#0092 - Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray GM Styling Coupe by Bill Mitchell, 1964
Photographed: Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance, 2010. Owner: Don and Diane Meluzio
Rare Rays: Factory custom Vettes are supremely rare. Including auto show exercises and development cars, there are only a few for any given year. This 1964 coupe fits into the second generation Corvette story quite tidily, with the distinction of bearing side pipes one year before they became a production feature. While it is not the first to do so, it is an uncommon public release of the side pipe fitment on a basic production car.
Morphological Abnormalities: The side pipes used on Bill Mitchell's Sting Ray study are an odd cast design incomparable to the tubular composition yet to follow, though telling at least in the linear grail pattern that will define the shrouds placed overtop of the production systems. Interestingly, the pipes on the GM Styling Coupe were not functional at the car's birth, but connected later in life along with the addition of some mufflers.
Other notable deviations from stock include wire wheels by Dayton, who might not carry the weight of Borrani in the arena of classic motorcars, but have enjoyed a long, genuinely illustrious life of their own. To this end, the chance to make unlikely connections in this pursuit is one small joy among many, and browsing the Dayton site I was surprised to see a photo of our Delahaye 135 M Competition Cabriolet sitting on the lawn at Pebble Beach. I suppose that's one more historically significant automobile wearing Daytons, and one more in this collection.
Less visible in my photographs is a custom grille. At no risk of being overlooked is the Pearlescent Blue Fire Mist paint, a shade so pleasantly custom in appearance that Corvette guru Werner Meier exclaimed his displeasure upon first sight of this car, believing it to have been a foolish confection applied by some late archimime. No such worry, however, as the paint proved to be original. After many years of care and moderate use, however, Meier's shop repainted the car in its original color, and it appears in terrific shape today.
Understatement seems to be a key on many of the styling notes so far, and the theme continues if one looks to the flanks. Specifically, there's an absence of vents common to production Corvettes, with Mitchell opting for a completely smooth panel. 'Stingray' appears above the side pipe birth, however, and in what appears to be one word rather than two. Out back, triple tail lights adorn the guards, but otherwise things are relatively docile.
Note that more recent images than mine depict the car wearing blue stripe tyres, and not the amber hue we have here. I'm glad about this, because I like the contrast.
Toilet Seats & Steering Wheels: Bill Mitchell and the GM Styling Department produced this car for Ozzie Olson, benificent industrialist behind the Olsonite Eagles Indy racing team, a patron to the likes of Dan Gurney, Bobby Unser, and Denny Hulme, and also of the Olsonite Toilet Seat Company. Apparently, there is some cross-over between seats and steering wheels that allowed a measure of sponsorship on the part of an enthusiastic Olson, about whom the words 'party' and 'racing' tend to surface frequently.
Olson received a relatively tame 300 horsepower variant of the trusty 327, manned only by the 3-speed automatic, but this certainly doesn't detract from how nice the car looks. I realize it is anathema to the purpose of this collection—a sports car with an automatic—but exceptions can be made. As we know, even two of the three Scaglietti Corvettes were auto-boxes, a testament to the clientele who purchased something distinct from production line versions.
For more on the colorful life of Olson and his car, I highly recommend the source material below, in particular the first article.
Some People: They just won't get over a softened, glitzed up version of a classic they know and love. But in this case, we see a place in the Corvette design story whittled out with the subtle cues that set this coupe apart from its classmates. It is a special car of historical value not merely based on the man who purchased it, or the collectors who've owned it since, but more precisely because of where it came from. It's the Bill Mitchell touch, and the visualization of how GM was thinking as the years ticked by and America's sports car matured along its peak trajectory.
This might not make Olson's one-off the superlative example, but it definitely makes it a superlative encounter.
Corvette Fever: Their article on our '64 GM Styling Coupe is available online.
Terry Michaelis: Corvette scholarship, including this piece on our GM Styling Coupe.
ProTeam Corvette: Brokers of this particular car, still represented online here.
Olsonite Eagle: With an unexpectedly thorough look at Olson's biography, automotive infatuation, and his 1970 AAR Cuda.
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