Chevrolet Timeline Tales
Corvette Timeline Tales: March 24, 1956 – Chevrolet Scores First Major Road Racing Win with a Team of Heavily-modified Corvettes – VIDEOS
Image: GM Archives
Unlike today’s out in the open Corvette Racing Team, in 1956 John Fitch’s factory-supported racing team was strictly a covert-op!
Dateline: 3.24.18 – Photos: GM Archives & Mecum Auctions – In the early days and well into the early 1980s GM and Chevrolet had an odd attitude about Corvette racing. There never was a lack of enthusiasm from Corvette engineers and designers, but the company just wouldn’t make “racing” official, in the same way Ford and Chrysler did for their racing programs, that got them tons of publicity and street cred.
But make no doubt about it, in 1956 there was indeed a factory Corvette racing effort, and it paid off! Four Corvettes were specially prepared for the 12 Hours of Sebring race on March 24, 1956, under the official banner of Dick Doane’s Raceway Enterprises. These were no ordinary production Corvettes. WW-II fighter pilot and racing champion, John Fitch was the team manager and had the full support and assistance of Ed Cole and Zora Arkus-Duntov.
After a successful performance at Daytona Beach in February 1956 where three of Duntov’s specially-prepared Corvettes set speed records on the Daytona beach sand, the three cars were sent back to Michigan to be prepared for the Sebring assault and one more car was added to the team. Continue reading
Corvette Timeline Tales: January 10, 1999 – Two C5-R Corvette race cars start testing for the 1999 24 Hours of Daytona – 2 VIDEOS
The Chevrolet-backed Corvette Racing Team starts its 20th racing season this month and has consistently raced longer than any other team in IMSA history. But it all started today in 1999!
Dateline: 1.10.18, Images: AutoWeek & illustration by K. Scott Teeters – Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time to get focused on important stuff – such as the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing season! Yes, The 2018 24 Hours of Daytona event is coming up January 26-29, just 2-1/2 weeks from today.
But 19 years ago today, when the new Corvette Racing Team, with their two new Pratt & Miller-built C5-R Corvettes made their debut, no one knew the new enterprise would be so successful. Corvette racing fans were thrilled and let out a collective, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”
GM’s standoffish attitude towards Corvette racing had been perplexing since the bad old days of the 1957 AMA Racing Ban that stopped the 1957 Corvette SS Racer and the Duntov’s 1963 Grand Sports dead in their tracks. Or as Zora used to say, “Came to a screeching halt!” Yes, the 1980s Showroom Stock and Corvette Challenge cars were cool, but Continue reading
August 31, 1992 – Dave McLellan accepts early retirement and steps down after 18 years as the Corvette’s second Chief of Engineering.
General Motors had a mandatory, “retirement at 65” policy, so as Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov was nearing retirement in January 1975 the big question was who would be chosen to fill Zora’s big shoes. Duntov was not consulted about his replacement and McLellan would not have been his choice, but Dave was definitely the man for the job. McLellan was an Alfred P. Slone Fellow with a degree in engineering and management. The ‘70s was not a fun time and there were serious issues to be dealt with besides horsepower, racing, and mid-engine designs. There were emissions and quality control issues, as well as the implantation of a new assembly plant and an all-new Corvette to be designed and developed.
When the C4 Corvette came out it received rave reviews – “The Best Vette Yet!” and under McLellan’s leadership kept getting better and better every year. By the late 80s, performance was back to late 1960s levels, Continue reading
The Gradual Refining Process of the C4 Corvette Is Underway
Dateline: 10.9.14 – Twenty-eight years ago today Chevrolet released the new 1987 Corvette to the buying public. A look back at the 1987 Corvette fills me with irony. Performance was back to ‘60s levels, fuel-injection was standard (yes, a Fuelie!), the car had a top speed of 150-MPH making it the fastest car in America in 1987, the Kim Baker’s Corvette was kicking butt in the SCCA Showroom Stock racing series, and it was one of Car and Driver’s Top Ten Cars of 1987. That’s not too shabby! Especially considering the Corvette’s dark disco days of the late ‘70s. Continue reading
1992 Sting Ray III, Another Corvette Movie Star
It was a dystopian, 1984, Brave New World, grim, not too far into the future, cop verses bad guy film, with lots of fighting, guns, sweat, muscle, and cool cars. Not surprisingly, the film got so-so reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 64% rating and Siskel & Ebert gave it a Thumbs Down, but Ebert liked the satirical wit. But it was good movie fun. The film debuted No. 1 at the box office and eventually grossed $58,055,768 by the end of the North American run and $159,055,768 world-wide. Continue reading
The Corvette Becomes a TV Star on Route 66!
