Early in the second half of the Twentieth Century the automobile industry in Detroit was a hotbed of creativity. Freelance designers like Raymond Loewy, Ray Dietrich, Brooks Stevens and Dutch Darrin were routinely consulted by auto manufacturers in search of ideas that would translate into consumer awareness and increased sales. Even at the so-called 'Big Three', GM, Ford and Chrysler, the ideas, concepts and inventions of employees were sought out and given serious consideration. One of these employees was Francis H. Scott, a GM employee in the Plaster/Plastic Department under Bill Mitchell's GM Styling.
Following Corvette's highly successful introduction in 1953, subsequent models struggled for commercial success and came up well short of the sales posted by the Ford Thunderbird following its introduction in 1955. It appeared that the market for 'boulevardiers' exceeded that of 'America's sports cars'. Corvette teetered on the brink of extinction. Like many at GM, and particularly in Styling, Francis Scott wanted Corvette to succeed and employed his creativity to come up with a feature that would make Corvette more user-friendly without robbing it of its essentially sports car character.
Begun as a project to salvage a wrecked '58 'Vette, Scott later recounted that he noticed how the thoroughly destroyed rear portion of his Corvette would accommodate the volume of the car's hardtop, "I saw that a retractable hardtop would fit down into the trunk and it all started going back together that way." Helped in forming his mental image by having worked on a retractable hardtop car for the GM Motorama earlier in his GM career and also by the Ford Skyliner retractable introduced in 1957, Scott began to lay out the workings of a simple but effective retractable, consistent with the concept and compact layout of the 1958 Corvette. "I had to do some head-scratching in the beginning, but generally speaking it just fell together," he recounted in a subsequent interview.
The genius in Scott's retractable hardtop design is in its simplicity. Rather than resort to the tinkerer's delight that is the Ford Skyliner, with three drive motors, four lock motors, eight circuit breakers, ten limit switches, ten power relays and 610 feet of wire to fully automate the top operation and deck cover, Scott made do with one lock motor, one hydraulic pump and motor and two flex cables.
An ingenious tilting rear window and tracks that move with the motorized rear deck cover were sufficient to create a simple yet effective retracting top that is fully enclosed under a reshaped Corvette rear deck.
To lower the top, a switch on the console opens the rear deck. After it is raised, the rear window is rotated to the stowed position, the windshield header latches are released and the top is manually slid down roller tracks into the semi-stowed position. The console switch then closes the rear deck, simultaneously retracting the hardtop on its tracks into the well under the deck.
Raising the hardtop is the reverse of this simple and quick process. It is ingenious, simple and effective.
Creating it in the front room of Scott's house in Warren, MI took only $2,600 but 3,200 hours' work over three years. Extra personal touches included adding two large bumper bullets (Dagmars) and relocating the exhaust outlets from the bumper ends to the lower quarter panels directly behind the rear wheels.
Scott displayed his innovation to GM Styling chief Bill Mitchell and head of Design Staff Engineering Bill Lauer at the GM Executive Garage in early 1962. As Scott later described, Mitchell walked around the car once, completely ignoring me, said 'I'll be damned,' then just walked away.
At Lauer's suggestion Scott applied for a patent through GM's patent office; U.S. patent number 3,180,677 issued in 1965 in Scott's name, assigned to his employer General Motors in exchange for a silver dollar. The idea disappeared into The Corporation's maw and remained another not-for-production styling exercise.
Bill Mitchell might have balked at the reshaped '58 Corvette's rear deck, but the Scott retractable hardtop system would have fitted easily within the raised deck of the '61 and later Sting Rays and Stingrays. Scott drove his retractable Corvette for five years before trading it on a '63 coupe.
After passing through several hands it was acquired and restored by the present owner, ProTeam Classic Corvette Collection, performed a complete body-off restoration to the most exacting of standards in 1994. Painted in Tuxedo black with black cove and a red interior, the Corvette also has a Wonderbar radio, courtesy light and deluxe heater as well as whitewall tires.
When unveiled at a special press luncheon at Carlisle Productions' 13th annual Corvettes at Carlisle extravaganza in Pennsylvania in 1994 it created a sensation. Subsequently it was featured at Bloomington Gold's Special Collection XIII 'The Classics 1953-1962' in 1996. Although Francis Scott could not attend the unveiling, he did supply much help to the restoration team. The car has since won numerous awards wherever it has been shown, including a Du Pont 'Top Gun' First Prize Award for best use of Du Pont color and permanent membership in the Chevy/Vettefest Nationals 'Showcase' Registry. Also, the car was invited and participated at the 2003 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, People Choice #335.
The car has been featured extensively in many publications including the 1996 Barnes and Noble Corvette Calendar 1996, Corvette Fever Magazine, January 1995 centerfold feature and a four-page article in Mike Mueller's book Corvette 1953-1962 published by Motorbooks International. The air filter pan has been signed by Francis Scott, Zora Duntov and David Hill.
Constructed as one would expect to the high standards of GM's experimental and styling departments and restored to high standards, the 'Flip-top' Corvette of Francis Scott is a unique example of creativity within the ranks of the 'Big Three' and superb functionality consistent with Corvette's sports car tradition. The most brilliant ideas are often the most simple, in both concept and execution, qualifications that apply perfectly to Francis Scott's unique Retractable Hardtop Corvette.
Restored to the highest standards several years ago, it has been carefully preserved by knowledgeable enthusiasts and is ready to tour or show with distinction. Today disappearing tops are common place on sports cars, but few automobiles will have the salubrious effect of this 'Dream Car' Concept Corvette in opening conversations, making friends and attracting attention at shows and road tours.
This one-off, US patent #3,180,677 Retractable Hardtop Corvette is being offered for sale at the Barrett-Jackson Auction Saturday, January 29th, 2005
Featured on ProTeam's Historical Collection Video. A viewer friendly quality video entitled "The Historical Collection" is available for $9.95 plus $3.00 postage and handling.
Click Here for the Quicktime movie (size 951KB). One minute in length
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