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1969 Manta Ray Show Car: "Bill Mitchell’s Extreme Shark"

Trend Setting – Part 10: A look back at Chevrolet’s experimental, prototype, concept car, and show car Corvettes

Scott Teeters Jul 8, 2015
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1969 Manta Ray Plate 2/10

The 1965 Mako Shark II may well have been the most exciting Corvette show car of all time and had more direct impact on future Corvette styling than any other. But by 1968, with the debut of the new C3 Corvette, the Mako Shark was old news. Some were disappointed that the ’68 Corvette wasn’t a faithful road version of the Mako Shark, but with the L71 427/435 and the L88 it was hotter than a match head. The ’68 Corvette set a new sales record of 28,569 units, up from 22,940 in ’67 and besting the previous high sales mark of 27,720 ’66 Corvettes. And to prove that the new Mako Shark II-inspired design wasn’t just a first year fluke, Chevrolet sold 38,762 Corvettes in 1969. This statistic would stand until 1976 when 46,558 Corvettes were sold. And to prove the power of the Mako Shark II design, 1979 was the all-time best Corvette sales year ever, with 53,807 cars sold. No other Corvette design was able to pull money out of wallets like the Mako Shark II. There’s the math!

So, much is owed to the Mako Shark II. Unfortunately, not all great Corvette show cars go to heaven at the GM Heritage Center. Actually, the Mako Shark II doesn’t exist and no, it didn’t go off to the crusher. (Breathe a sigh of relief!) When your pockets are as deep as GM’s, why not make a great thing even greater? Even though GM spent $2.5 million on the Mako Shark II, they spent almost another $3 million on the Mako Shark II makeover. Bill Mitchell was almost over his “fish thing” and called the latest version, Manta Ray.

1969 Manta Ray 1 Gm Press 3/10
1969 Manta Ray 5 Elwood 4/10

It’s too bad they didn’t keep the running Mako Shark II and just build the Manta Ray as its own car. How cool would it have been to have the Mako Shark Trilogy? Perhaps there were budgetary concerns at work; there was indeed a frenzy of concept, experimental, and show cars during this period. The series you are reading now proves that. But clearly, Bill Mitchell had a few more ideas he wanted to work out in 3D. “Show cars” are often meant to be “over the top” and deliberately extreme. The biggest change was the long, tapered tail, a la the Astro Vette show car. While the production Corvette never went that far, clearly you can see the “tapered” influence that arrived in 1974.

“Endura” bumpers gracefully covered functional metal bumpers. The Endura bumper wasn’t the same as the bumper covers used on Corvettes after 1973. Endura was urethane-elastomere foam that was rigid, but had “give” to it when pressed hard. The material was color-matched to the paint to give an integrated look. Endura bumpers were first made optional on ’68 GTOs. While an interesting idea, they didn’t weather well. So fortunately, an Endura front bumper never made it on to the Corvette. The roofline of the Manta Ray featured a beautiful, sweeping, tapered, stinger-style roof, but scooped out with a small slot for a rear window. Like the running Mako Shark II, for hard braking and turn signaling, flip-up lights popped out of the rear deck; gimmicky, but kind’a cool. The now “classic Corvette” four taillights arrangement was fared in under the rear bumper line with a center-located license-plate holder.

1969 Manta Ray 3 Gm Press 5/10
1969 Manta Ray 4 Gm Press 6/10

An awesome show car should have an awesome engine. The Manta Ray used the new, all-aluminum ZL1 engine with a special air cleaner. The ZL1 was an L88 with an aluminum block, so the Manta Ray was “loaded for bear!” Whereas the running Mako Shark II had conventional under-the-car dual exhausts, the Manta Ray had functional side pipes that were beautifully crafted into the side rocker panels and sounded great. This was part of the Bill Mitchell trademark.

The nose of the Manta Ray was basically unchanged from the Mako Shark II, except for an extended bumper ring around the air inlets and a small chin spoiler. It’s actually a little too busy, but hey, it’s a show car! Normal sideview mirrors were deleted in favor of small, bullet-shaped mirrors that were attached to the top of the A-pillars. And like the previous Mako Shark cars, the Manta Ray was painted dark blue with pearl white fogging along the lower edges. Special badges and Corvette crossed-flags insignias completed the car.

This may have been the last “pure” show car Corvette. Later show cars were mostly dressed-up production Corvettes and serious engineering studies. All of the Mako Shark Corvettes sure got a lot of us juiced up for the “next Vette.” Mitchell knew how to keep it fun!

1969 Manta Ray 9 Elwood 7/10
1969 Manta Ray 6 Elwood 8/10
1969 Manta Ray 7 Elwood 9/10
1969 Manta Ray 8 Elwood 10/10

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