My Car Quest

April 26, 2018

The 1961 Mako Shark I Concept Car: My Memorable Ride…

by Wallace Wyss –

Back in the day, the early 60s, I was a pool boy. So one day I’m doing this pool in Birmingham, Michigan and the owner of the house pulls up in a Corvair experimental car, a mid engined one.

That got my attention. Next time he’s got the Corvette Mako Shark and then the time after that some other candy apple colored show car.

Corvette Mako Shark

Turns out the man of the house was Bill Mitchell, GM’s VP in charge of styling (as they called it then before “styling” became too flippant a word), Harley Earl’s chosen successor. He liked to drive what we called “dream cars” back then to and from work, work being at the GM Styling Center about five miles to the East.

Eventually we got to talking and he invited me to the Tech Center. He took me for a ride in the XP 755 Shark. This was a controversial car years later because the story got out that in trying to duplicate on the car the “fadeaway” blue-into-white theme of the real shark Mitchell had stuffed on his wall Mitchell kept bitching they were missing the mark. So the stylists supposedly stole the shark and painted that the color of the car and ended that controversy.

Corvette Mako Shark

The nose was rather high originally and the headlights were not flip up as the later Sting Ray

I really loved the Shark because it had such a sharp edged beltline. Predicting the ’63 Stingray to come. And I liked those flip out door handles (I know now he copied those from the Mercedes gullwing) and side pipes, particularly the chrome bits.

And the twin bubble top. Mitchell, like Earl before him, thought aeroplanes were the cat’s pajamas and incorporated as many aircraft gimmicks as he could into show cars. The bubble top was made the same way the bubble canopies of jet fighters were. He even had some kind of tinted mirrored material sprayed inside so you wouldn’t fry like an egg in the Michigan summer heat.

Corvette Mako Shark

When I had a ride it still had the old dashboard, lots of gauges and a wood roomed steering wheel with a Ferrari badge that he said Enzo Ferrari gave to him.

Later on, when the car was re-done it got a dashboard with lots of wood which I can pretty well verify was copied by some Bentleys decades later, the six gauge cluster in the center, two rows of three gauges each. The Ferrari wheel disappeared in the re-do.

Another aircraft gimmick was the little doors in the rear deck that were like mini-air brakes but actually they flipped up when you hit the brakes really hard and there were extra brake lights pointed up that reflected off the mirrored inside of the flaps so the car would go from six taillights to ten.

Corvette Mako Shark

The second interior

Back in those days only the head designer posed for publicity pictures with the car but since Larry Shinoda, his favorite designer, smuggled out lots of drawings, it became known that he designed it. Shinoda had a been a west coast hot rodder before he was hired so loved outside pipes, mag wheels and other hot rod stuff.

When he took me for a ride, Mitchell goosed it around the tiny test track at the Styling Center and I was thrilled. I bought a Corvette later on, but of course it wasn’t as unique as this prototype which still belongs to GM.

One of the odd things about the Mako Shark is its close resemblance to the XP-700 before it. In another article in My Car Quest I go into my theory that this car is the XP700 rebodied.

I don’t live in Detroit now so can’t tell you if high level executives still drive around prototype cars today like they did in the Fifties and Sixties (Virgil Exner of Chrysler was famous for that as well). I hope they do because it’s more fun to see a prototype when it’s on the road, not held captive on a revolving stage.

If you’re a nut for seeing the car driven, look up an old Route 66 episode that aired in October 1961.

Later on it was succeeeded by the Mako Shark II in which case the original Mako was re-dubbed the Mako Shark I and lost the bubble top.

I miss ol’ Bill Mitchell now, not many auto executives seem to have the chutzpah he did, making waves and all that. I think cars have more flavor when the head cook is a real character. Maybe that’s just me…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

 
 
 
THE AUTHOR/ARTIST: Wyss has completed a painting of the Mako Shark I. For information on availability, write Photojournalistpro2@gmail.com.

 
 
 
 

 
 

 

 

Corvette Mako Shark by Wallace Wyss

Corvette Mako Shark by Wallace Wyss – Art For Sale

Summary
The 1961 Mako Shark I Concept Car: My Memorable Ride...
Article Name
The 1961 Mako Shark I Concept Car: My Memorable Ride...
Description
The head of GM styling, Bill Mitchell, takes our author for a ride in the Corvette mako Shark.
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Comments

  1. Rob Krantz says:

    Great story! Must have been an amazing experience to have Bill Mitchell himself take the time to give a young man such an experience, particularly being able to drive in a concept car and specifically the XP 755. Absolutely cool! Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Franck chevalier says:

    Iso griffo vibes as well

  3. Bob Wachtel says:

    Wallace, That’s a great story. Keep up the good work. I wish I had a neighbor like you. We’d talk about cars all the time including the ones we had and the ones we let slip by. By the way, did you ever see the Fitch Phoenix? It was built by a John Fitch and after his passing was sold to Bill Mallory, an owner of several hotels in Connecticut. The car runs on a Corvair chassis and looks like a scaled-down 1968 Corvette with Corvair power. I saw it a few times at Lime Rock Park out where I live. Another car he worked on was the Fitch Phantom, a modified Oldsmobile Toronado.This guy led an exciting life as a pilot, race car driver and inventor. He raced with the best.

  4. David R North says:

    Good story about WLM . Bill was a man of contrasts,people eather hated or admired him.
    I not only worked for him ,both at GM and on the outside , but really got to know him at races,and other
    Events a way. From work. Confided in me that he really just wanted to be an artist like he started out as
    A kid in New York. Really loved cars &motorcycles. Had an ability to bring out the best in you, great guy.

  5. wallace wyss says:

    The one thing that sticks in my mind–when we were in his knotty pine walled “den” and keepsake room –he had several glass cases containing memorabilia from race drivers killed at the wheel, a bloody helmet and so forth. I thought, if you were a racer who had just crashed your car, the last thing you would want to see is ol’ Bill, vaulting the wall, and running toward you to get a souvenir…

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