Who developed the 1963 Corvette Stingray?

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Answered by: David, An Expert in the History Category
Like any car, the development of the 1963 Corvette Stingray design was a complex endeavor that involved thousands of people inside and outside of Chevrolet’s parent corporation, General Motors (GM).

But ultimately, the project came down to GM’s Director of Styling, Bill Mitchell and Chevrolet Corvette Chief Engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov. And these two colorful individuals couldn’t have been more different in their ideas of what the Corvette should become in the early 1960s.Throughout the decade prior, style ruled over substance throughout the automotive industry. This fact was especially obvious in the first Corvette design, which made its debut in 1953. That original Corvette looked fast, but it was largely a collection of ordinary sedan components cloaked in a sexy, flamboyant body.

At the end of the decade, however, GM began considering a new direction for the Corvette in the ‘60s. Everyone agreed that the Corvette should balance style and performance to some degree. But differing attitudes on what exactly that balance should be fueled a seething rivalry between the two outspoken, headstrong men who were in charge of Corvette development. Mitchell was a flamboyant designer who wasn't especially interested in engineering details of the cars he shaped -- especially if such pragmatic realities interfered with the visual details of the cars he styled. And his successes in the 1950s gave him tremendous power within GM.

Directly opposing Mitchell was Duntov. Foreign born and a gifted mechanic, he had spent years among the great racing sports cars that populated Europe in the postwar era. Accordingly, his philosophy was the exact opposite of Mitchell's -- function before form.

Thus far, Mitchell had won most of the battles. But that was to change with the Corvette's first major redesign, which was set to debut for 1963. Over the first half-decade of working on the Corvette, Duntov had earned clout within the corporation, and would apply this power to making the new Corvette every bit the credible performance car he knew it could be.

The 1963 Corvette Stingray would be built around the parameters of Mitchell's stunningly attractive, sharp-edged "Stingray" shape, which first began as a private extracurricular effort by Mitchell's staff in 1959. Mitchell had supposedly financed the car largely with his own money, and had used it as his personal racing machine.

After that, it was re-employed as an attention-getter at auto shows, until Chevrolet finally decided it was time to redesign the aging first-generation Corvette. At that point they began to look more seriously at a production version of Mitchell's Stingray.

The 1963 Corvette Stingray design was undeniably beautiful. But it nonetheless ignited one of the more heated battles between Mitchell and Duntov. Mitchell had designed the car's arching back window to be split down the middle by a slender but visibility-blocking bodyline. Duntov protested vehemently against the split rear window, citing the poor rearward vision it caused. Mitchell dug in and claimed that the whole design was ruined without it.

In the end, a compromise was ordered: The split would stay for the '63 model year, but thereafter the rear window would span the width of the roof uninterrupted.

Duntov also won another key battle with GM management, thereby almost singlehandedly elevating the '63 Corvette into the realm of truly credible sporting machines. By this time, the best sports cars had independent rear suspension, which allowed each rear wheel to traverse bumps without disturbing the other wheel. It makes a car more composed over rough surfaces, therefore enabling faster driving over less-than-ideal roads.

The only trouble was that an independent rear suspension system was much more complicated, and thus more expensive to build. But Duntov persisted, coming up with an ingenious simplified design that was both effective and relatively inexpensive to mass-produce compared to those of other sports cars.

At the same time, Duntov offset the added expense of the more sophisticated rear suspension by leaving much of the drivetrain alone to carry over unchanged from the '62 'Vette. This meant 327-cubic-inch V8 engines, in power ratings ranging from 250 horsepower with a single four-barrel carburetor, to 365 horsepower with fuel injection.

The new car was a resounding success, winning the hearts of car buyers as well as the perpetually hard-to-please legions of serious automotive enthusiasts – even fussy Europeans. By the time the '63 model year had ended, Corvette sales had leaped to over 20,000, from around 14,000 the previous year.

Over the next several years, the Stingray got a steady succession of improvements, foremost among them the 1965 introduction of Chevrolet's larger, more powerful "big-block" V8 engine for 1965. Beginning with a displacement of 396 cubic inches and making a brutal 425 horsepower, the engine would soon gain a 427-cubic-inch iteration, offered in versions ranging from 390 to 435 horsepower.

For 1968, the trim, tasteful first-generation Corvette Stingray design was replaced by a wilder, more flamboyant design -- Mitchell's idea, of course.

Duntov and Mitchell continued their rivalry unabated into the next decade, an era in which rising insurance rates, increased regulation, and a faltering economy would further intensify the struggle to make Corvette the ideal balance of style and performance.

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