The fate of an auto-show car is never certain. Some spend a year or two on the circuit and are then destroyed. Others—the lucky ones—are saved from the crusher and housed for posterity, ideally in a museum. A few (very few) wind up in the hands of private collectors.
And then there are the recycled show cars, those that are reshaped and repurposed before heading out for another tour of duty. The Manta Ray is one such car, built in 1969 from the Mako Shark II.
Mako II was a stunner. Introduced in 1965, it previewed many of the styling elements that would appear on the third-generation Corvette for 1968. Two Mako Shark II Vettes were built—a non-functioning mockup for photography, and a runner powered by a 427-inch Mk IV big-block. Once off the show circuit, the Mako Shark II was used by design chief Bill Mitchell as a driver. And then it went back into GM's styling studios to be reborn.
The Manta Ray is handsome, sure, but nowhere near as ground-breaking as the car that was sacrificed to build it. The biggest design change was to the car's rear, with buttress-like pillars aft of the back window and a stretched and tapered tail that ended in a sharp-creased Endura bumper. In front, a chin spoiler was added under the cooling ducts, and side pipes were fitted between the wheelwells, an element that was on the Mako II mockup but disappeared on the runner. The shark-like coloration of the Mako II was gone, too, though the car's paint still had something of a fishy fade from dark on top to light at the rockers.
Where the Manta Ray did seriously push the envelope was underhood. By 1969 the Mk IV big-block was old news; this showpiece needed something truly special. And it got it: the all-aluminum ZL1, essentially a solid-lifter, 12:1-compression racing engine that Chevrolet made available for a select few production cars. The factory rated it at 430 hp; 500 to 600 was more realistic. And it was pricey, adding nearly $5,000 to the cost of the Corvette or Camaro it went into. As such it's a rarity among Corvettes. Reportedly just three ZL1 engines were put in Vettes by the factory, two in production cars and the third in the Manta Ray.
Unlike so many styling exercises, the Manta Ray did not disappear into the jaws of a crusher or someone's private collection after it served its tour as a showpiece. It lives a pampered life at the GM Heritage Center.