My Car Quest

May 16, 2022

Concept Cars: 1965 Corvette Mako Shark

Retrospectively, admittedly it was wretched excess but at least two features are on cars today…

by Wallace Wyss-

It was a coupe, with a fastback side profile but with a “tunnel back” rear window like a Ferrari 250LM with a rear hinged lift up roof (though I couldn’t see how you removed it or where you stored it). The car was named after a Mako shark Bill Mitchell (head of GM design) had caught in Bimini. He had the shark stuffed and shipped home where it adorned his office wall. The wall shark’s natural gradient density color, which went from dark blue to white was reproduced in the show car. The legend is that every time the show car was painted Mitchell would grouse his minions had once again failed to reproduce the shark’s color so the legend is that a team of disgusted designers stole the stuffed shark and repainted it with the show car’s paint and reinstalled it and Mitchell was finally satisfied.

Corvette Mako Shark

The headlights were non legal, maybe adapted from European lights. The taillights were round as on production Stingrays. One of the versions had a louvered rear window but since Ford put those into production on the Boss 302 Mustang Mitchell didn’t want to be seen promising what Ford already delivered so those got dropped from the later version.

Corvette Mako Shark

The side pipes in the initial version were a very sophisticated concept compared to Shelby’s industrial stove pipe approach in the 427 Competition Cobra. In the Mako, there was some horizontal chrome trim on the pipes. Not sure if the pipes functioned. On looking back those side pipes somewhat copied the 1963 Iso Grifo show car, the one that Giugiaro designed for Bertone.

Corvette Mako Shark

The interior was very airplane like as Mitchell, during WWII, was involved in airplane interiors. The interior of the first version saw a controversial half a steering wheel (yoke?) which Tesla now offers in the Model S and X. It is reminiscent of what pilots use to steer an airplane. (Consumer Reports hates it…)

The grooved top hood hump was used on various production Chevrolets, always on the hi-po version. The front hood’s flush deck hot air vents were later copied by Pininfarina on the ’71 Ferrari 365GTC/4, one of the few times Italy copied Detroit.

There was an updated version of the Mako later which moved the gauges around, but always the tach and speedometer were on the driver’s side. They reverted to a round steering wheel. A lot of switches were on the center console. The car had his signature rugs which incorporated a metal grid (I think to shed the mud that pervades Michigan).

Zora Arkus-Duntov, the Russian born engineer in charge of the Corvette’s mechanical evolution, was said to have opposed the design at first and his criticisms of its poorer features saw correction on the production ’68 Corvette, as the Mako’s fenders were lowered in the production car, the whole hood line made higher. But alas, the unique side pipes were not used in the production car, nor were the trick headlights, nor the Shark II’s deployable rear spoiler.

But that’s what “dream cars” are for–to parade a proposed design with this and that feature and, depending on public and press reaction, some won’t make the cut to the final production car. Presenting a show car at an auto show for the first time is a little like presenting a preview of a “rough cut” at a movie studio (I’ve been to one of those too, but that’s another story).

I had a ride in the Mako in the second half of the ’60s when my ol’ chum Bill called. Bill Mitchell was in charge of styling at GM and was always looking for journalists to recruit to the cause. All a-twitter, I high-tailed it out to the Tech center in Warren, MI.

My ride was delayed to recharge the car because, after it rose up into view in an elevator from the Bat Cave, Mitchell demonstrated all the features without the engine running and that demo wore down the battery. Mr. Mitchell then took me for a hair raising ride in it on a tiny test track they had at the Styling Center (later called Design center as “styling” sounded too frou-frou).

Corvette Mako Shark

I didn’t pay much attention to the restyling–let’s just say everything in the Mako II was exaggerated from the Mako Shark I, almost embarrassingly so, Marilyn Monroe segueing into Diana Dors so to speak. This time the fancy side pipes were gone in favor of rectangular tipped ones up the backside and there was a retractable rear spoiler, predicting the day far off in the future when spoilers would deploy only when you needed them. It might have had revolving license plates as if to surmise pursuing police wouldn’t recognize it if the plates changed. (I bet Mitchell and the Warren, MI police were on a first name basis…).

The last version was the Manta Ray and that had even more exaggerated features, like an old movie star that keeps piling on the make-up to recover her old look. Since customizer Dean Jeffries had used the name in his still modern looking Maserati-based bubble topped show car Mitchell invited him out to the Tech Center and wheedled the use of the name out of him for his third version of the Mako. (I’m not sure at that point who knew more about styling, Jeffries or Mitchell..).

Corvette Mako Shark

That last version is in a Museum though not sure if it’s the museum at the Tech Center or the Corvette Museum–it no doubt rotates between the two. I ended up buying a ’69 Corvette and enjoying it even though it didn’t have all the bells and whistles of the Makos. Though I’m now rediscovering the subtleties of minimalism, I still like to reminisce on old Detroit “dream cars” built back when I admit I could still be seduced by the automotive equivalent of a rag, a bone and a hank of hair…

About the photos. In one of the incarnations there was no side exhaust just a chrome panel where the rocker panel once was. In another version the full length rocker panel side exhaust had full length grooves. A similar exhaust was offered on production ’68s but in Michigan where I lived they could get you a ticket.

In the rear deck you see little trapdoors. They were Mitchell’s idea for emergency brake lights. When you hit the brakes extra hard they flipped up revealing mirrored inner surfaces reflecting two brake lights per side facing up. As far as I know, no car company adopted them.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss reports he is deep into a rough draft of a book entitled How Tesla Killed Detroit.

 
 
 

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Summary
Concept Cars: 1965 Corvette Mako Shark
Article Name
Concept Cars: 1965 Corvette Mako Shark
Description
I had a ride in the Mako Shark in the second half of the '60s when my ol' chum Bill Mitchell called. He was in charge of styling at GM and was always looking for journalists to recruit to the cause.
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Comments

  1. Rob Krantz says

    Neat story and amazing you got to ride in one with Bill Mitchell. Our next door neighbor in Fairport, NY (near Rochester) bought a ‘68 Stingray brand new. It was dark green. As a car crazy 12 year old, I just about went out of my mind with excitement when I first saw it. A huge fan of the mid year Corvettes but the 1968 Vette was something else and so futuristic! The Mako Shark show cars are really incredible and thanks for the interesting write up about your first hand experience Wallace.

  2. Geoffrey Horton says

    Great article. Thanks

  3. The Mako Shark and the Manta Ray both the stuff of dreams and only helped fuel the fire for the C-3 Corvette which in my opinion was about as close to being able to go and purchase a concept car as you could get… I know that there are those that don’t completely appreciate the C3’s but I still have a soft spot for them. Great story I had forgotten about the story of the shark getting repainted in car colors… I love that you included that in the story.
    Still some of my favorite of the GM dream cars… totally still the stuff of dreams…

  4. Robb Northrup says

    The photo of the Mako Shark II with the side pipes is actually Peter Boehi’s car from Switzerland. He recreated the original Maka Shark styling buck when he built his “replica.” based on patent drawings he found online.

    The Mako Shark II still gives me the tingles!

  5. WALLACE WYSS says

    I had a feeling at least one pictured was a replica. There was even a kit available in the US.
    In a way the copies are tributes to the original. I think the original cost at least a million to build, even way back in the early ’60s so making a replica was not cheap. The open Stingray roadster prototype done earlier was easier to copy because it had no roof.

  6. Manta Ray is at GM Heritage Center, a few miles north of GM Tech Center. I took the picture attached on January 2020.
    Link for this car page on Heritage’s website is below.

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