The Hopefully True Story About The 1963 Corvette And A Headless Shark

Illustration for article titled The Hopefully True Story About The 1963 Corvette And A Headless Shark

While at the F-Type launch, Jaguar designer Wayne Burgess told a story that I can’t believe I’d never heard before. It has to do with former GM VP of Design Bill Mitchell, the Mako Shark concept car, and a taxidermied shark head. The story may be apocryphal, but who cares? It’s too good.


It was 1963, and Bill Mitchell’s teams were working on some concept cars for future Corvettes. One of the designers, Larry Shinoda, had a great concept car in the works, based on the 1963 Sting Ray Corvette that was about to be released to the public. Unlike most concept cars that precede eventual production cars, this one came after the production car had been designed.

The goal was to have something to show that get everyone excited about the new design. The issue was the car needed some sort of theme; the fundamentals of the design were established, but they needed some exciting concept to hide the fact that the car was actually prepping people for the still-secret production model.

Luckily, Bill Mitchell had returned from a fishing trip vacation off the Bimini coast with an impressive souvenir: a shark’s head, from a shark caught by Mitchell on his trip.

Mitchell decreed that the decapitated shark would be the source of the theme for the show car, which was to be called the Mako Shark. Mitchell was insistent that the paint job of the car exactly reflect the deep blue-to-white gradient of the real shark. Aquatic life color accuracy was a big deal in Detroit back then.

So, the paint guys set to and did their best to emulate the shark’s coloring. Mitchell looked at it, and declared it not good enough. So "do it again!" he screamed at them.


So they did it again, and showed it to Mitchell. Nope. Not close enough! At this point, I’m imaging Mitchell putting a cigarette out on someone’s chest.

Illustration for article titled The Hopefully True Story About The 1963 Corvette And A Headless Shark

They tried again. And again. And again. Each time, Mitchell found the paint wasn’t close enough to the shark’s coloring.

Finally, one unnamed stylist had a brilliant idea and gave it a try. When Mitchell came to compare the shark to the paint one more time, he was finally satisfied, much to the relief of everyone involved.


So what was the final key to getting the finish of the car to match the shark? New airbrushing tactics? Early selenium-cell-based electronic color matching? Ground up shark scales from the local Asian market?


They painted the damn shark.

(Sources: Wikipedia, Jalopnik from way back, Corvette Museum)


Justin Ketterer

This is a really great story. Sadly it is not true.

My grandfather, Ed Ketterer (I am writing this with his permission), developed the paint colours for this car and it was painted under his direction. Bill Mitchell did, in fact, catch a Mako Shark on a fishing trip and, as you’ve stated, it served as the inspiration for the paint scheme on this car. However, neither my grandfather nor anyone else on the design staff ever saw the actual fish. Instead, my grandfather was called into Bill Mitchell’s office and was shown a colour photograph of the fish taken immediately after it was caught. Based on this photograph, he developed the colours and the car was painted (once!), resulting in the beautiful car pictured in your story.

Sorry to ruin a great legend. It’s always fun to see the new incarnations of this story (this is the first time I’d heard the fish was decapitated ). It always leads to a fun conversation with Grandpa.