Split Decision Over the ’63 Sting Ray
DOUBLE VISION The split window in the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray.
THE 1963 Corvette Sting Ray coupe, with its sharklike styling details and boattail roofline, is acknowledged as one of the most desirable of all Corvettes. Its defining feature is a two-piece fastback rear window, the stylish conclusion of a windsplit that runs unbroken from the nose of the car to its tail.
Zora Arkus-Duntov, the car’s top engineer, strongly disapproved of the so-called split window. And it ignited one of his fiercest corporate battles with General Motors’ design chief, Bill Mitchell, who was determined to keep it.
Split windows were rare then, but not unknown. The Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic of the 1930s had one, as did early Volkswagen Beetles. G.M. had toyed with the theme in the 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket design study, and Chevy pondered it in a new body style being considered for the 1958 Corvette.
Mitchell was eager to use the split window as the crowning touch on the street adaptation of his one-off Sting Ray racecar, which introduced the sharklike styling theme in 1959. Arkus-Duntov opposed the split because it hindered rear visibility, something he held dear as a racecar driver.
But in challenging Mitchell, he was out of his league. Arkus-Duntov was a lowly staff engineer — the position of Corvette chief engineer wasn’t created until 1968 — while Mitchell was one of the most powerful men at G.M. in an era when design was king.
When Arkus-Duntov said he would not accept the split-window design, Mitchell threatened to use his connections to scuttle Arkus-Duntov’s plan for an independent rear suspension on the new car. Finally, Ed Cole, by then head of G.M.’s car and truck operations, ruled that the split window would stay — for one year.
In 1992, Arkus-Duntov gave an insider’s perspective in an interview with Corvette Quarterly: “We got rid of the split window for the 1964 model year, but there was blood spilled over it,” he said. “My blood.”