Dateline: 10.7.14 – Fifty-Four years ago today, Route 66 made its TV debut. Beginning October 7, 1960 and once a week into early 1964,viewers followed the adventures of Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and Buzz Murdock (George Maharis) as they tooled around America in a brand new 1960 Corvette, seeking… well, adventure. Even though Chevrolet wasn’t selling that many Corvettes (10,261 units in 1960) the Chevrolet PR guys couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make the Corvette a TV star. Continue reading
The 1978 Corvette Gets a Well-Deserved Major Refresh
Thirty-six years ago today Chevrolet released the new 1978 Corvette. Chevy’s sports car was selling well considering the times. Muscle cars were all but dead, gas prices were up to around 75-cents-a-gallon (GOSH!), and the economy was in a slump. However, the Corvette was getting a little stale-looking, so when the ’78 model was released, it was a “WOW!”
The new bubble fastback roof was sweet indeed. One of the shortcomings of the ’68 to ’77 Corvette coupes was a serious lack of rear stowage area. Unlike the ’63-to-’67 Sting Ray Coupe that had a fairly good size space behind the seats (for a sports car), the C3 coupes up to ’77 had a narrow slot tall enough for a suit case and not much more.The new roof design not only yielded more room in the back, it helped brighten up the refreshed interior and eliminate a serious rear-view blind spot. Continue reading
October 5, 1966, the Running Mako Shark-II Debuts at the Paris Auto Show
Forty-Nine years ago today, October 5, 1965, the automotive press got to see the first, running Mako Shark-II show car at the Paris Auto Show in France. The non-running full-size model of the Mako Shark-II had been shown in April ’65 at the New York Auto Show and was a knock-out. The response was so overwhelming, Chevrolet brass quickly decided to build a running prototype for the next phase of development.
As V.P. of Design, Bill Mitchell laid out what he wanted the next Corvette to be. See if you can follow this.
He wanted the following; “a narrow, slim, center section and coupe body, a tapered tail, an all-of-a-piece blending of the upper and lower portions of the body through the center (avoiding the look of a roof added to a body), and prominent wheels with their protective fenders distinctly separate from the main body, yet grafted organically to it.” Continue reading
1986 Corvette Convertible Is Back!!!
The Corvette was born as a roadster, so it was a sad day in 1975 when Chevrolet announced that the 1976 Corvette would only be available as a Coupe. Yes, the convertible was history! “Safety concerns” were the stated reasoning. Yea, it was “A Bummer, Man!”
Fast forward to October 3, 1985 Chevrolet announced that the Corvette convertible was back! Yes, the Roadster Corvette had returned!
A large X-brace was added to the bottom of the frame to stiffen the chassis and the ride height was increased slightly, and no one cared. The drop-top, open-air motoring Corvette was back.
Later it was announced that the ’86 Corvette convertible would pace the Indy 500 and that ALL 1986 Corvette Convertible would be designated as Pace Car replicas, regardless of the color. Of the 35,109 Corvettes sold in 1986, 7,315 (20.8%) were convertibles. Continue reading
Cigar salesman, to Wall Street tycoon, to bowling alley manager?
The name “William Crapo Durant” has been making somewhat of a comeback as of late, thanks to the 100th anniversary celebration of Chevrolet. Durant came of age as a young man in early days of the American Industrial Revolution. It was the time of the railroad robber barons, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Standard Oil, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, and others. Electricity and electric light was utterly fantastic to people, and men were building motorized carriages to replace horse drawn transportation. It was an amazing time lead by tough and ruthless businessmen.
