The old adage, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan,” could well have been coined for this week’s subject. Immediately embraced by everyone but sports car purists and Ford accountants, it remains among the most beloved (and most coveted) of all American cars. In the wake of its success, nearly everyone involved with its conception claimed credit for it, slighting each other and playing up their own contributions. This week, we try to sort out the origins of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.
For more than 50 years, the Chevrolet Corvette has represented a curious paradox for General Motors. The product of GM’s humblest division, it has frequently been among the corporation’s most expensive cars. Designed and engineered largely outside of the normal GM system, it has often been hamstrung by corporate politics. Despite that, it remains the car that the company’s stylists most want to design, its engineers most want to develop, and its workers take the most pride in building. It is a vision of GM as it could be. This week, we look at the model that would set the standard for all future Corvette generations: the Corvette C2, the justly legendary 1963-1967 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.
When the original Chevrolet Corvette was introduced in 1953, it was a somewhat Pyrrhic effort to create something approximating a Jaguar XK120 using a fiberglass body and a lot of off-the-shelf passenger-car parts. It had neither scorching performance nor roll-up side windows and it sold poorly. It was nearly canceled in 1955 before salvation arrived in the form of Chevy’s new V8 engine, which gave its performance a much-needed shot in the arm. The Corvette also acquired a new chief engineer, a bright and mercurial Russian immigrant named Zora Arkus-Duntov, who did his level best to make it into a genuine sports car.
In 1958, legendary styling chief Harley Earl retired and his longtime deputy, Bill Mitchell, took over GM’s styling department. Mitchell was a car guy, fond of sporting iron and motorcycles. He loved the Corvette, although his vision for what it should be was sharply removed from Duntov’s notions of serious performance. The battle of wills between these two men in the normally stratified and reactionary corporate culture of General Motors would produce many clashes before both Duntov and Mitchell retired in the 1970s, but it also produced the classic Sting Ray and the fearsome third-generation Corvette, known to its fans as simply “C3” — a car of immodest looks and immodest performance. This car: