John Sugar’s Sting Ray Is Perfectly Anachronistic

Apple Studios

In The High Window, a 1942 detective novel by Raymond Chandler, the main character and private investigator Philip Marlowe earns the less-than-affectionate moniker “the shop-soiled Galahad.” In the new Apple TV+ series Sugar, a genre-bending sendup to film noir, our titular hero and knight errant John Sugar is not yet the sort of cynical, world-weary detective that Chandler would make famous in Marlowe.

From the very first episode, there’s something strange about Sugar (Colin Farrell). The character is an oddity, an anachronism, an outsider in a lonely place. He is softer than his heroes, detectives in the hardboiled American mold, like Marlowe or the compassionate Lew Archer. Filmmaker Robert Altman wrote of The Long Goodbye, a 1973 adaption of another detective novel by Chandler: “While we were making the film, we literally called [Phillip Marlowe, played by Elliott Gould] Rip Van Marlowe, as if he’d just woken up 20 years later and found out that there was absolutely no way to accommodate himself.” That particular portrayal of the iconic detective is clearly in the DNA of Sugar.

John Sugar Corvette Sting Ray Coupe Convertible
Apple Studios

With an encyclopedic knowledge of the classics, Sugar is nostalgic for a past he never lived, a past that never really existed—except for on the silver screen. The editing of the series reflects the way Sugar’s mind functions: When something reminds him of a particular film (e.g. Gilda, Johnny Guitar, Kiss Me Deadly), a clip from that film flashes on screen. Although Sugar is undeniably good at what he does, his PI persona is an invention. He has modeled himself after his celluloid idols: a little bit Mitchum, a little bit Bogart. His gun was used by Glenn Ford in The Big Heat. So it’s not surprising he chooses a ride that is as cinematic as it is old-school elegant: a Corvette Sting Ray. 

To be specific, Sugar drives a pristine ’66 convertible in Nassau Blue with a white and blue interior. A private eye should probably drive something a little less showy, but Sugar’s so good at what he does—locating the lost and the missing—that it doesn’t really matter.

The first fictional detectives operated like roving eyeballs: Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin, a Parisian, and Sherlock Holmes kept their distance from the action. But John Sugar is made in the mold of the 20th-century American detectives. When the granddaughter of Jonathan Siegel goes missing, Siegel (James Cromwell) seeks out Sugar. Siegel is a legendary producer, the patriarch of Hollywood royalty. No one loves film more than Sugar. His handler Ruby (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) assigns his cases, but Sugar decides to investigate this Chandler-esque mess on his own, despite Ruby’s attempts to stop him. He’s only meant to observe, but Sugar becomes involved, immersed. He detests violence and cruelty, and the mystery becomes something bigger for him than simply finding a missing girl; it becomes an awakening, a soul-jarring lesson in the evil that men do.

John Sugar tools around Los Angeles, often with the dog he accidentally adopted as his passenger, or his new rockstar friend Melanie, played by co-star Amy Ryan. The car shimmers under city lights, almost changing colors as it passes by neon signs. Atmosphere partly drives the story of creator Mark Protosevich, but these scenes are not without purpose. They give us a sense of Los Angeles’ bizarre geography: built in these little enclaves that eventually came together to form some semblance of a city, but its sprawling layout still keeps its denizens isolated from each other. L.A. is the perfect place for someone to disappear and for a mystery to unfold.

John Sugar Corvette Sting Ray Coupe Convertible
Bryan Gerould

Sugar provides one of the greatest pleasures of the detective story, and of television and film in general: watching someone drive through the city in a pretty car. Next to stepping into a movie theater, driving is the most cinematic way you can see L.A.; the windshield becomes a widescreen framing the city. And Colin Farrell loved the experience, describing himself driving the Corvette “like a kid in a sweet shop.”

Farrell tells the Movie Podcast that he got to actually drive for the series, sometimes for hours a day, rather than getting hauled around on a rig like a process trailer. So “it was a lovely little door to experience the character through.” He also discusses how his character’s idealization of the past “takes form in his visiting to his local picture house and watching old noir films and the driving of this car, the appreciation for the kind of tactility of old-fashioned cars, the shape of them, the lines of them, and how aggressive they are to drive at times.”

John Sugar Corvette Sting Ray Coupe Convertible
Apple Studios

The Sting Ray is a perfect car for Sugar. The C2 debuted in 1963 and would be replaced by the more beast-like, Mako Shark II–inspired C3 in 1968. In both looks and in performance, the C2 was a dramatic departure from the C1, its predecessor. At just 22 years old, Peter Brock sketched what would eventually become the Sting Ray. The car was a dream made real by a crew that included (but was not limited to) designers Brock, Chuck Pohlman, Anatole “Tony” Lapine, the brilliant Larry Shinoda, and engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, director of high-performance vehicles at Chevrolet. Arkus-Duntov earned the nickname “the father of the Corvette.” 