Born in 1861 in Boston, Massachusetts, William started his working career as a cigar salesman. He obviously had a keen mind for business and started his first company in 1886 at the age of 25, building horse carriages. Starting with $2,000, the Flint Road Cart Company quickly became a $2 million dollar business with sales from around the world. Companies came, merged, and were gone quickly throughout Durant’s career. By 1890 his Durant-Dort Carriage Company was the number one carriage company in the world!
An interesting side note about Durant is that he was a horse and carriage man first. The earliest horseless carriages were very dangerous and Durant did not like them. So much so that he wouldn’t let his daughter ride in one! By 1900 there was a significant public outcry against the new fangled dangerous buggies. There were no rules of the road, most roads were rutty, dirt horse paths not at all capable of withstanding machines with speeds double and more of that of horses. Durant saw a problem and offered a solution – build safer cars.
Starting with a local car company called Buick, William entered a Buick automobile in a New York auto show in 1904 (yes, they had car shows a hundred years ago!) and came home with orders for 1,108 Buicks. At that point, Buick had only built 37 cars! From 1904 forward, William Durant would become one of a handful of movers and shakers in the new fledgling automobile industry.
Here’s a list of the car companies that passed through Durant’s hands: Continue reading
All three Chevrolet brothers raced at the Indy 500, but only Gaston Chevrolet won the big race!
Auto racing has come a very long way in the last 100 years, but it always has been, and probably always will be, a very brutal sport. How could it not be? Part of every race involves tremendous forces at high speeds, so within that context, it’s understandable how sometimes, things can go terribly wrong.
Louis Chevrolet arrived in America in 1901. After working a few years and earning enough money, Louis sent for his younger brothers, Arthur and Gaston. All three Chevrolet brothers were mechanics and has a passion for automobile racing. Middle brother, Arthur, was not only the first of the Chevrolet brothers to race at the Indy 500, but he raced at the very first Indy 500 race in 1911. Although he only completed 30 laps and did not finish the race, Arthur was “there” for the first Indy 500, and would compete in one more Indy 500 race in 1916.
Louis was the next Chevrolet brother to race at the brickyard in 1915 and would compete again in 1916, 1919, and 1920. His best finish was 7th place in 1919 and was the only of his four Indy 500 races that he finished. But it was kid brother Gaston that would ultimately add the name “Chevrolet” to the list of Indy 500 winners. Gaston’s first Indy 500 race was in 1919, finishing the race in 10th place. But it was 1920 when Gaston qualified in 6th place with a speed of 91.550-MPH, held the lead for 14 laps, and won the race.
The Chevrolet brothers were serious racers. The story of Louis’ Chevrolet Motor Company and William Crappo Durant’s buyout is now legendary. Louis started his car company in 1911 and sold out to Durant by 1915. The following year, Louis, Arthur, and Gaston started the Frontenac Motor Corporation, specifically to design, build, and develop race cars. When Gaston entered his first Indy 500 race in 1919, he was behind the wheel of one of the family business race cars. The following year, the Chevrolet kid brother brought home the Indy 500 gold, driving the latest of the Chevrolet brothers designed race cars.
1920 must have seemed like the Chevrolet brother’s year. Much like modern race car builders, such as Greenwood, Pratt & Miller, and others, the Frontenac built customer cars. After his Indy 500 win, Gaston won a 100-mile match race against top racers Tommy Milton, who just happened to be driving a Chevrolet car, and Ralph Mulford. (Milton competed in 8 Indy 500 races and won the event in 1921 and 1923. Mulford competed in the first Indy 500, coming in 2nd place and raced in a total of 10 Indy 500 races)
But it was six months later, on November 25, 1920 in Beverly Hills, California, at a notoriously dangerous board track, that tragedy struck a fatal blow at the Chevrolet family. On the 146th lap of a 200 lap race, Gaston’s car crashed and he was killed. Continue reading