In 2015, hemmings.com posted a story about an obscure car called a 1938 Adler Trumpf Rennlimousine. Maybe 10 were built, the exact numbers are not known; and four or five raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1937, 1938 and 1939. One of the cars took a 1,500cc Class win. Today, only three are known to exist. The styling is late 1930’s German aero: rounded front; wraparound windshield and a long, tapered tail. This is a quirky-looking car ... until you get to the back of the roof. Wow! It’s a Sting Ray with a split rear window and two round taillights on each side!
The Sting Ray story is that in 1957, young GM designer Peter Brock sketched the basic design, as per Bill Mitchell’s loose direction for the next Corvette: “Mitchell’s” Corvette! Around the same time, Chevrolet general manager Ed Cole wanted all 1960 Chevrolets (Corvette included) to use a transaxle for better weight distribution and improved interior space. Brock’s design was used for the body of the Q-Corvette and included a fastback; but not what we know today as the Sting Ray. A fullsize clay model was created, but due to cost, the overall project fell apart and only the Corvair got a transaxle. Brock left the company shortly afterward.
When Mitchell acquired the mule chassis from Duntov’s Corvette SS racer, he had Larry Shinoda take Brock’s Q-Corvette shape and make a roadster body to fit the chassis. This became the Stingray Racer. When it was decided that the Stingray Racer shape would be the styling direction for the next Corvette, Mitchell gave the assignment to Shinoda. But the Stingray Racer was a roadster, and Mitchell wanted a convertible and a fixed roof coupe for the new Corvette. So how did Shinoda come up with the now-iconic Sting Ray roof? Everyone just assumed that Shinoda or Mitchell designed it, and no one ever asked.
In July 2015, I wrote a post about the Adler Trumpf Rennlimousine on my corvettereport.com blog site, as part of my “Corvette Odd-Ball” section. In September 2018, I got an email from a man in Florida named James McLynas telling me that he found my story and that back in the late 1980s he owned a 1938 Adler Trumpf Rennlimousine. I got his phone number and we had a very interesting conversation.
McLynas explained that he’s always liked unusual cars. One day in the late 1970s, in Michigan, he saw the back end of an unusual-looking car parked in an old man’s side yard shed. Thinking it was a Corvette Sting Ray, McLynas knocked on the door of the house and met the eccentric owner, Rubin Halprin. When McLynas asked about the old Sting Ray, Halprin went off on him. “Ha! That was Hitler’s car! That’s not a Sting Ray! That’s a 1938 Adler Trumpf! It was raced at Le Mans and won its class! Those bastards at Chevrolet photographed my car, stole my design (Halprin did not “design” the car) and made it into the Sting Ray!” Halprin was a serious hoarder and a real crank.
Halprin went on to explain that he bought the car for $2,000 or $3,000 from a retired Air Force officer that brought the car back from Germany in the mid-1950s. The paint was bad so Halprin gave the car a $19.95 Earl Scheib blue paintjob and used the car for years as his daily driver. One day in July 1959, Halprin took a bunch of local kids to the State Fair. While at the fair, GM Styling executive David Holls and a co-worker approached Halprin and asked if he would bring his unique car to the GM Tech Center. Thinking that GM was going to buy the car and he’d make a nice profit, Halprin had a friend follow him to the Tech Center so that he’d have a ride home.
Holls met Halprin at the tech center with a photographer to document the car. After the pictures were taken, Holls thanked Halprin and that was that. Well, Halprin is royally pissed. He cussed them out, left all steamed up, and was surly about it the rest of his life. A few years later the car was stolen then recovered with the car’s nose banged up. Eventually, the car wouldn’t run anymore so Halprin pushed it into his shed.
In 1985, McLynas happened to be in Michigan and thought he’d look for the old Adler Trumpf. Halprin still had the car, only by then the shed had fallen down and the car’s condition was even worse. McLynas has affection for unusual cars, so he worked a deal with Halprin and bought the car.
McLynas didn’t do much with the car and eventually sold it in 1990 to the Black Hawk Collection. The new owners gave the car a total restoration with the help of a prison work program that taught auto restoration skills to inmates wanting to learn a trade. Years later, the 1938 Adler Trumpf won a class at Pebble Beach, was purchased by a private collector, taken to Austria and never seen again.
After McLynas sold the car, he heard that retired GM Design Director David Holls was to be one of the judges at a concours car show. McLynas went to the show to specifically ask Holls if the Adler Trumpf that he bought from Halprin, had been photographed at the GM Tech Center. Holls explained that he couldn’t talk then because he was judging the show, but offered to have him over to his house. Holls said, “I think I know what you want to know.”
The following week, McLynas visited Holls in his studio. After they had lunch, McLynas asked, “Did GM take the roof design from the Adler Trumpf and use it for the 1963 Sting Ray?” Holls then took out a binder and showed McLynas the photos of Halprin’s 1938 Adler Trumpf. McLynas was looking at his car; the day eccentric old Rubin Halprin took to car to the tech center thinking he was going to get a lot of money. Instead, all he got was a “thank you.”
Holls then said, “Let me answer your question.” (All the while nodding his head up and down) “This car had nothing to do with the Sting Ray.” Holls also had snap shots taken the day he saw the car at the State Fair.
What happened was this; the GM designer photographed an unusual-looking car, one of maybe 10 ever built before World War II that survived the war, eventually becoming a G.I.’s “spoil of war.” Bill Mitchell was GM’s Sr. VP of Design and racing his Stingray Racer on his own dime. But what he was really doing, besides having fun, was testing the public’s reaction to the Stingray’s unique shape. Mitchell saw the photos of the Adler Trumpf’s roof, handed the photos to Shinoda, and instructed him, “This is want I want.” Everything comes from something. The fact that the Sting Ray’s roof shape came from the Adler Trumpf Rennlimousine in no way detracts from the iconic Corvette. Mitchell had a keen eye for design and intuitively knew his Corvette had to have the Adler Trumpf Rennlimousine’s roof. Vette