A Fishy Idea: Aquarium Shows off Barracuda and Sting Ray...Cars

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | May 14, 2018

It’s such a brilliant idea, I’m surprised nobody ever did it before. Aquariums have big parking lots, which are perfect for staging car shows. And why not, then, host only cars named after fish? The cheeky (fishy?) Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut not only had this idea, it’s executing it next month. "It seems to have struck a creative nerve with folks," the aquarium's Dave Sigworth told me. "We have cars coming by train from Florida." Can't they just swim?

The 1966 Marlin was based on a fairly boring Rambler. With a curb weight of 2,992 lbs, we're not surprised Hemingway's Old Man had such a hard time reeling this one in. (Maritime Aquarium photo)

Sigworth admits to not being a car buff. "I can tell you about real sting rays, mako sharks and barracudas," he said.

The rear window of the AMC Tarpon (left) was clearly modeled after the gaping maw of an Atlantic tarpon (right). (AMC photo)

Gathered together at the aquarium on Saturday, June 16 will be 11 fish-themed vehicles, with the two most obvious being a pair of AMC Marlins (1965 and 1966) and a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda (a potent 440-powered version). The design study for the Marlin was…wait for it….the “aquatically named” Tarpon, based on the American platform. It lacked a trunk lid.

 

Patrick Foster, author of the book American Motors Corporation, tells me, "American Motors was looking for an outdoorsy theme, something strong and sporty. The Tarpon name was picked for the prototype because the namesake fish is a strong, spirited fighter, a sportsman's fish, if you will. The Marlin is known as sleek and very fast. I should mention that many of the top executives at AMC were avid outdoorsmen."

 

The barracuda can reach speeds of 27 mph to overtake prey such as tuna, mullets, killifishes, herrings and anchovies. The Plymouth Barracuda can reach speeds of 60mph in 12.9 seconds and prefers gasoline. (Plymouth photo)

After that there’s two exotic fiberglass kit cars, a 1956 Bangert Manta Ray and a 1962 Covington Tiburon (“shark” in Spanish).

The Bangert Manta Ray in all its fiberglass glory. Few were made, between 1984 and 1957. The actual manta ray sports a custom cartiledge body and has been in constant production since the Oligocene Era. (Maritime Aquarium photo)

I hadn’t heard the E24 ’87 BMW M6 referred to as a “Shark,” but evidently they were called that because of their shark-like nose.

The 1962 Covington Tiburon (shark in Spanish) was called "the most streamlined car in the world." (Maritime Aquarium photo)

A pair of Porsches (‘79 930 and ’94 964 911) with “whale tales” seems like a bit of a stretch, but who can deny a 2016 Corvette Stingray?

The 2016 Stingray nose does look pretty fishy, doesn't it? (Chevrolet photo)

By no means are these the only cars named after fish, though the aquarium might have had a hard time getting its hands on an 1970 to 1988 Opel Manta. They were sold in the U.S. via Buick dealers, but the sporty Ford Capri fighters from GM were never numerous on the ground. The Manta was an occasional rally winner and in the U.S. came with a 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic.

An Opel Manta on the road in Belgium. They were also sold in the U.S. through Buick dealers. (Wikipedia photo)

And don’t forget the AMT Piranha CRV! You did forget it? You’re forgiven. It was seen on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and AMT produced several for the show, and (on TV at least) they had flame throwers, laser weapons, smoke and machine guns. Formidable!

A competitive AMT Piranha CRV-II. We advise you not to swim with either type of piranha. (Wikipedia photo)

But the car also had another life, promoting the use of ABS plastics in sports car design. A bunch of prototypes, with a plastic body mounted on a tubular steel chassis, were built, powered by 42-horsepower Sunbeam engines. Model builder AMT bought the rights, and those were offered along with full-sized vehicles (somewhat redesigned from the original CRV, and now called the CRV-II). A CRV-II was successfully raced in 1965, and is still on the road. An estimated 12 were made, and they were all different.

Bill Mitchell with the XP-87 Stingray and the XP-755 Mako Shark I.(GM photo)

Let’s not forget GM designer Bill Mitchell’s fish-themed Corvette prototypes. The Stingray is well known, of course, but Mitchell’s studio also turned out the Mako Shark I and II, and the Manta Ray!

If there are any fish-themed cars I missed, add them in comments here. To round this out, though it has nothing to do with cars, is a seven-minute episode from a show I dimly recall from childhood, Diver Dan. It's just as weird as I remember, too:


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