It was a dream they had to chase after hours, in secrecy, migrating from GM’s Head of Design Bill Mitchell’s basement Research B studio to the Hammer Room and finally landing in the legendary (and legendarily clandestine) Studio X. The C1 hadn’t reached its full racing potential, it was a relatively basic car, but there was a major roadblock in the team’s way to improving on it: following the Automotive Manufacturers Association’s ban, GM had outlawed factory-supported racing. The recession of 1958 hadn’t helped their cause much either. So Mitchell had quietly taken on the Corvette racing program on his own.

The secrecy and perseverance of the design team paid off, and their gambit was a success. Motor Trend’s Roger Huntington wrote, “This is a modern sports car. In most ways it’s as advanced as the latest dual-purpose sports/luxury cars from Europe. The new Corvette doesn’t have to take a back seat to any of them, in looks, performance, handling, or ride.” The “solid-axle” generation of the C1 had been exclusively made and sold as a convertible, but the C2, which debuted with independent rear suspension, offered two body styles, a coupe and a convertible. (Mitchell’s split rear window also made production for the 1963 model year. It caused some turmoil: although it looked cool, and is a revered feature today, it diminished rear visibility, even causing some in-period customers cut it out.)

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Overhead Rear Three-Quarter

The second generation also brought better transmission options and Chevy’s 327-cubic-inch V-8. Chevrolet continued to beef up the engine through the years, and by 1966, it introduced new big-block V-8s: As the brochure for that year boasted, “two brand-new 427-cu.-in. turbo-jet V8s cap Corvette’s quartet of engines.” The most powerful engine offered 425 horsepower. Chevrolet had also finally jettisoned drum brakes in 1965 and replaced them with “Sport-Master” discs. 

The Sting Ray design team bid farewell to the era of American “fat cars,” opting for a leaner European look. Mitchell had found inspiration at the Turin Auto Show in Italy, where he was especially impressed by the Abarth 750 Streamliner and the Zagato-bodied Alfa Disco Volante. But the final product was an unmistakably American car with a European flavor. (Duntov famously said of his Sting Ray: “For the first time, I now have a Corvette I can be proud to drive in Europe.”) In that way, the Sting Ray is not unlike the hardboiled detective: a concept with European styling transformed into an American icon.

John Sugar Corvette Sting Ray Coupe Convertible
Bryan Gerould

Before the events of the first episode of Sugar, the detective has been keeping his Sting Ray in storage. He soon reunites with it. As Sugar rolls out of the garage in the Corvette, his handler Ruby tells him, “I hate that you drive this relic.” 

“Relic?” Sugar says. “This is a work of art.”


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    Look most good TV detectives have cool cars that are horrible for tracking anyone. Be it Magnum, Manixx or Cannon with his large Lincoln. Even Paul Drake on Perry Mason had a Convertible Corvette, T bird or some
    other sports car Maxwell Smart A Sunbeam Tiger in red.

    As for the Stingray. This was a car designed for style not aero or racing in mind. This is why it was not the best on track unless it had some help in the nose. The Grand Sports are claim to have massive lift in the nose. The others had enough weight to help but still no down force till they discovered spoilers.

    But that is what makes this car so special. It was to be looked at first raced second. We will never see a car like that again for the Corvette as due to racing, Fuel regulations and now cooling for a Mid engine the styling has many things that they have to include beyond styling.

    It is a shame we have to put designers today in such a small box. It may be why we are so stuck with Retro styling as they really can’t get creative as they once were.

    GM really got a lot of their investment in the C2 as the chassis was mostly the same for the C3. Yes they modified things and changed it over the years some but it was still the same base unit.

    I like Colin Farrell, Amy Ryan, ’66 Corvette convertibles, film noir, and dogs (not necessarily in that order on any given day). What I don’t like is Apple, so I don’t subscribe to their TV service. Unless this moves to something like Netflix, I’ll probably never seen an episode. So, I appreciate the rather thorough description of the show and the photos, Priscilla! 👍

    My favorite old film noir detective movies usually take place in New York ( even if they weren’t shot there ). The gumshoe detective might say ‘ Follow that cab’ , ‘Were being followed’ or are shoved in the back of a Buick because ‘The boss wants to see you’ but seldom drive much themselves. But, as an homage to that era, Paul Newman did a movie called Harper in the mid 60’s. He drives a pretty tired looking primered 56 Speedster. Less than glamorous, as like most all of those who had ‘ Private Investigator’ painted on their smoked glass office door.

    (ps) If ‘Sugar’ sounds intriguing you might like ‘ Monsieur Spade’. An older Sam Spade ( Clive Owen ) now living in the south of France in 1963, finds himself pulled into investigating a series of murders after having left his trademark hat and revolver collecting dust in the closet.

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