1973 is up for sale!
Available Mako Shark Corvettes