Cars And Guitars: 1963 Corvette And "Wipe Out" By the Surfaris

Cars And Guitars: 1963 Corvette And “Wipe Out” By the Surfaris

Picture this: It’s the early 1960s, and post-war Southern California is buzzing with bronzed youth, salty air, and a pop culture explosion. Amidst this backdrop, four talented high school kids from Glendora, California came together to form a garage band. Unbeknownst to them, they would create the ultimate surf rock anthem, reverberating across beaches, boardwalks, and car radios around the globe. Over in Detroit, Chevrolet had just unleashed an all-new sports car that would put all the world’s automakers on notice.

The perfect driving experience and the melding of music and machines is what Street Muscle’s Cars and Guitars is all about. So buckle up, drop it into reverse, and floor it back a thousand years to 1963, when teenage surf rock and split-window sports cars roamed the earth. For Cars and Guitars #18, we’ve paired the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette and the song “Wipe Out,” by The Surfaris. We’ll also zoom in on the events of the day, reconstructing the pop culture arena that sprouted these two icons.

To get everybody in the mood, check out this video of “Wipe Out” from back in 1963. It’s a high-resolution clip that paints an almost surreal image of a bygone era. If you lived in the Midwest, this video must have seemed like a fairy tale from a faraway mythical land.

Shot at a pool party in Southern California there are blond-haired chicks, dancing couples, and the Surfaris laying down an incredible shuffle beat. The fashion of the day is on display here as well. From bikinis and ponytails to matching hip-hugger jeans, white belts, and shirts of the band, this was the coolest of cool at the dawn of the ’60s.

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The Surfaris Lineup

Leag guitarist Bob Berryhill was the driving force behind “Wipe Out.” His fingers flickered across the fretboard, laying down the iconic riff that would become synonymous with surf culture. Pat Connolly’s bass lines anchor the low end and provide the rhythmic foundation for the song. Rhythm guitarist Jim Fuller added the perfect amount of swing and groove. His guitar work complemented Bob’s lead, creating a harmonious blend of sunny, jangling sounds. Ron Wilson’s drum solo in the intro became legendary. Every aspiring young drummer in the early ’60s tried to snick that thunderous pattern – a badge of honor in every high school band class across the country.

The Surfaris were inspired by the surf guitarist Dick Dale, but it was the drummer Ron Wilson who founded their biggest hit. Wilson said he had dreamed of being a surfer, and with the others wrote a song called “Surfer Joe,” sung by Wilson. It was recorded at Pal Studios in Cucamonga, California in January 1963.

While recording “Surfer Joe,” their producer said they needed a B-side for the single. Wilson played a drummer’s practice exercise called a paradiddle. Wilson added stresses to what had been a rhythm he played at school, and the guitarists followed.

According to Bob Berryhill, “Ronnie loved Scottish marches and played with our high school Tartan marching band. That came into play, coupled with my suggestion of bongo rock-type breaks for an arrangement. That led to a drum-solo type of song with a simple guitar melody. Ronnie started playing the famous guitar solo and in about 10 minutes we had the song together.” Dale Smallin, the group’s producer/manager, performed the famous “Witch laugh” at the beginning of the song. This was added for the hell of it, as no one expected the song to be more than just a placeholder B-side.

A Big Hit

In January 1963, “Wipe Out” hit the airwaves like a tidal wave. It was released under the label Dot Records. The single quickly climbed the charts, riding the wave of surf music’s popularity. It reached number #2 on the US Top 40, making it a bona fide hit. But its impact wasn’t confined to American shores – it became an international sensation, selling over a million copies and earning a coveted gold record.

Interestingly, another group called The Impacts recorded a different instrumental titled “Wipe Out.” A  California doo-wop group, The Safaris filed a lawsuit over band name infringement and lost. In 1966, surf rock band The Challengers released their cover version of “Wipe Out.” Since then thousands of rock bands around the world have kept “Wipe Out” alive and relevant.

Two Worlds Colliding

“Wipe Out” remains etched in California culture. The song evokes the sun-drenched freedom of endless summers. It was also the last gasp of old-school rock and roll because in the fall of 1963, Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles broke on Ed Sullivan in 1964, changing the world forever.

Ozzy Osbourne once described his experience hearing the Beatles for the first time. He said, “Everything was in black and white before then. When the Beatles broke, the world was suddenly in color.” It was the same thing with the 1963 Corvette. The automotive world was just coming out of the wide whitewalls and tailfins era in the fall of 1962, and the ’63 Corvette was a technicolor knockout. Every sports car from around the world was suddenly dowdy and old.

Gestation and Inspiration

The C2 Corvette was conceived during a time of rapid innovation and design experimentation at General Motors. As the successor to the original C1 Corvette, the 1963 model had big shoes to fill. Its gestation period involved collaboration between designers, engineers, and visionaries.

