Elvis sighted in a rare Corvette
Although this question is not mechanical, I know you would know the answer. Your expertise regarding Corvettes and racing history is evident, as I remember reading your article on your restoration and research of your car, the Sunray DX L-88.
This past 4th of July, I was watching an Elvis Presley movie from the ’60s called “Clambake.” In the first scene, Elvis drives up (in vivid color) in a red Corvette-type prototype. I recognized it from my 30 years of exposure to and ownership of Corvettes.
After the movie, I researched what I saw and I think it was Bill Mitchell’s Stingray racer, the XP-87. The information I read and the pictures showed the car to be silver but said the car initially was painted red.
Am I crazy? Would Chevrolet or Bill Mitchell have loaned such a valuable car out for this movie? I am telling you it was the real thing. I know this car has racing heritage. It is one thing to see pictures but to see this car driving around in a movie was fantastic.
Can you verify what I saw as I have never heard of this before in a movie. Does the car still exist? Who owns it now, GM, Bill Mitchell’s family? What would it be valued at today? Over a million? Also, can you tell me more of its history and racing history?
Sorry, I can’t provide a diagnosis as to whether or not you’re crazy without more information. All kidding aside, however, I can tell you that the car you saw in “Clambake” is, in fact, XP-87, more commonly known as the Stingray Racer.
In 1956, in accordance with directions from GM design boss Harley Earl, Chevrolet began designing a Corvette-based race car called the Corvette SS.
The SS chassis, which drew upon the Mercedes 300SL for inspiration, was of a tubular space frame design.
The beautifully sculpted body for the SS, penned by Chevy designers, was similar to the D-type Jaguar.
Chevrolet Engineering fabricated two chassis and the first was fitted with a very crude wood-and-fiberglass version of the body. That car went to Sebring, Florida, for extensive testing and development in preparation for the 1957 12 Hours of Sebring while the other chassis remained at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan, where a super light magnesium body would be installed.
In 1959, new GM design boss Bill Mitchell, who had taken over from Earl in ’58, worked with GM designer Larry Shinoda to create the radically beautiful Stingray body.
One body was fabricated, from fiberglass, and installed on the 1957 SS chassis. The Stingray racer was represented to be nothing more than a styling exercise. This was consistent with GM’s total ban on factory-supported racing, adopted in June 1957.
However, while GM was officially out of racing, that didn’t mean that Bill Mitchell was out of it too. He “bought” the Stingray from GM, reportedly for $1, and funded its racing effort with his own money and whatever support he could find in the form of “volunteers” from within GM’s ranks, “surplus” parts laying around, and the like.
In the hands of “The Flying Dentist,” Dr. Dick Thompson, one of America’s greatest amateur road racers, the Stingray made its debut on April 18, 1959 at Maryland’s Marlboro Raceway, where it finished a credible fourth.
The car continued racing in 1959 and 1960, earning the SCCA C-modified national championship in ’60.
After that, the car was retired from racing and served as a show car and, occasionally, it also served as Mitchell’s personal transportation.
As a styling exercise, GM Styling technically did own the Stingray and they did, in fact, loan the car to United Artists Films for its appearance in “Clambake.” This may seem incredible today but remember that the movie was made in 1967, when the monetary value of the Stingray was nowhere near what it is 42 years later.
The Stingray Racer is still owned by GM as part of the company’s Heritage Collection. Several years ago it was treated to a comprehensive restoration and it typically makes several promotional appearances each year.
The value of the car today is, of course, purely a matter of speculation as it is unique so there is no entirely valid point of comparison.
I can tell you that I had the pleasure of examining it up close and personal about 15 years ago and it is absolutely mesmerizing.
Given the totality of circumstances, if the car were to be offered for sale, I would be very surprised if it didn’t fetch considerably more than $6 million.