The 1959 Stingray Racer, Bill Mitchell’s Personal Concept Car (and Elvis Movie Car), Visits Jay Leno’s Garage

To hype the upcoming charity auction of GM CEO Dan Akerson’s personal 1958 Corvette to benefit Habitat for Humanity in Detroit, GM Design VP Ed Welburn brought that car along with three other Corvettes out to Burbank to shoot an episode of Jay Leno’s garage. Jay’s favorite was the 1959 Stingray racer, built “officially” as a private project of Bill Mitchell, who had recently taken over GM styling after Harley Earl’s retirement. Zora Duntov had planned to go racing at LeMans in 1957 with the tube framed Corvette SS, but after a shakedown run at Sebring, the Automobile Manufacturers Association instituted a ban on OEM supported racing, most likely influenced by the 83 spectators killed at the ’55 LeMans race. Mitchell bought one of the spare SS chassis and, inspired by Pininfarina’s Fiat Abarth 750 speed record car, had young designers Peter Brock and Larry Shinoda design the Stingray in Mitchell’s personal design skunkworks in the basement of the General Motors Building. With Dick Thompson at the wheel, it won the 1960 SCCA C-Modified national championship. After it was retired from racing, Mitchell used it as a personal car. If that provenance wasn’t enough to make this what Leno calls “probably the rarest and most valuable Corvette”, it was also a movie car and not just any movie car, it’s got a connection to Elvis. One of Presley’s many forgettable movies was 1967’s Clambake, and there are a number of scenes with Presley and the car, including him driving it. Jay Leno is an undeniable big shot in the car guy world, so GM brings the Stingray to him. We don’t get that kind of kid glove treatment at Cars In Depth but the nice people at GM’s Heritage Center graciously gave us access to their collection for these pics.

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