The 1963 Corvette diverged significantly from its predecessor. Inspired by the 1957 concept designed by Peter Brock and Tony Lapine, Larry Shinoda was tasked with transforming the concept into a production-ready car. The result was a taut, muscular silhouette, with a style inline above the wheel wells that bisected the car. To that simple, low-slung form, distinct fender blisters protruded at all four corners. The cherry on the sundae was the rotating flip-up headlights that were very exotic in the fall of 1962.

The Split Window

Perhaps the most iconic feature of the 1963 Corvette was the coupe’s split rear window. This design element was both a triumph and a point of contention. Bill Mitchell, Vice President of GM Design, championed the split window for its visual impact and uniqueness. If you look closely at a 1963 Corvette coupe, there is a “backbone” styling line that runs from the tail of the car, through the split onto the roof.  A very cool design cue that was interrupted with the one-piece rear window for 1964.

Zora Arkus-Duntov with 1966 Corvette

However, Zora Arkus-Duntov, the “Father of the Corvette,” really disliked the split window. Duntov argued that the two-piece window hindered rear visibility and compromised safety. The debate raged on, but Mitchell eventually won out for 1963. He eventually acquiesced and in 1964, the split window was gone. Today, the 1963 Sting Ray coupe is probably the most treasured Corvette ever. Funny how things turn out.

Sting Ray Name Begins A Long Lineage of “Fish Corvettes”

The 1963 Corvette was also the first to adopt the “Sting Ray” moniker. This evocative name captured the essence of lightning-quick reflexes and aquatic grace. It heralded a new era for the Corvette and made its exposed headlight predecessor seem antiquated. Zora Arkus Duntiv had lobbied for a coupe for years. He said, “You can’t drive fast in the wind…” Drivers could now experience the thrill of a Corvette with added safety, comfort, and style.

The 1963 Corvette was a big seller for Chevrolet. A total of 21,513 units rolled off the assembly line. Hardly low production, but still a highly sought-after collector’s item today. Whether in convertible or coupe form, General Motors made money on every one it sold.

The Heartbeat of the Corvette

At the core of the 1963 Corverre were the engine options, each designed to deliver a brisk experience. The standard offering was a 327 cubic inch V8 engine, producing a respectable 250 horsepower. For those seeking more grunt, a 300-horsepower variant was available, providing a boost in performance.

For the true power aficionados, the Corvette could be equipped with a 340-horsepower engine. At the pinnacle of the lineup was the 360-horsepower fuel-injected powerhouse, a marvel of its time, offering unparalleled performance that could rival the best of its contemporaries here and abroad.

Complementing the engine choices were three transmission options. The standard three-speed manual transmission was a reliable choice for everyday driving. For those who preferred more gears, a four-speed manual transmission was available. This transmission was particularly well-suited for the higher horsepower variants, giving drivers the ability to manage the power band effectively. Last but not least, the old two-speed Powerglide offered a shiftless driving experience, with one-foot driving and effortless operation.

The World Was On Fire

While The Surfaris fans were dancing in California, and Sting Rays were rolling off the line in St. Louis, Missouri, the world was roiling. The British Invasion commenced, and in a few short years, it would banished surf rock to the back of the record bins nationwide.

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The Cuban Missile Crisis was in full swing as tensions escalated between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, causing a showdown that had the whole world on edge.  Last but not least, President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and the tranquil innocence of a post-war America was shattered forever.

Epilogue

“Wipe Out” turned 60 years old in 2023 and today, three of the original members survive. Guitarist Jim Fuller died in 2017, drummer Ron Wilson died in 1989. and saxophonist Jim Pash passed in 2005. The Corvette celebrated its 70th birthday last year after transforming into a mid-engine car for 2020 and is more popular than ever.

In doing research for this article, I’ve been listening to The Surfari’s Greatest Hits. After listening through all the tracks it became apparent that while they were a great little band, they never achieved the popularity of Dick Dale, Jan and Dean, or The Beach Boys. After the British invasion wiped out the musical pecking order in the early ’60s, The Surfaris never duplicated their chart success and are now considered a one-hit-wonder. Not to worry, because with “Wipe Out,” they had a grand slam hit in the golden age of rock and roll and are forever enshrined in American pop culture.

As always, queue up the Surfaris on Amazon Prime or Spotify and let the strains of the surf guitar take you back to a simpler time. An era of an innocent Los Angeles, surfer sing-a-longs and the most beautiful Corvette ever built. We’ll leave this episode of Cars and Guitar with a video of guitarist Bob Berryhill explaining the origins of “Wipe Out.”  See you next time…

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About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an editor at Power Automedia. He digs all flavors of automobiles, from classic cars to modern EVs. Dave loves music, design, tech, current events, and fitness.
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