1961 Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark
The Mako Shark Corvette was conceived and designed by Larry Shinoda under the direction of Bill Mitchell to provide GM’s VP of Design with a one-off concept/prototype intended to pre-showcase the as-yet-unreleased second-generation Corvette Sting Ray. Mitchell greenlit the XP-755 project in 1961 because he did not want to wait another two years to experience the new Sting Ray for himself. Instead, he had the clout within GM to create a concept car that showcased much of the technology that would be introduced with the second-generation Corvette.
Larry Shinoda, one of Mitchell’s favorite designers, designed the Shark from his earlier XP-720 model and the original XP-87 race car. The Mako Shark I incorporated a number of elements from the XP-720 concept, which had been previously designed by Shinoda as a styling study for the second-generation Sting Ray. New to the Mako Shark was a “double-bubble” canopy that had been developed for another Corvette concept – the XP-700.
Rumor has it that Mitchell found inspiration for his XP-755 Corvette while on a deep-sea fishing trip in the Bahamas. Mitchell had caught a Mako Shark on that trip and was instantly inspired by the shark’s agility in the water as well as its sleek profile. He saw the shark as the perfect motif for the car and, upon his return to Detroit, instructed Shinoda to use the shark as a source of design inspiration when designing the car.
Working in conjunction with Shinoda, the pair set about designing the car and by April 1961, they’d developed a full-scale clay model of the Mako Shark that checked all of Bill Mitchell’s design requirements. Construction of a fiberglass body was started shortly thereafter.
While the body of the Mako Shark incorporated design elements that were akin to the second-generation Sting Ray, the car was designed to pair to the chassis of a 1961 Corvette. Still, the car looked virtually nothing like its first-generation brethren. The car was more sleek, streamlined, with a signature front end that looked remarkably like the shark that inspired it. Its backend featured a short, upturned “ducktail” that would be formally introduced on the Chevy Corvette on the 1961 model. The car featured concealed headlights out front and two pairs of three round taillights in the rear.
Also in the rear was a unique turn signal system that utilized concealed lights that were exposed via a pair of panels. When these panels opened, they’d reflect a light that was hidden inside the rear body assembly. The light would reflect off a mirror mounted to the underside of the panel. During normal operation, only one or the other of these panels would normally open, usually in conjunction with the actuation of the car’s turn signal. However, during harsh braking, both would open simultaneously and essentially produce one of the earliest the very first rear brake lights.
Continuing with the shark motif, the Mako Shark was painted a deep, iridescent blue that transitioned to an off-white along the lower edge of the. The unique paint job enhanced the overall aesthetic, as did the chrome side pipes and bright aluminum muffler that looked more akin to fins than exhaust hardware. A supercharged 327 cubic-inch V8 engine was installed beneath the Shark’s hood. Assembled by Harley Earl’s personal mechanic, the engine featured a custom-fitted blower, a two-inch aluminum manifold, and four side-draft carburetors.
The 1961 XP-755 Mako Shark made its unofficial debut on June 18, 1961 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The crowd’s reaction to the car was sensational. While the crowd clamored for more, Mitchell allow the car to run just a single lap around the track before tucking it back away. Despite the outpouring of fan interest, the Corvette did not make another appearance until April 1962, and this time as part of the Chevrolet display at the New York Auto Show.
After completing its tenure on the auto show circuit, the Mako Shark served as Bill Mitchell’s personal vehicle. Today, the 1961 Mako Shark lives and resides at the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
If you would like to know a whole lot more about this Corvette and other concepts like it, I’d like to encourage you to check out my upcoming book: “Corvette Concept Cars: Developing America’s Favorite Sports Car.” The book provides an intimate look at many of the Corvette’s concept cars from both yesterday and today, including a lot more information on the Mako Shark I. You can pre-order the book by clicking here. The book will be officially released on May 15, 2022 by Cartech Publishing and will be available wherever books are sold.
MAN O’ MAN, my first love of Corvettes