1959 Corvette Sting Ray - Silver And Exact

Bill Mitchell's '59 Sting Ray At Atlanta's High Museum Of Art

Jeremy D. Clough Dec 27, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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Clad in thick, 1/8-inch fiberglass, the Sting Ray weighed about the same as a production car, and had truly wretched aerodynamics that lifted up the front end at around 140 mph-disconcerting to say the least. None-theless, driver Dick Thompson, the "flying dentist" who had previously piloted both the SR-2 and SS, managed to bring it home in Fourth place at its first race, and the front end was subsequently lowered dramatically to remove some of the lift. Other changes were made as they learned on the track: Reskinned in balsa-reinforced fiberglass silk, the Sting Ray tipped the scales at a svelte 2,300 pounds, then, for the 1960 season, dropped down to an even ton after receiving another fiberglass body, this one painted silver. The brakes received constant attention throughout its racing career, Mitchell steadfastly refusing to use disc brakes because of cost. Lest that seem stingy, Mitchell funded the effort out of his own pocket, making whatever repairs were needed to keep the Sting Ray racing-even after it was rolled at Meadowdale in 1959.

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Its second season was kinder than the first, and Thompson brought home the SCCA class championship in C-modified. Finishing strong, Mitchell retired the car after its winning season in 1960, and had it refurbished for the show circuit, finally adding Corvette emblems to it. After its year on display, it returned to being his personal car, getting disc brakes as well as a 427. There are photos of Mitchell driving it on public roads, complete with fedora.

As one of GM's show cars, the Sting Ray did what it was intended to do, and what production Sting Rays still do today: It created desire, which was fulfilled in GM's 1963 introduction of the newly redesigned Corvette. You know what happened after that.

The car itself now resides at the GM Heritage Center, which was covered in these pages in our Sept. '10 issue. Between March and June of 2010, however, it was lent to Atlanta's High Museum of Art as part of the facility's stunning "Allure of the Automobile" exhibit. After standing in line staring at a frighteningly large sculpture of oversized fruit that sits outside, you finally step into the elevator. It goes up, the doors open, and you find yourself face-to-face with Clark Gable's pale yellow '35 Duesenberg. The rest of the exhibit takes you past equally striking cars from Pierce Arrow, Mercedes, Porsche, Aston Martin, Bugatti, Jaguar-all the great marques-until finally you pass a Tucker and a Cadillac and find it before you. Low, silver, sleek, unmistakably Corvette.

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From the low, tightly curved pair of windscreens to the downward-swooping side pipes and the aggressive, tire-covering rake of the front fenders, everything in the car speaks of the tension of restrained power. It doesn't want to be there; it wants to be back on the Phoenix test track again, running 183. One wonders if it's safe to walk in front of it.

While the Allure of the Automobile exhibit is now closed, the High produced an eponymous coffee-table book with photos and detailed information on all the exhibited cars. For more on the history of the Corvette, you can do no better than Randy Leffingwell's Corvette: The Complete Story.

Special thanks to Erik Duncan, Emily Grant, and the High (www.high.org).

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