The Mako Shark Show Car

Scott Benjamin

Bill Mitchell with a 1959 Corvette Stingray (left) and the 1961 Corvette Mako Shark show car. (© GM Corp.)

Design is often inspired by nature. It's called biomimicry, and I'm guessing that you've probably heard of this concept, right? Well, if you haven't, I think you'd be surprised to learn some of the interesting ways that nature has influenced the products we use each and every day. Car design is no different. In fact, one of the most legendary show car designs in automotive history was created as a direct result of a deep-sea fishing trip.

The Mako Shark show car, arguably one of the most beautiful concept cars ever built, was designed in 1961 by Larry Shinoda under the direction of Bill Mitchell, who was General Motors' head of Design at the time. Legend has it that Mitchell caught a Mako shark while on a fishing trip in Florida and was so inspired by the sleek look of that "fast fish" that he used it as inspiration for his now infamous Corvette concept car. Just take a close look at the design in the photo and I think you'll see the similarities; the pointed nose, the gill slits at the lower front end and even the paint. There's no denying it -- the Mako Shark show car truly looks like a shark.

There's actually a really funny side note on the custom paint job and the great lengths that Mitchell and his design staff went to in order to get the car's color to exactly match the coloring of the shark that Mitchell had caught. Apparently, it took several attempts...and let's just say, in the process, Mitchell's staff may (or may not) have been guilty of an overnight kidnapping of the Mako shark that Mitchell had hanging on the wall of his design studio. It's a crazy story, and you can hear all about it, and a lot of other interesting information about the Mako Shark show car, on the High Speed Stuff podcast that we recorded on July 23.

Of course, the Mako Shark was a tremendous success on the auto show circuit. In fact, you've probably already noticed just how closely it resembles the design of the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. A lot of the Mako's design elements made it into production. But the Mako Shark concept wasn't the only fish of its kind at General Motors. In fact, it seems that Bill Mitchell had a "thing" for smooth aquatic animal design.

In 1965, he and his team built another Corvette concept car, the Mako Shark II -- a design that eventually became the 1968 to 1982 Corvette -- and do you remember the Corvette Stingray? And if that wasn't enough, in 1969 the Mako Shark II concept car was re-worked and re-named the Manta Ray. Can you see the trend here?

And speaking of sharks...are you aware that it's Shark Week on the Discovery Channel? It's already underway, but there's still a lot of time left -- it runs until Saturday, August 8. Now, I'm not kidding you when I say that I've been a Shark Week fan for more than 20 years (that's right, from the very beginning). And since I currently have the world's worst cable TV package, I'm not able to see all of the fantastic shark-focused programming that Discovery always provides during this week. But there is hope. I've been checking out the Shark Week action online on a couple of great Shark Week fansites:

More related stuff: How Biomimicry Works HowStuffWorks - Corvette HowStuffWorks - Fishing Channel HowStuffWorks Videos - "Perfect Predators: Mako Shark Speed" Corvette Pictures