Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rare Factory Racing Corvette

Many of us geezers know that G.M. ran Corvettes at LeMans in 1960.  Fewer know about the "SS" sports racers than ran at Sebring in 1957.  Fewer still know that production Corvettes ran in the same race (it was news to me).  The production cars were a lot more successful than the 1960 LeMans effort.   The car below was at the Meadowdale Car Show, an annual affair, held this year on September 14.

These posters tell much of the story.  Click on the pic for larger text.

There were four Corvettes at Sebring in 1957.  It was a factory effort, the brainchild of Zora Arkus Duntov, although the entrants of record were Lindsay Hopkins and John Fitch.  Two cars were "SS's," entered in the sports racing class (prototypes in modern terms).  They did not do well.  One was DNF with suspension failure.  The other came 17th overall and 7th in class, behind the overall (and class-winning) Maserati 450 S.

The production Corvettes did just fine at Sebring, which amounted to Beta Testing for the C-1's that dominated SCCA's B Production class for six years.  So the car pictured below deserves to be at least as well known as the 1960 LeMans Corvettes.  Later in 1957 the Automobile Manufacturers of America ban on racing went into effect.  Which was why the SS Corvettes went under car covers, undeveloped, and General Motors's development of the B Production racer was very limited and off the books.  (One of the SS's was rebodied by Billy Mitchell of G.M. Styling as a "Sting Ray" and driven by Dr. Dick Thompson to the SCCA C Modified champion in 1960.  It was the styling exercise that became the C-2 Corvette.)

  This car came 15th overall and 2nd in class, driven by John Kilborn and Jim Jeffords.  The sister GT car (#4) came
12th overall and 1st in class, driven by Dr. Dick Thompson and Gaston Andrey.  Jeffords and Thompson went on
to winning seasons in B Production Corvettes.  They, and Andrey, also won big-bore Modified championships.
Thompson capped his career driving Ford GT 40's for John Wyer in Europe.  Corvette's '57 Sebring glory in the
GT 5000 class was slightly dimmed by the fact that they were the only cars in the class.  But finishing a major
endurance race was in itself a major achievement.

The formula for dominating SCCA's B Production class for over a decade: Rochester fuel injection atop a small-block
283/327, coupled to a Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed gearbox.  These features made the Corvette a respected vehicle for
the first time in sports car circles, and the "'57 fuelie" remains today the most collectable of early Corvettes.

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