The History of America’s sports car is no doubt a colorful one. Now, nearly 70 years in the making, the Corvette is in its 8th generation of production and is among the most potent of performance cars currently available. However, this distinction did not come by happenstance. On the contrary, the Corvette’s continual evolution stands as a collective of thoughts, ideas, and opinions from some of the most brilliant minds in the history of automotive design.
The following are 5 of the most influential figures in Corvette design history.
Without Harley Earl, there would be no Corvette. Toward the latter days of Harley Earl’s illustrious career, the famed designer set out to create his vision of the quintessential American sports car. Originally dubbed prototype EX-122, the Corvette came as a product from Earl’s now-legendary Project Opal. The Corvette would eventually make its debut on January 12, 1953, at GM’s Motorama in New York City, to a significant degree of fanfare. As a result, Earl’s creation was greenlighted for immediate production.
Harley Earl would go on to play an integral role in early Corvette design during the car’s infancy, before retiring in 1958. Though others have undoubtedly played a larger role in the Corvette’s rise to success, Earl provided future engineers and designers with a starting point from which to base their efforts.
Bill Mitchell, made a career out of pioneering countless designs that were as distinct and over the top, as his own personality. Mitchell, who served as GM Styling Vice President from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, was known for his innate sense of creativity, and natural ability to identify with consumer interests. This top-notch styling prowess is perhaps best illustrated through Mitchell’s contributions to the design of the C2 and C3 Corvette.
When visiting the Turin Auto Show in Italy, Mitchell began toying with the idea of a new racing concept, which would eventually become the Sting Ray Racer. This experimental racer would not only find success on the track, but would serve as the precursor to the Mako Shark, and the eventual C2 Corvette to follow. Many of the Sting Ray Racer’s design cues would make their way into production, most notably its pronounced fenders and sweeping rear end.
Known the world over as “The Godfather of the Corvette”, Zora Arkus-Duntov is likely responsible for saving the Corvette from an untimely demise after only three years of production. After having joined the Chevrolet engineering team just a year prior, Duntov penned a memo titled “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders, and Chevrolet,” to Chevrolet Chief Engineer Ed Cole. This memo would outline the perceived virtues of bolstering the Corvette’s performance to meet the demands of young consumers, and would serve as the ultimate catalyst toward future offerings of a V8 power plant.
However, Duntov’s contributions to the Corvette line did not end there. Throughout his prestigious career, Duntov would work tirelessly to push Corvette performance to new heights, and would even set the stage for the preliminary mid-engine research efforts.
During the Corvette’s second and third generations, Larry Shinoda served as Bill Mitchell’s go-to designer. In more instances than one, Mitchell would run an idea by Shinoda, task the young engineer with heading up subsequent design efforts, and watch as Shinoda transformed his idea into a masterful work of art. The result of these efforts yielded some of the era’s most iconic Corvette creations, many of which are still highly revered today.
Shinoda would lend his talent to the design of numerous high-profile concepts throughout his tenure with General Motors, including the Sting Ray Racer, CERV prototypes, and Astro series show cars. However, Shinoda is perhaps best known for his work related to the Mako Shark and Mako Shark II concepts, which would heavily influence the design of the C3 Corvette.
Upon Arkus-Duntov’s 1975 retirement, Dave McLellan was offered the title of Corvette Chief Engineer. While this job is nothing short of prestigious on the highest level, the era in which McLellan took the helm was a troubling one, to say the least. At the time, ever-tightening emissions standards had watered the Corvette’s performance down to an anemic level, and the U.S. performance market was in the midst of a nosedive, following an oil crisis just a few years prior.
However, McLellan seemed largely unphased by the bulk of such concerns, as he righted the ship, and steered the Corvette out of a world of uncertainty. In the years that followed, McLellan oversaw the C4’s design and release, helping pioneer such groundbreaking technology as ABS, traction control, and passive keyless entry. McLellan also worked diligently to restore the Corvette’s performance prowess and was vital in Chevrolet’s return to competitive racing.
Much like Dave McLellan before him, Dave Hill had no easy road ahead of him when taking the reins as the Corvette Chie
f Engineer in 1992. While the Corvette’s fourth generation had been deemed a moderate success, there was still much to be done if America’s sports car hoped to regain its pre-1970s vigor. However, Hill was undaunted, and had set out to reestablish the Corvette’s dominance within the performance market.
Under Hill’s watch, the C5 Corvette would be released to tremendous fanfare, and would be followed shortly thereafter by the unveiling of the C5 Z06. Not one to leave well enough alone, Hill immediately began drafting plans for the Corvette’s sixth iteration. During his design efforts, Hill worked closely with the Corvette Racing team, in order to design, test, and refine various aspects of the upcoming sixth-generation Corvette. Ultimately, the 400 HP C6 Corvette was released for the 2005 model year, to an overwhelmingly favorable response.