To millions of gearheads, the name “Stingray” is almost sacred. You could write a book on the history of the Corvette (and plenty of people have), dating back to the original plastic fantastic model from 1953, but to legions of fans, the Corvette didn’t truly earn its stripes until the second-generation Stingray debuted in 1963. The name has become shorthand for the the golden age of performance in America, all big block V8s, red line tires, and space-age design. The original Stingray may have had the shortest lifespan of any Corvette — just five model years — but its legacy is felt more than half a century later in the current Corvette, considered by many to be the best of the breed.
The ’53-’62 ‘Vettes had a difficult gestation period, with early cars suffering from uneven build quality (largely due to use of a new material called fiberglass) and a woefully inadequate inline six pared to a two-speed automatic transmission. The 1955 car benefited from an overhead valve V8 and standard three-speed manual, and the ’57s had the optional (and now legendary) fuel injected V8, but from ’58 to ’60, the car became weighed down with heavy chrome flourishes, and despite a significant refresh for ’61-’62, the car was beginning to show its age.
But the genesis of the Stingray began much further back as early as 1957, with the new model slated to arrive for the 1960 model year. Chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov and his staff began work on the “Q-Corvette,” a smaller, lighter model with cutting-edge features like a rear-mounted transaxle (for better weight distribution), independent rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and a sleek coupe body penned by a 21-year-old stylist named Pete Brock, who would go on to design the Shelby Daytona Coupe. Then, the development of the Stingray split: During the the recession of 1957, GM brass killed the expensive program much to the dismay of styling director Bill Mitchell, who bought the car, and with covert help from a crew of GM engineers, turned the Q-Corvette into an SCCA racer, the 1959 Sting Ray Corvette.
While Mitchell was off winning races, Arkus-Duntov and his team had moved on to build the mid-engined CERV (Chevrolet Experimental Racing Vehicle), an engineering concept designed to showcase his innovations developed for the Q-Corvette, and make them more palatable for the men holding the purse strings. In 1961, Mitchell ordered a young designer named Larry Shinoda (who would go on to design the 1970-’73 Ford Mustang) to improve on Brock’s design for a production version, and in 1960, the next-generation Corvette was given the green light by GM.