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[VIDEO] Corvette Sting Ray Designer Peter Brock on Jay Leno’s Garage

by Mitch Talley on March 1, 2014

[VIDEO] Corvette Sting Ray Designer Peter Brock on Jay Leno's Garage

Can you imagine wanting to watch an interview with the guy who designed the 1974 Vega?

But that’s what makes the Corvette so great for enthusiasts. We crave to know every minute detail about how our beloved sports car came into existence.

If you’re like me, that makes a new book by someone who was actually there when the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray was in the planning stages, very special indeed.

Fortunately, Peter Brock, who was responsible for sketching the lines of what would become the 1963 Corvette Split Window in 1957, decided to tell the story of that very special Corvette in his new book called Corvette Sting Ray: Genesis of an American Icon.

“Well, I’m the last remaining guy on the whole team that put the Sting Ray together,” Brock says in a new segment of Jay Leno’s Garage video series. “Nobody had ever put the story together, and I thought that it was important because it took six years from the time that the project started till it went into production.”

Brock was right there, in his early 20s, working alongside the Big Four of Corvette fatherhood – Ed Cole, Harley Earl, Zora Arkus-Duntov, and Bill Mitchell.

“These four people were the key guys that made the Corvette happen,” Brock says, “and if you’d pulled any one of them out, the Corvette would have disappeared. So through a lot of different political problems, financial problems with the company, poor sales, whatever, the Corvette barely made it. But if it hadn’t been for Bill Mitchell, we wouldn’t have a Corvette today.”

“And it was this particular car,” Brock says, pointing to a silver 1963 Split Window behind him and Leno, “that really put them over the top and we ended up with this American icon.” Brock points out that the controversial split window, which hindered vision out the rear, became Mitchell’s signature design.

While Brock sketched out an initial design in 1957 that turned into the C2 Corvette, he modestly says “this is really Bill Mitchell’s design. We were simply the guys that interpreted it for him.”

Brock says that the split as envisioned originally by head designer Mitchell was a “very elegant little thin line,” but it became a few inches wide after engineers got hold of it and rubber and chrome were put around the two split windows.

Zora, as has been well documented, was adamantly opposed to the split window, but it was Cole who made a compromise that satisfied all parties, Brock says.

“Finally Zora was kind of banned out of styling” over the controversy, “but Ed Cole who was Zora’s boss at Chevrolet Engineering solved the problem politically,” Brock recalls. “He said, Zora, we’ll let you have it as soon as we have one year of Bill Mitchell’s split window and then we’ll switch it over. So everybody got what they wanted. It was a matter of compromise.”

Brock believes that the decision ultimately was critical in adding to the increased interest in the 1963 Split Window over the split-less 1964 through 1967 models.

“I think (the ’63) would have lost some of the mystique,” Brock says, if the split had run the entire five years of the second generation Corvette. “And that’s the thing that makes this particular car so fantastic when guys are looking for a Corvette coupe – they are looking for a ’63 coupe. That is the whole essence of Bill Mitchell and why this car is so special.”

Interestingly, Brock apparently is not a fan of the resto-mod craze.

“If you take and change an era, even a thing like running the wrong color of paint on a car, it ruins the car,” he tells Leno. “I mean, you have to stay with the original, what was available at the time and the designer’s original intent.”

And, if you’re wondering how someone is even still alive from those days, be aware that Brock was just 20 years old when he sketched the prototype car that Larry Shinoda and another designer turned into the 1963 Corvette.

Corvette Sting Ray Designer Peter Brock on Jay Leno's Garage

Brock offers an insight into the passion that drove the men responsible for keeping the Corvette alive in those early days.

“Bill Mitchell was a big guy in his persona,” he says. “He actually wasn’t physically big, but when he walked into a room, he filled it up. I mean, he was a very powerful person. He was a very loud, ribald character, dressed beautifully all of the time, and he had such a great love for what he was doing. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. If he saw it, he was passionate about it. And if you ever veered off that line, he would set you straight on it right away – this is the way we’re gonna do it.”

It took that kind of passion to keep the Corvette alive in a corporate mindset like General Motors in those days, Brock says.

It was hard to push the idea of a sports car intended for curvy roads when management operated on a straight-line philosophy “because a lot of the ideas that went into American cars (back then) was that you got into this living room and it took you some place. The whole idea of a sports car really didn’t make much sense at all because there was no sport driving in straight lines,” Brock says. “So the whole mid-western idea of doing this car was very, very foreign, and if it hadn’t been for people that had a little bit more understanding of European cars…. Bill, of course, had traveled to Europe and had seen all those cars over there, and all those things influenced him into doing it.”

Brock says the book All Corvettes Are Red (which chronicles the development of the C5) was important because it showed “if you were a real car guy, you wanted to work on Corvettes, (but) that was pretty much the end of your career in ascendancy into management in General Motors because that wasn’t the kind of cars they built. The Corvette wasn’t a moneymaker and it was a car guy’s project. And it shows in the difficulty in doing that, and how much you cared about it wasn’t really important to top management at the time.”

Brock says he did the sketches of the Sting Ray in November 1957. “This really defined the lines that Bill Mitchell had wanted, and as you can see, everything that’s on this car behind us (a 1963 Corvette Split Window) was laid out in 1957. But it didn’t really happen that quickly because there was so much resistance from management that the project didn’t go and the only way that we were able to finally get it over the top was Mitchell said I’m gonna build a race car.”

Mitchell turned Brock’s design into the 1957 Sting Ray race car that carried no badging to indicate that it was a Chevrolet or a Corvette or anything connected to General Motors, a move necessary since GM, Ford, and Chrysler had agreed not to support racing in any way.

But the Sting Ray racer was such a hit with the public that GM management finally changed its mind and allowed Mitchell to build the production Sting Ray, according to Brock.


Source:
“Jay Leno’s Garage via ChevyHardcore.com

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