In April 1965, a Bill Mitchell-designed concept hit the stage at the New York Auto Show. Though no one in attendance could know it at the time, this car, dubbed the Mako Shark II, would go on to predict not just the shape of the third-generation Corvette, but also an astonishing number of features that would eventually appear on other cars.
Like the original Mako Shark, which foretold the styling of the second-generation Corvette, the Mako Shark II featured lines that were said to be influenced by creatures of the deep. In recognition of this, the concept bore the same blue-fading-to-gray paint seen on the original Mako Shark concept, but that’s really where the external similarities ended. The Mako Shark II’s nose was lower and pointed to a sharper angle, while its muscular front fenders were taller and perhaps even more exaggerated. Instead of a twin-bubble roof, the Mako Shark II’s roof was nearly flat, but flowed rearward to form a boattail shape on the high rear decklid. Louvers, reminiscent of gills, shaded the rear window (and as those who drove the concept admitted, largely eliminated rear visibility), and this theme was further explored on front fender vents and on cornering lamp covers. Behind the scenes, however, there was some sleight of hand going on, as the Mako Shark II was built on a chassis liberated from a Mako Shark I show car.
Two Mako Shark II cars were ultimately constructed, and the concept that made its appearance in New York was nothing more than a rolling, non-functional show car. Its square-tube, oval-exit side exhaust was little more than window dressing, and its airplane-style square-corner steering wheel would have been less than ideal for road use. While both design elements were bold and futuristic, neither made it into the second Mako Shark II concept, a fully functional automobile that was completed in time for the 1965 Paris Auto Show.
Under the flip-forward front clip (a design that would appear on the fourth-generation Corvette, launched in 1984), the Mako Shark II played host to Chevrolet’s new 427-cu.in. Mark IV V-8 engine, mated to a three-speed Turbo HydraMatic transmission. The big-block V-8 would debut in the 1966 Corvette (as well as other products in the Chevrolet model line, like the Biscayne, Caprice and Impala), but the soon-to-be-legendary engine made its first non-race appearance between the fenders of the Mako Shark II. Other features that would later appear on rival-brand products included a pair of access hatches, mounted alongside the hood, which permitted easy access to common service items (as later seen on the 1970 Datsun 240Z), and a variable-position rear spoiler assembly that could add downforce at high speed (seen on a variety of current models, ranging from the Porsche Boxster to the Bugatti Veyron).
To allow easier access to the car’s futuristic cockpit, the car’s rear-hinged roof tilted upward at the press of a button. Once inside, the driver sat in a seat that was fixed in position; instead of the seat moving forward to accommodate drivers of different dimensions, the steering wheel tilted down and telescoped rearward. Gas and brake pedals, along with the high beam dimmer switch, were mounted on a movable platform that adjusted to fit those of various length arms. While no automaker currently uses a fixed seat design, several companies (including GM) offer electrically adjustable pedals to optimize fit for drivers of all sizes.
The Mako Shark II’s forward thinking didn't end there. Both the fuel gauge and the speedometer were digital, foreshadowing a trend that would invade the industry in the 1980s before automakers realized that, when it comes to instrumentation, simple really is better. Wherever possible, the concept’s controls were recessed to maximize occupant safety in the event of an accident, a design that would soon become prevalent throughout the industry. Certain systems were even self-diagnosing: when one of the car’s six headlamps burned out, the driver received a warning of this on the instrument panel.
In both static display and functional prototype form, the Mako Shark II was a huge hit with car show attendees on both sides of the Atlantic. “Build it,” was the overwhelming response, and GM listened; its original plan was to put the car into production as the third-generation Corvette beginning in 1967, but the car’s innovative shape produced numerous issues during testing. Despite its low nose and high tail, the car developed issues with lift at high speed, leading to handling best described as “nervous,” even for experienced test drivers. Outward visibility from the driver’s seat was another issue, as the car’s sloping hood and tall front fenders conspired to block visibility to the front left and the front right. To the rear, visibility was all but nonexistent, thanks to the aforementioned louvers that covered the rear window. Though they were variable in pitch, even in the fully open position the slats gave just partial visibility to the rear, and this was further obscured by the concept’s tall decklid.
The necessary changes couldn’t be made in time for the 1967 model year, so the introduction of the third-generation Corvette was delayed until the 1968 model year. Unlike the second-generation Corvettes, which had adopted the Sting Ray name with a space between the words, the new Corvette originally came to market sans an aquatic moniker. That would change in 1969, when the name Stingray (with no space between the words) was once again used in association with the Corvette. The third-generation Corvette, which owes its existence to Bill Mitchell’s Mako Shark II concept, would end up being the longest-running Corvette variant, lasting until the 1982 model year.
Article courtesy of Hemings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.