Most car writers, writing about something from
a half century ago, have to go on what historians said previously.
So when Karl Ludvigsen, arguably one of the best auto historians,
said in his new revised history Corvette: America's Star Spangled
Sports Car that the GM show car, the Shark, was designed on
a 1961 Corvette chassis, I went along with it.
But then I remembered back when visiting GM sometime between 1962 and ’66, Bill Mitchell himself took me for a ride in the Shark and mentioned that they built it atop a former show car so they could re-use the handmade bubble top and windshield. "It would be a shame to waste that handbuilt brass frame" he had said.
I say that former show car the Shark was built on was the XP-700.
Now the XP-700 has an interesting history. When it was built for
Bill Mitchell, it was Mitchell’s own custom toy, and Mitchell was not
yet VP in charge of Styling. He was still working for the legendary
Harley Earl. So that first car was purposefully built to separate him
from the rest of the designers. And you have to admit in its first
form, it was built only to please him and had a few “rough edges” you
For one thing it was fire engine red, too loud a color for Earl. And
it didn’t have enough chrome on it. As everybody knows, Earl was the
Champion of Chrome, the King of Bling.
Now Earl evidently didn't mind that Mitchell
used the car to give the public an advance peek at the upswept
“duck’s tail” of the upcoming 1961 Corvette. But there was
nothing Corvette-ish about the elliptical grille cavity, which
was more or less stolen from that of a one-off Pininfarina-designed
The headlights were European probably from Lucas, the popular
The wheels were wire wheels, real wire wheels but probably bolt-on
with lug nuts with the knock offs only simulated. Daytona wire wheels
was GM Styling’s favorite supplier.
When the XP-700 was “accepted” or “brought in house” by Earl, it was
slicked up, refined, and a little more chrome added in front/ It was
also reupholstered, a much fancier interior color matched to the
exterior installed and generally
brought up to GM show car level. Anybody who had seen the 1957 SS race
car knew that Earl had very high standards of show car quality.
One thing added once it was an official GM show car was an under
tray air scoop, which in a race car
would have been used for the oil cooler. Earl was an airplane nut and
scoops, air extractor vents. Even
the tailfins of the Cadillac were said to have been brought to GM
by his love affair with the P-38 fighter plane.
When Mitchell had the show car as his own, there was no double bubble
top. That was added
once Earl approved of it as a show car. So that went on in October of
1959. It had an aluminized metallic coating inside to cut the
strength of the sun and in the center was a tank periscope adapted to
civilian use so to
The color of the XP-700 chosen by Earl was a metallic gold that almost
looks like gold and silver combined.
The tail was also lengthened a bit under the Earl redesign. The car
made its debut in April, 1960, at the 4th International Automobile
Show in New York.
The design for the aerodynamic 1963 Sting Ray was already hardened
when GM decided to do a show car to give the public an advance look.
So in ’62 they unveiled the XP-755 Shark. Larry Shinoda’s name is all
over the drawings. Basically it was a preview of the ’63 Corvette
convertible shape with the XP-700 roof added.
The designing of the Shark went on in 1961. Mitchell really wanted
that bubble top even though it was a pain to drive in the hot muggy
The Shark existed for several years as the Shark, then got a redesign
somewhere along the way. In the original
version, it had louvers in the hood, theromostatically-controlled to
flip open when it got too hot, like some prewar cars had. But later it
got a big hump on the hood for a supercharger so the little doors were
eliminated. When it was redesigned the double bubble roof disappeared.
It also got a completely different interior when it was decided to
make it an open car only. The black crackle no-nonsense dash was gone
and in its place was the present dashboard which has a cluster of
gauges in the center, similar to those in the Facel II luxury car form
France (and emulated more recently by one model of Bentley
Continental). A dubious choice in the redesign is the choice of faux
wood slathered over the dash, reminiscent of cheap fake wood linoleum
found at Home Depot.
And when I had a ride in the bubble-topped Shark out at the GM Tech
Center in Warren, MI, Mitchell proudly showed me the wood rimmed
polished aluminum spoke Ferrari steering wheel (probably a Nardi
wheel), given to him by Enzo
Ferrari. Somehow management got that prancing horse artifact out of
the Corvette show car later on.
Mitchell was a gadget geak extraordinaire. He proudly showed me
the pop-up brake flaps on the rear deck, the insides of which were
mirrored panels which reflected brake lights facing straight up. You
could say these were CHMSL brake lamps decades before they were
There was also some re-writing of history when
the Shark was redesigned to open car only. Because the Mako Shark
II had been introduced, some reporters asked “Well, is the Shark
the Mako Shark I?” so it was so re-dubbed the Mako Shark I,
to make history seem chronologically correct.
I maintain that the XP-700 was “swallowed up” by the Shark and
became the Shark and that’s why you never see the two pictured side
by side. I thought I saw a publicity picture of Mitchell on a banked
surface of a racetrack standing between the two cars but I have never
found that same picture again, so now am convinced I imagined it and
that only one car was built, the Shark atop the XP-700 which
Ludvigsen doesn’t mention in his discussion of
the Shark’s genesis. You would have to show me a Special Order memo
ordering the XP-700 to be destroyed in order to convince me they were
two separate cars on two different chassis.
I kind of miss the fact the XP-700 wasn’t kept around, if only as
a monument to ambition--how one designer spiffed up his image with his
very own custom so that, when it came time to choose a successor, Earl
had no one to choose from that exemplified his showmanship better than
his own protégé, William L. Mitchell...