We recently shared with you the origin of the now-iconic 1963-’67 Corvette Sting Ray coupe roof. Time is not always kind to designs. The 1938 Adler Trumpf was an interesting but quirky-looking car. It was definitely very advanced for its day, but overall looks extremely dated. The 1963-’67 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe is still stunning from every angle and is today, truly an iconic automotive design.
The Adler Trumpf roof almost looks out of place on the rest of the car. But the roof was the perfect coupe roof for Bill Mitchell’s Stingray Racer. The Adler Trumpf was photographed at the GM Tech Center in July 1959. By October 1959, the roof design was graphed onto a fullsize clay model of the XP-720 and approved as the basic design for the next Corvette. It took Larry Shinoda and his team, with guidance from Bill Mitchell, a year to work out the finished shape. As you can see from the GM Archives documentation photographs acquired from the GM Heritage Center, by the end of December 1960, the final shape of the Sting Ray was completed and the team was working on surface details.
Sometime in 2015, I happened upon the color photograph of the silver ’63 split-window coupe, 1963 convertible and blue-lit 1959 Stingray Racer. I had seen this very photograph in various Corvette books for decades, but did not know when the photograph was taken. The photo clearly shows that the designers were working out surface details. Note that there are no vents on the front fender, but rather are integrated into the rear portion of the doors and the front portion of the rear fenders. There are gills above and below the rear bumpers, and the convertible shows the fuel filler cap on the driver’s side rear fender.
For years, that’s all I ever noticed, that is until one day in 2015 I happened upon a large version of the photograph on the Internet. That’s when I had a “son-of-a-gun!” moment. What was never obvious in the small versions of the photo used in many Corvette books and magazines is the seam line on the rear deck, just inboard of the rear fender humps. The line starts at the rear leading edge of the rear deck, runs forward, then turns up over the B-pillar, across the top, down, and then runs to the other side of the rear leading edge.
As I’ll point out in the black & white GM Archives photos, this is not a “tape” line, but a scribe line. The “Occam’s razor” concept is, “All things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.” The concept slices away a host of competing conclusions, leaving the simplest and most likely conclusion in place; thus, it is a “razor.”
What we are looking at is that the designers and engineers that were working on the 1963 Sting Ray Coupe were considering a hatchback, although at the time, my guess is that they simply thought of it as a trunk, as Corvettes from 1953 to that time all had a formal trunk. Today, we call it a hatchback.
As explained in Karl Ludvigsen’s book, Corvette: America’s Star Spangled Sports Car, Mitchell saw the Sting Ray first as a coupe. After the coupe was designed, they worked out the convertible, and then the hardtop. The open space behind the front seats created a sensation of expansiveness in what is otherwise a small car that fits like a glove. Getting things in and out of the coupe’s rear storage space could be challenging, but it made a limited-use sports car more usable. The 1963-’67 Sting Ray coupe has 10.5 cubic-feet of storage space, and 8.4 cubic-feet in the convertible.
When the Mako Shark-inspired C3 came in 1968, many were surprised the car did not have the Mako Shark-II’s Sting Ray-like coupe roof, but instead the roof had side-sails and only had 6.7 cubic-feet of storage space behind the seats. Corvette coupes and convertibles had very limited storage space from 1968-’77. If the convertible top was down, there was no storage space, unless you want to tote around a few issues of Vette magazine.
The convertible Corvette went away after 1975, and in 1978, designers gave the car a mid-cycle refresh with a beautiful wraparound glass fastback that looked perfect with the front and rear soft bumper covers, but the glass was fixed. The new glass fastback opened up the storage space to 8.4 cubic-feet. Then in 1979, the Cars & Concepts Company offered a hatchback kit for 1978 and 1979 Corvettes that allowed the glass roof to be lifted up. The kit got the attention of Corvette designers because the 1981 Turbo Vette 3 show car that had a hatchback rear glass, plus an all-aluminum 350 engine and an AIReasearch turbocharger.
The following year, the 1982 Collector Edition Corvette, a $3,617 option on top of the $18,290 base price, was chock full of beautiful trim features, unique graphics, interior upgrades, dedicated 1967 knock-off-bolt-on-inspired wheels and a hatchback. As you can see from the Cars & Concepts ad, the mechanism is the same as that used on the Collector Edition. No doubt, Chevrolet bought the design from Cars & Concepts.
It took 22 years for the Corvette coupe to finally get a hatchback roof. The 1982 Collector Edition was a beautiful sendoff for the C3 Corvette and accounted for 36.4 percent of all 1982 Corvettes. When the 1984 Corvette made its press debut in December 1982, the all-new Corvette had a hatchback as standard equipment. Like the 1982 hatchback, only the glass lifted up and provided customers with 12.6 cubic-feet of storage. That was the most amount of storage space ever offered in a Corvette. The 1962 Corvette had 12 cubic-feet of storage. 1986-’96 Corvette convertibles only had 6.6 cubic-feet of storage and nearly zero with the top down.
The hatchback feature has been on all Corvette coupes ever since, except for the C5 hardtop and C5 Z06. The C5 Corvette was arguably the most radical Corvette when it made its debut. One of the subtle design features of the C5 was that the car has twin fuel tanks mounted low on each side of the transaxle, whereas all previous Corvettes had their gas tanks sitting on top of the rear framerails. Not only did the low-mounted fuel tanks help lower the C5’s center of gravity, the design allowed the rear storage area to extend farther back, providing whopping 24.8 cubic-feet of storage. And to provide even better access to the rear storage area, the rear glass and rear deck are part of the hatchback. Because of the extra space in the back, the C5 convertibles had 13.9 cubic-feet of storage, more than the C4 coupe!
Some have called the C6 Corvette, “C5 2.0” because the basic design is so similar to the C5; however, it is vastly improved. C6 and C7 Corvette designs are empirical, meaning one design was built upon the previous design, but was made much better. The hatch design is likewise similar in that the glass and rear deck are part of the hatchback. The C6 coupe has 22.4 cubic-feet of storage and the convertible has 11 cubic-feet of storage. The C7 coupe has 16.4 cubic-feet of storage space and the convertible has 10 cubic-feet of storage. Corvette designers were mainly interested in making the C6 and C7 a smaller, tighter car with less mass.
The Corvette is so steeped in performance and racing glory it is easy to overlook the design feature of the hatchback. It is what can make a modern Corvette a daily driver, a performance car that can carve canyons with best, take a weekend trip, and even go grocery shopping. When you consider that the hatchback was conceived in 1960, it shows us that designers of the early Corvettes were truly advanced thinkers. Vette
Photography by the Author & GM Archives