Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Larry Shinoda

Lawrence Kiyoshi “Larry” Shinoda, who was born in Los Angeles in 1930 to Japanese immigrants, became a highly acclaimed automotive designer. His father died when he was only 12, and not long after that, he and various surviving members of his family were interned with other Japanese-Americans at the relocation camp at Manzanar, California, that had been set up after the U.S. entry into World War II.

By this point in his life, Shinoda had already demonstrated considerable artistic talent and even started drawing images of automobiles. Notwithstanding the dismal conditions at Manzanar, Shinoda continued to cultivate his creative interests and abilities during his time there.

Shinoda and his family were released from Manzanar in the spring of 1944. He subsequently used his talents to build hot rods and race them on the streets of Los Angeles.  In 1955, he won the first-ever National Hot Rod Association Nationals in Great Bend, Kansas.

Shinoda, seeking to further pursue his love of both artistry and automobiles, found work first at Ford Motor Company and then Packard Motor Company. By late 1956, he was working for General Motors (GM). One of his premier designs for the company was the XP-755 concept car, which became widely known as the Mako Shark due to its resemblance in some key respects to that fast-moving fish.

The Mako Shark became a big hit on the car show circuit, and several of its key design elements were used for another renowned GM automobile that Shinoda helped make a reality: the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray. This version of the Sting Ray, which remained in production for four years, quickly achieved iconic status. Shinoda also significantly contributed to the 1965 design of the Chevrolet Corvair, helping to give this automobile a more sleek appearance.

When one-time GM executive Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen became president of Ford Motor Company in 1968, he recruited Shinoda to help upgrade the styling of Ford’s lineup. Shinoda’s first big effort in this regard involved designing the high-performance 1969 Ford 302 Mustang, which featured reflective C-stripes on both of its sides. After Knudsen was fired as president, Shinoda left the company as well and they founded Rectrans. This company focused on recreational vehicles, with Shinoda designing a number of streamlined dragsters. Shinoda died in 1997 at the age of 67.

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