On the Road with TV Series Route 66

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While ensconced at home, without regular slot racing and, not having any new car races on TV, I have turned to watching automotive-themed or automotive-adjacent television programs.  One of my childhood favorites was Route 66.  Two men, on the road, week after week, in a Corvette!  An unusual show, then and now, it was shot entirely on location, roughly following America’s Highway.  Inheriting his father’s 1960 Corvette, Tod Stiles and Buzz Murdoch traveled from place to place in discrete episodes, getting involved in local problems, usually with a woman involved, working local jobs, and then moving on for the next episode.

One thing to understand is how scarce Corvettes were then; total  production was less than 40,000 Corvettes and in my town of 35,000, as it was in much of middle America, Corvettes were scarce and seldom seen.  The show aired on Friday nights and I would stay and watch the show before going across the  street to the high school football game, along with what seemed like the rest of my town.  (I watched Bonanza on Sundays for a glimpse of a Corvette in the Chevrolet commercials as well).

The stories usually revolved around whatever the local businesses were, lobster fishing in Maine, shipbuilding in Gloucester, Mass., a shrimp trawler in Louisiana, ranch hands in Utah, even a trip to the Riverside Grand Prix in Season 2 Episode 13.  Using locals for extras, and, occasionally speaking parts, the location shooting presents vignettes of Mid-Century America.  The series had lots of guest stars like Robert Redford, William Shatner, James Coburn, Vera Miles, Suzanne Pleshette and many more.  Although at times uneven, the writing was generally very good.  The stories were often downbeat, with bittersweet endings.

Then there were the Corvettes and other cars.  Shot in black and white many people thought the Corvette was red.  The first one was blue and the others were mostly beige or saddle tan because it photographed better.  Sponsored by Chevrolet, most of the cars in the show were Chevys.  In Season 2 Episode 6 “Once To Every Man”, Janice Rule, playing an heiress, drove the Shark XP-755 show car with the XP-700 double bubble canopy, six months before it was officially displayed at the New York Auto Show.  This show aired October 27, 1961.  The XP-755 was based on the original Sting Ray race car, designed by Pete Brock and finished by Larry Shinoda.

In “Even Stones Have Eyes”, from Season 2 Episode 25, Tod and Buzz were working  on a commercial roof in downtown Austin, with Memorial Stadium, the UT Tower , and the Capitol, in the background.  Much of the rest of that episode was shot at the Texas Lions Camp in Kerrville.

George Maharis, who played Buzz Murdoch, got sick with infectious hepatitis late in Season 2 and also missed part of Season 3.  After negotiations broke down, Maharis left the show and was replaced by Glenn Corbett.  The show suffered somewhat in Season 4 and it proved to be the last season.

I have the DVD sets but the show is available on Amazon Prime.  It is also available on YouTube.  All in all, a pretty interesting series, it might be worth a look.

  2 comments for “On the Road with TV Series Route 66

  1. Great story Russ. Impressive with the factory headers; I bet they burned a few ankles.
    ?Question for you- what is the origin behind the “Stingray” moniker? Was that limited to the mid-60s Vettes with the ‘flat’ bodies?

  2. Peter Brock traces the history of the Sting Ray in his book: “Corvette Sting Ray, Genesis of an American Icon”. One of GM Styling chief Harley Earl’s final projects was a Corvette race car, using a Mercedes 300SL tube frame chassis as the starting point. This became the Corvette SS, which raced at Sebring in 1957. Not fully developed, further work was canceled with the GM/AMA “no racing” ban. Meeting with a group of young designers in the fall of 1957, Earl’s successor, Bill Mitchell, showed them photos he had taken at the Turin Auto Show in Italy, including the Alfa Romeo Disco Volente. He wanted to see what his “young guns” could do with his ideas. Singling out a drawing of the very young Pete Brock as what he had in mind, Brock and the other designers produced many sketches. Brock’s coupe drawing, dated 11/22/’57 became the focus. Mitchell told the designers he wanted to make a race car out of the “mule” chassis from the Corvette SS. This project was given the code name, XP-87. Mitchell decided that this car should be a roadster and designer Chuck Pohlman as assigned to make a 1/5 scale clay model of Brock’s coupe design. This project was all being done away from the “suits” at GM in a secret room with a hidden door. Mitchell’s agreement with GM was that the resulting car would be a privately sponsored car with no Chevrolet or Corvette badging and became know as Bill Mitchell’s “Stingray racer”. When it finally emerged after work by Larry Shinoda, Tony Lapine and other stylists, the only name, in script on the front fenders, was Stingray. Driven by Dick Thompson in a number of SCCA races, the car worked well but was always limited by archaic drum brakes. The XP-755 Shark concept car, as well as the production 1963 Sting Ray was based on the Stingray racer.

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