Imagine that you're looking for a late-model Corvette to replace your beloved '76 that was stolen. You've shopped the ads, the Internet, the shows, and eventually you find yourself on a specialty dealer's lot (one who only deals in Corvettes). You spot a beautiful, but unusual, C4. When you ask about it, the car turns out to have been originally owned by Larry Shinoda, and you could be the third owner. Stories like this usually begin with "once upon a time."
Christine and Hal Ballew of Murrieta, California, found themselves in that enviable position when they went to see Dick Bailey at Corvette Mike's in Anaheim, California. The Ballew's were fairly knowledgeable about Vettes and really were interested in a daily driver. When they happened upon the rare Shinoda Design/Rick Mears Edition, and heard the history of it, they couldn't resist. The car wound up in their garage and they're still looking for a daily driver Vette. Not that this car doesn't get out on the road regularly, but they certainly don't want to wear out an extremely unique machine like this on routine runs.
There were a total of 11 Corvettes built by the Williams Car Company in collaboration with Larry Shinoda, who styled them. Marketing was done with the assistance and endorsement of Rick Mears. There were body kits also marketed by Williams. Individuals or outside shops could use the kits to convert their C4s to this look, but only 11 were built by Williams. Only those 11 had the Rick Mears nameplate-and every one of them was painted a different color.
The paint on this car, which is the third one built in the series (accounting for the license plate), took over a year to obtain and get permits to apply. Larry Shinoda was able to get it from a friend in Japan, and the sparkle below the surface is actually gold glass beads. It is hard to imagine seeing another paint job like this one ever again. When it was done, Larry kept the car. After a few years, it was sold to his secretary who eventually traded it to Dick Bailey at Corvette Mike's. Dick doesn't sell Vettes by accident; he really knows their history and value, so he was very particular about who would wind up with the car. When Christine and Hal saw it, and fell in love with it, he knew the car would be well cared for.
This car is a '90 model, but the first Shinoda-Williams Vette was built in 1986, based on a C4 that had a VIN ending in 0047. That car had begun life as a silver and black pace car that the factory gave to Tony George of the Indianapolis Speedway to commemorate the fact that the Corvette was being used as a Speedway pace car. After workhorse duty for some time, the car was eventually sold and wound up being the first Shinoda-Williams Corvette. According to Ed Branch of the Williams Car Company of Costa Mesa, California, the styling of these cars was just for great looks, although that certainly was one result. During high-speed tests at Michigan Speedway, the amount of down force generated by the design began to overstress the stock suspension. Tests were conducted with professional drivers, including Al Unser, Sr. and Rick Mears.
Several ZR-1s received the Shinoda-Williams treatment, including the one still owned by Rick Mears, and two that are in Roger Penske's collection. These qualify as the rarest of the rare. At one time, there was some thought to forming a registry of all of the cars assembled by Williams, but so far there has been no luck in gathering all the names and locations of the current owners. Should there be Shinoda Williams/Rick Mears Edition Corvette owners who would like to form such a registry of these beautiful, rare, and historic machines, we encourage them to send their information to VETTE Magazine (at the address listed at the bottom of page 4 or by e-mail to email@example.com). Any information we receive will be published in future issues.