1953 — the birth of the Corvette. Chevrolet has since produced the very successful sports coupe. Set alongside rivals like the Ford Thunderbird, the Corvette did very well its segment. A decade after its inception, GM’s executives and engineers decided that a more potent model was needed. Their vision and reality? The Corvette Sting Ray!
Little Body, Big Sting
The new Corvette that rolled out of the St. Louis, Missouri Chevrolet plant for the 1963 model year was the culmination of two separate major design processes. Chevrolet had been working for some years on a new prototype called the Q-Model, a smaller, quicker ‘Vette with independent rear suspension and improved braking components. At the same time, other engineers worked on a rear-engine single-seat performance concept, the CERV I. In 1959, elements of both of these projects were combined, initiating the final development phase for the new Corvette Sting Ray.
Engineers made several decisions during this period that would make the Sting Ray design revolutionary. First, they decided on an aggressive, futuristic theme for the new body style. The car would be low-slung with aerodynamic ridges running along the hood and rear. The engine would feature louvered hood scoops on either side of a pod-like central ridge. Headlights would be retractable, emerging from the seemingly solid front bumper. And the rear end would be shortened.
Second, they decided to offer a coupe for the first time in the history of the Corvette. The coupe’s styling would in fact end up being more revolutionary than the covertible’s. Borrowing from the prototype Q-Model, the Corvette Sting Ray Coupe would feature a sleek fastback design and split rear window. The tapered fastback, when paired with the raised side wings carried forward from the front end, made the passenger compartment look like a tapered pod. The Sting Ray was ready for the next generation.
The Drive of a Shark…
Satisfied with the performance of the previous generations’ engines, Chevrolet opted to keep the same standard options for the new Sting Ray. The carbureted 327 cubic-inch V8s were now offered in 250, 300, and 340 horsepower variants, with the more powerful engines getting a boost from different carburetor options and bigger intakes and exhaust manifolds. The most powerful 360 horsepower engine featured fuel injectors instead of carburetors.
More important were the changes underneath the car. The Sting Ray would live up to the reputation of its namesake and move sleekly through the streets with a redesigned chassis and suspension. Changes to its wheelbase and weight distribution, as well as to its steering, increased the coupe’s maneuverability, while the independent rear suspension, borrowed from the CERV I, improved handling significantly. The standard cast-iron drum brakes were widened, and new brake options, such as lighter aluminum drums, were made available for the first time.
…and the Body Too
|1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray exterior|
When the Sting Ray was unveiled, it was an indicator of things to come. The old C1 Corvette, with its stocky square body, rounded headlight fascias and side panels, was gone forever, along with many other older auto designs. Big pointed side wings, long back ends, wide wheelbases and white wall tires were on their way out (maybe not white walls: they were still offered on the Sting Ray).
One story about the design of the Sting Ray, which may or may not be true, best explains the new era of car design that it helped usher in: Bill Mitchell was reportedly deep-sea fishing off the coast of Florida when he caught a Mako shark, one of the small, sleek species of mackerel sharks. When he returned to the drawing board for his Sting Ray concept, he used the shark as inspiration for the car’s overall styling. By drawing on nature, rather than on trends in the industry, for inspiration, Mitchell was setting a new trend that auto designers would follow for years to come.
A Successful Shark
The 1963 Sting Ray offered the exact same performance specs as the 1962: it did 0-60 in 5.9 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.9. However, what had changed couldn’t be expressed in such simple numbers. With lower unsprung weight due to the new independent rear suspension, the car handled better. With an entirely new look, it cut a different image on the street, in the showroom and into the cerebral cortex of those struck by its beauty. The redesign improved the Corvettes effectiveness in places Chevy wanted. With sales 50% better than the 1962 Corvette, the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray was both a success and and a legend in the making.