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August 23, 2019

From the Pontiac Phantom to the Mini-Camaro, Here Are 10 Notable Designs From Studio X From the 1960s

It was a cold November morning in 1957 when William L. “Bill” Mitchell, heir apparent to General Motors’ industry-dominating design team, strode unexpectedly and atypically alone into the automaker’s basement Research B styling studio. Just back from the Turin, Italy, motor show, Mitchell was thinking how great a second-generation Corvette could look if it borrowed some themes he had seen on the streamlined Italian sports cars at the show.

But Mitchell faced a seemingly impenetrable barrier: On June 6 of that year, the all-powerful Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) had forbidden American automakers from participating in any performance or motorsports activities—which included the building, selling, or advertising of performance-oriented products.

This ban was a delayed response to the horrific crash at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans, which had killed 77 people and injured as many more. The strong-willed Mitchell—a brilliant designer and racing and performance enthusiast soon to replace the legendary Harley Earl as GM’s styling chief—was told the AMA prohibition meant Chevrolet’s still-struggling Corvette would be removed from the lineup. In response, he reportedly said: “Bullshit! I’m not going to let that happen.”

So he decided to do what most anyone in his position (and possessing huge anti-establishment cojones) would do: set up a clandestine studio hidden from the prying eyes of GM executives, accountants, divisional managers, and anyone else not directly involved—even other designers and studio chiefs.

Bill Mitchell and Stingray concept

The result: Some of GM’s greatest cars and concepts—including the spectacular ’59 Stingray Racer, which previewed that next-gen Corvette, hot Monza GT and SS concepts, swoopy Astro I, Astro II, and aircraft-look Astro III idea cars, two Mako Shark concepts, and a Mini-Camaro small-car project—would be created in secret over the next decade.

Alas, Studio X closed under Irv Rybicki, head of styling in 1967. Mitchell worked to reopen the studio once more to design a retirement present for himself, but the project was ultimately canceled. However, the car, a Pontiac Grand Prix based “Pontiac Phantom,” still lives today at the Sloan Museum.

1. 1961–’62 XP-777 Monza GT

2. 1961–’67 XP-755 Shark/Mako Shark I

3. 1962–’65 XP-797 Corvair Monza SS Spyder

4. 1964–’67 XP-830 Corvette Mako Shark II

5. 1964–’69 XP-800 Astro III

6. 1966–’67 XP-842 Astro I

7. 1966–’68 XP-866 Toronado XX

8. 1966–’68 XP-880 Astro II

9. 1967 XP-873 Mini-Camaro

10. 1976–’77 Pontiac Phantom

(via Motor Trend Canada)


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