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Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Mako Shark Meets A Real Mako Shark In Atlanta


By Miguel Caparros 
Oceans & Autos Classic Car Show. Maintaining the aquarium is a very expensive proposition, specially the largest aquarium that is located 200 miles from the ocean. The 2nd annual fund raiser was slightly smaller than the first but more than made up with quality. Rick Fairbanks organizer of the event was successful in getting Chevrolet to send one of their most famous show cars out of their collection, The Corvette Mako Shark. There is much bad information on the net about who designed the 1963 Sting Ray. Let us put it to rest here! Peter Brock was the designer of the 1957 Sting Ray, that is right, 1957.  He was the youngest designer at GM at the time. Bill Mitchell, Vice President of GM styling and Larry Shinoda mentored the youngster, but it was Peter who designed the iconic shape of the Corvette.  Installed on the chassis of the SS XP64 Corvette Endurance racer of 1956, Yes Matilda that is correct, Chevrolet wanted to race directly against the Europeans at Sebring. The car was never sorted out and it broke after 23 laps of the 1957 Running of the 12 hours of Sebring. Right at about the same time GM management thought it would be a good thing to ban the Corporation from racing. So Bill Mitchel who was an accomplished amateur racer snag the SS Chassis, and in secret put the young Peter Brock to create and build a revolutionary body for the finest GM technology hidden under what would become the shape of the 1963 Sting Ray. Now I will get off my Peter Brock Pulpit (your welcomed Peter). Yes Larry Shinoda gets credit for the Mako Shark show car. Based on a 1961 Corvette it definitely created a stir about what the next Corvette would look like.  By the time the time the Mako Shark hit the show circuit the production designs for the Sting Ray were already done. Where the Sting Ray race car was just that, the Mako Shark was actually something people could touch and feel and it had an actual interior. The original incarnation of the Mako Shark was all silver and had a clear twin bubble top, one of Bill Mitchell's favorite elements that he considered the future. Bill Mitchell wanted to freshen up the Mako Shark for 1967 and as the story goes, He ordered the paint department to paint the car to match the Marlin hanging on his office door. The rejuvenated Mako Shark and the Mako II gave hints of the upcoming release of the 1968 Corvette.
One of the rare cars that made its appearance at the Aquarium is one that is near to my heart as my father had the identical car new in 1955. Studebaker emerged from WWII and was not able to get up and running and share in the post war boom. Although ahead of GM, Ford and Chrysler in producing modern trend setting designs and beating every one of its competitors to produce the first Modern over head valve V8, Studebaker faced a price war between GM and Ford with the highest cost in the industry. The Studebaker brand goes all the way back to 1852 and was originally a producer of wagons for farmers, miners, the military and the famous Conestoga wagon that settled the west. They first produced electric cars in 1902 and then gas powered in 1904. By the time 1955 came about Studebaker was in financial trouble, The Raymond Lowey designed cars of 1953 were low aerodynamic and looked way into the future of the automobile. But they faced a price disadvantage due to the fore mentioned price war. The President line was Studebaker's top of the line and the Speedsters was the trend leader that created a personal luxury American sports coupe. With unique trim and sports car like turned metal dash, the Speedster came fully equip with almost every "option" installed. It looked like a factory built custom car that sat lower and looked wider than its competitors offerring.
Although by 1955 Buick, Olds and Ford had V8's of over 300 cubic inches the Studebaker 232 V8combined with lighter weight and superior aerodynamics could more than keep up on the street and run away and hide in the open road. The Speedster was a one year only model and only 2,215 cars were built. Yet what this car did was set the sporty direction that Studebaker would take, first with the Hawk series and then with the Avanti and the Lark Daytona all who were derivatives of the speedster.
My connection with the speedster goes back to 1955 when my father was replacing his 1951 Fordyllac which had become a bit long in the tooth and was no competition for the factory supported teams from Buick and Mercury in the over the road races such as the Carrera Panamericana. Even giving away 100 cubic inches of engine displacement to its rivals, my father and Studebaker figured that the lighter weight, lower center of gravity and the ability to push less air at speed would be enough to make the Speedster competitive. Almost! Even with factory support it is difficult to beat the odds of superior numbers. Where there was one Studebaker there were 5 factory Buick's and an equal number of Mercury's. Dads Speedster led in many stages and was always a contender but the nature of road racing over secondary and dirt roads means things do break and tires do go flat. The Carrera was cancelled in 1955 but the races went on in other parts of Central America and the Caribbean and specifically in Cuba. in an era where the top speed of most fast cars barely went 120 miles per hour, in one stage the Speedster was clocked at 163 MPH. In today's recreation of the Carrera the stock car of choice is the Studebaker Coupe of 1953-1955, real Speedsters are too rare and expensive.

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