By Darrel Burnett, Executive Director – The Automobile Gallery
I continue to be fascinated by how implausible partnerships give birth to brilliance. How is it that a duo’s differences become the very fuel that propels them to the summit of success? Prickly pairings of the past that changed the course of history include Lennon & McCartney, Waldorf & Astoria, Bird & Magic, Google’s Page & Brin, Mitchell & Arkus-Duntov.
Not familiar with those last two names? That combustible combo is responsible for the most identifiable Corvette design in history, the 1963 Split Window Sting Ray.
Bill Mitchell and Dr. Zora Arkus-Duntov came from opposite ends of the world and opposite sides of the brain. Mitchell spent his boyhood in New York City while Arkus-Duntov was raised in St. Petersburg…Russia not Florida. Mitchell was a flamboyant designer who succeeded the legendary Harley Earl as Design Chief at GM while Arkus-Duntov was Corvette’s “Professor of Performance”. Together they altered the future direction of the Corvette which sustains as the longest continually produced automobile in America, trailing only the truck-based Chevy Suburban and Ford F-150 in total years of production.
The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray was inspired by a Mako Shark Mitchell landed on a deep-sea fishing trip. He blended the sleekness of a shark with the majestic movement of a Stingray to create the iconic split window design.
Of course, Arkus-Duntov immediately hated the split window for its impracticality and high cost, but Mitchell dug in and took his battle all the way to the brass in the boardroom. Mitchell won that battle and the Sting Ray won a tall stack of awards but failed to win over safety experts.
The blind spot created by the “tail” dividing the back window led many owners to replace the split window with a one-piece back window supplied by Chevrolet (Big mistake!).
GM’s accounting department and Arkus-Duntov’s influence made sure the split window wouldn’t see a second year and, in 1964, the split window was gone forever.
The Automobile Gallery’s Riverside Red Split Window is 1 of just 2610 fuel injected 1963 Split Windows ever produced, and one of a handful in the world still in original condition. Fuel injection was a $430.40 option in 1963 and before you scoff at that and wonder why everyone didn’t order fuel injection, $430 translates to nearly $3800 in today’s dollars.
It was worth every penny because 360 horsepower spooled the speedo up to an astonishing top speed of 142 mph. These days, the speedometer on our Split Window displays an even more impressive number, 4238 original miles!
Is there a finer Split Window Corvette in original condition anywhere in the world? I’ll leave that for you to debate when you come visit us!
Like the back window of their famous creation, Bill Mitchell and Dr. Zora Arkus-Duntov were divided on an issue or two over the years but both became legends. Mitchell influenced the design of more than 72 ½ million GM automobiles and Dr. Arkus-Duntov spent the rest of his career as Chief Engineer of the Corvette program. I hope you enjoyed reading about these two amazing “split” personalities.