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1967 Chevrolet Corvette COPO Convertible - Personal Car of Bill Mitchell
Any Corvette enthusiast will tell you there is no better way to spend a sunny afternoon than cruising around town in a Sting Ray convertible with the top down. But when that town is Newport Beach, CA and the car is this stunning 1967 Ermine White Sting Ray Tri Power convertible, that sunny afternoon cruise is exceptional indeed. And when its owner Jim Mangione is along for the ride to tell the car’s story as we rumble past the tropical flora lining the streets of Lido Isle, one gets the full sense of its incredible historical significance.
Start with the fact that this is an extremely rare COPO car ordered by the legendary Bill Mitchell as a gift for his wife Marian. The only one of its kind ever built, the car was walked along the assembly line by Mitchell himself, who specified the 427/400 hp Tri Power big-block, a heavy duty Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission and a long-legged 3.08 Positraction rear end. With that flexible and powerful drive train in place, Mitchell added a long list of extra features that includes power steering, brakes and windows, transistorized ignition, side-mount exhaust, a telescopic steering column, tinted windshield, air conditioning, an auxiliary hardtop and an AM/FM radio.
The car was then moved from the assembly line to the GM Technical Center, where Mitchell also oversaw the modifications that distinguish it as the only one of its kind. The car was partially dismantled and custom touches added throughout, the most apparent being the painted Red accents applied to undercarriage and suspension components, sill panels, rear interior trim panels, and the front and rear wheelwells. Most dramatically, the Red Stinger stripe was continued from its normal trailing edge at the windshield to carry on over the rear deck and down to the bottom of the rear valence, a feature that coincidentally emphasizes the integrity of Mitchell’s famous design: when extended to the rear of the car, the outer edges of the original Stinger stripe perfectly bracket the license plate and backup light.
Marian Mitchell was especially delighted with Bill’s gift; she drove it for two years, an unusually long period in a household known for its rapid turnover of specially-built company cars. The Corvette was then sold to neighbor Harry Byrd, who kept it for a mere six months before selling it down the street to Richard Brown. Brown was so enamored of the car that he took it with him when he retired to Florida and enjoyed it for years afterward, until he sold it in 1987 to Don Newton of Kentucky. In recounting the car’s history to Newton, Brown showed him the contents of the glovebox: the original warranty book, Owner’s manual and Protect-O-Plate imprinted with Mitchell’s name and home address.
Newton drove and enjoyed the White-and-Red convertible for two years, and then decided to mount a full body-off restoration. The true value of Brown’s careful stewardship became evident then, for the car retained almost all its original paint, and the interior was still all-original and in excellent shape. In the process of dismantling the car, Newton, already aware of its provenance, made two startling discoveries while removing the fuel tank. Glued to the tank was the original build sticker that bore a special feature: at the end of the list of option codes, the last line of the printout read “W Mitchell”.
Even more amazing, and completely unique to this car, was a special Chevrolet Memo Book, on the cover of which is a handwritten inscription that reads “Mr. Mitchell - special order per Z. Duntov.” Written in Duntov’s hand, the book contains special notes on the car, some of which refer specifically to Mitchell’s and Duntov’s orders for its construction. It was Duntov’s habit to carry a Memo Book in his shirt pocket, fill it with notes and then hand it to an engineer to activate another of his many projects; in this case, it was used by Mitchell to guide plant personnel in the building of this prized Corvette.
Newton completed the restoration in 1992, after which he loaned the Sting Ray to the National Corvette Museum in Louisville, KY. It now resides in the collection of Jim Mangione of Newport Beach, which brings us back to that sunny afternoon and cruising Lido Island in this incredible machine.
With the top down, the sun warming the bright Red interior and a gentle breeze wafting through the palms overhead, driving the Mitchell Corvette is like being surrounded by a bubble of nostalgia. Even on Lido, where traffic is dominated by all manner of exotics, there is nothing else like it on the road, and certainly nothing with its pedigree or historical importance. Forty-two years after it was built (almost to the day) in May 1967, the rare, valuable and beautiful Mitchell Sting Ray still turns heads, runs flawlessly and drives like a dream. In the ten years he has owned the car, says Mangione, countless others have come and gone from his collection while this one has remained a centerpiece. “This car is without doubt as rare as it gets, and with one of the most fascinating stories of any I have ever owned. It’s a big-block COPO car, built from instructions hand-written by Zora Arkus Duntov; Bill Mitchell himself walked the car right along the assembly line and then oversaw its customization at the Tech Center. It has tons of documentation. This is a very, very special car.”
Underlining that statement is the fact that on June 22, 2001, the Bill Mitchell Corvette became the very first recipient of the prestigious Bloomington Gold Historic Award.
Mangione’s enthusiasm for the car is plainly obvious as he presents the veritable mountain of accompanying documentation. Along with the aforementioned Protect-O-Plate and Owner’s Manual Richard Brown kept in the glovebox, there are the two crucial artifacts found on the gas tank that boost the car’s historical value into the upper strata of collectible Corvettes: Zora’s Chevrolet Memo Book and the Mitchell-personalized tank sticker. This writer can attest first hand to the thrill of gingerly opening Zora’s notebook to peruse its contents.
Still, there is more: a copy of the window sticker, full photographic documentation of the restoration, full documentation of the ownership chain; written correspondence including a letter from Bill Mitchell’s brother Rex to Don Newton thanking him for photos of the restored car, magazine articles and more, all carefully preserved for posterity.
Driving the 1967 Bill Mitchell Corvette was a rare privilege made all the better by Jim Mangione’s deep knowledge of its history and the infectious zeal with which he shares its story. It truly is “a very, very special car”.
- 1967 Corvette convertible
Photos, descriptions and other information on this page are provided by the consigner to Mecum Auction and have not been verified by Mecum Auction.