It would be a mistake to think that being the VP of Design at GM was a cushy job, but it sure has its perks, and Bill Mitchell took maximum advantage of them. Probably not “all” but most of the Corvette show cars of the 1960s and 1970s saw duty as Mitchell’s daily driver cars at some time. He must have been VERY popular with the kids in his neighborhood! Mitchell’s Aero Coupe Corvette show car was another brilliant example of the high level of “style” Bill Mitchell had.
For Mitchell, it must have been like being a kid in your parent’s candy store. Bill had access to the entire Corvette parts bin, as well as a design staff to flesh out his ideas, and a shop to perform world-class custom fabrication, paint, and decoration. The Aero Coupe was born from an off-the-assembly-line small-block 1968 Corvette. Over the next seven years the car lived through three incarnations: the Aero Coupe, the Scirocco, and the Mulsanne. The Aero Coupe was the first version; we’ll cover the other two versions next month.
The first thing that Mitchell’s design staff did was to remove the 327 small-block and drop in one of the new 427 ZL1 all-aluminum Can-Am engines. Imagine how exotic this was in 1970; big-block horsepower and torque, with small-block weight! For several years the ZL1 used an experimental Rochester fuel-injection unit and an experimental four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission (imagine a fuelie ZL1). The ZL1 was awesome, but the four-speed automatic was eventually replaced with a stock, but beefy Turbo 400 unit. And, what Bill Mitchell show car wouldn’t be complete without side-mounted exhausts? Mitchell described the Aero Coupe as a “bear!”
With plenty of power under Bill’s right foot, the design staff started work on the body. It may have been slightly overdone, but that’s what show cars like the Aero Coupe were supposed to be. The Aero Coupe had many interesting styling cues. The egg-crate front grille and side vents design elements made it into production for the 1970-1/2 model. However, the flared extensions at the back of the wheel openings that were part of the ’70-1/2 to ’82 cars were not there. Also, the rear fenders appeared to be slightly flared – more like tame versions of the L88 flares. Up front there was a deep, Z28-style front spoiler that wrapped around its chin to the front of the wheel opening. At the rear, there was a matching, wraparound spoiler similar to the ’70-1/2 Z28 Camaro, but raked back more and not as tall as the ’70 Z28. Extended front and rear spoilers wouldn’t arrive until 1978 on the Indy Pace Car and then the following year as an option on the ’79 Corvette.
The side pipe covers were similar to the optional production side pipes, except for the section under the doors that had six groups of vertical scribe lines. “Interesting,” but a little fussy. The A-pillars, windshield, and roof were a nice departure from the production Corvette and would have made for a nice mid-cycle refresh in ’74 to complement the new look of the soft front and rear bumper covers. The top corners abandoned the sharp corners and instead were curved at the top, allowing the glass and roof to have a smooth, continuous line. The removable roof panel was a single piece and hinged at the back. Since the car was using Chevrolet’s ZL1, the domed L88 hood was used. Chaparral-style alloy-lace wheels were shod with wide Goodyear tires.
The interior was typical show car Corvette plush; completely trimmed in tan leather and deep-cut carpet. Years later, a crude digital unit was added to the dash that projected the car’s speed onto the windshield. There’s no telling how high Mitchell got the digital counter up to! The Aero Coupe was completed with a deep, candy apple red paint with heavy gold metalflake, gold striping, and Corvette and custom Aero Coupe badges.
This very special Corvette went on to delight Corvette fans for several more years, with each version getting progressively wilder. When it finally became the Mulsanne in 1974, only insiders knew that it was really a small-block ’68 Vette on steroids.