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1963 Chevrolet Corvette 4-Seater Sting Ray - XP-796, “The Only Four-Seat Factory Sting Ray”

The Illustrated Corvette Designer Series No. 203 -

K. Scott Teeters Mar 21, 2014
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Designing cars can be challenging, rewarding...and frustrating. What should be nonstop fun often is not, due to conflicting opinions and unwanted external kibitzing. That's why design teams are sequestered away, so they can work with minimal interference. Even so, when someone with organizational clout opines, "We should do a...," the whole process can end up back on the drawing board.

Serious work on the '63 Sting Ray began in January 1960, under the code name XP-720. Design-wise, the car was to be a blend of the '57 Q-Corvette and Bill Mitchell's '59 Stingray Racer. On April 4, 1960, management approved lead stylist Larry Shinoda's fullsize clay model. Thus began the arduous task of working out every bump, curve, and detail of the new Corvette. Soon after, Duntov and his staff started engineering work on the car. From there, the process was pretty much "business as usual"—at first.

Meanwhile, Ed Cole was enjoying being Chevrolet's general manager. Cole was a superstar at GM, having forged his career in the engineering ranks of Cadillac, where he co-developed the '49 V-8 model. In 1952 he was promoted to chief engineer at Chevrolet, a position from which he headed the R&D work on the Cadillac-based small-block Chevy. His reward for that successful project was the general-manager spot at the company's top-selling brand, a job he held from 1956 to 1962.

The Illustrated Corvette Designer Series No 203 XP 796 Right Side View Hp 2/3

As the top man at Chevrolet, Cole had to keep abreast of the competition. There was a lingering comparison between the Corvette and the Thunderbird, even though Ford had abandoned the two-seat platform after 1957. By sales volume, the '55-'57 T-Bird was far more successful than the Corvette, and by 1960 it was selling more than three times as many cars as it did during its best years as a two-seater.

In mid-1961, Cole suggested that the Corvette team look into a four-seat Sting Ray to compete with its Ford rival. Had Cole been a lowly design engineer, the notion would have gone nowhere. Duntov and styling chief Mitchell loathed the idea. But when Cole made a suggestion, it was really a directive. Shinoda was assigned to manage the construction of a running prototype of a four-place Sting Ray.

The car needed to be stretched by 6 to 10 inches, depending on whose account you believe. (To this writer, it looks to be closer to 10.) To accommodate ingress/egress for the back seats, the doors were lengthened, and the Sting Ray's iconic roof was raised and lengthened for rear headroom. Having carefully finessed the subtle proportions of the two-seat Sting Ray, Shinoda and his team hated the project.

The Illustrated Corvette Designer Series No 203 XP 796 Rear Left Side View 3/3

The prototype was completed in January 1962 and was photographed on the final day of that month. According to Shinoda, when the car was presented to upper management, a '62 Thunderbird was shown for comparison. The T-Bird had a longer, 113-inch wheelbase and weighed a whopping 4,132 pounds. Since the Corvette was a running vehicle, GM executives wanted to get into the car. GM chairman Jack Gordon reportedly got stuck in the back seat because the seatback latches "accidently" locked. Engineers had to unbolt the seats to get him out. Gordon stormed off, and that was the end of the four-seater Sting Ray. Almost.

By the time the car was shown, Cole had been promoted to president of GM, and Semon Knudsen was the general manager of Chevrolet. Cole and Knudsen had a working relationship but didn't really like one another. According to Knudsen's diaries, Cole remained keen on the four-seater all the way up to the September 1962 introduction of the Sting Ray. Cole even threatened to give the concept to Oldsmobile, but Knudsen's attitude was to let Cole hang himself. The four-seater was ultimately sent to the crusher, a fate from which even Cole couldn't save it.

Few details are known about the car. While it wore a Fuel Injection badge, it's not known whether a fuelie was actually under the hood. There are no records that the car was ever driven, thus no account of its driveability. While Shinoda and his team did an admirable job, the proportions were all wrong. It was definitely the Corvette's ugly sister. The four-seater Sting Ray was an excellent example of the fact that not every suggestion should be pursued.

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