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
The 1964 Corvette GS-II – Frank Winchell’s Mid-Engine Engineering (Racing) Study with Jim “Mr. Chaparral” Hall
Dateline: 3.6.18 – Images GM Archives – This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of Vette Vues Magazine
While Duntov lead the charge when it came to racing Corvettes, he wasn’t the only power player inside Chevrolet with a vision for a mid-engine Corvette. Frank Winchell was a low-profile company man who, unlike Duntov, did not like or seek out fame and attention. He was comfortable in his role as a corporate man. Winchell ran the Chevrolet R&D group from 1959 through 1966 and was a “take no prisoners,” “lets try it” kind of guy. While not a degreed engineer, he had a natural sense of how things worked and specialized in the design and development of automatic transmissions.
In Chapter 35 of Karl Ludvigsen’s 2014 edition of “CORVETTE – America’s Star Spangled Sports Car”, in Chapter 35, titled, “Winchell’s Raiders”, Karl shares that one of Winchell’s nicknames was, “General Bullmoose” after Al Capp’s Li’l Abner character, General Brashington T. Bullmoose, the cold-blooded capitalist tyrant tycoon. (This was obviously NOT a compliment) Chevrolet engineer and author of the book, “Chevrolet = Racing…? Fourteen Years of Raucous Silence!!, Paul Valkenburgh, said, “Winchell hated the phrase, ‘That can’t be done.’ Upon hearing that, there would be an inner explosion like a mine blast. He might grab an engineer by the lapels to bellow, ‘What that means is that you can’t do it. So, by God, I’ll find someone who can!’ And he usually did.”
It has been said that Duntov managed with love and enthusiasm, where as nobody worked “with” Frank Winchell – they worked “for” him. Frank was a tough “take no prisoners” kind of guy. So, it is no surprise that the two strong willed men had different ideas of what the Corvette should be. Duntov and Winchell respected each other, but they often locked horns. Continue reading
Corvette Odd-Ball – 1958 Fiberfab “Centurion” Sells at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction for $91,000! – 2 VIDEOS
One-of-six Fiberfab Centurion (1959 Stingray Racer), fully-functional, period-correct kit cars – sells for $91,000!
Dateline: 1.19.18, Images Barrett-Jackson – The “build your own car” trend was HOT in the 1960s. Most were never finished and many were badly completed. What is arguably one of the nicest-finished kit cars ever, SOLD today for an impressive $91,000! Bidding was brisk and the auctioneer really worked the car. Check out the above video.
What is surprising to me is that according to the auctioneer, the car is eligible for the Monterrey Historic Races events! How about that?
Below is a video about the real 1959 Stingray Racer.
Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 65th Birthday to America’s Only True Sports Car, the Corvette! – VIDEOS
On this date in 1953, GM officials never imagined their little fiberglass concept car would one day become a world-class sports car and GM’s technological flagship automobile!
Dateline: 1.17.18 – Story by Mike Waal, Images GM Archives – On this date in Corvette History, Harley Earl‘s prototype Corvette (EX-122) was introduced to the public at the GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, in Manhattan, NYC, on January 17, 1953.
I was born and raised in Manhattan. My Dad was working for Cadillac at their show room dealership on 57th Street and Broadway, in Manhattan. Dad had access to all the car shows. While I didn’t attend this event with him, I was about to turn 6, some time between this date and 1955 I attended my first car show with my Dad. What a thrill!
My Mom got me dressed in a suit with a white shirt and tie, and put me on the subway train to meet my Dad, who was waiting for me. This is how I saw, in person, my first Corvette!
Here’s a fun Promotional film for the 1953 Corvette. Continue reading
A unique piece of Corvette history, the 1965 Fuel Injected Corvette Sting Ray Coupe Cut-Away car, could be YOURS! – VIDEO below!
Dateline: 1.1.18, Images from Barrett-Jackson – HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
I love cut-away cars, they’re just so cool! The concept has been around at least since the 1930S and possible before that. Kevin Mackay, owner of Corvette Repair on Long Island, New York has made himself quite a reputation for his independently-produced cut-away Corvettes. We have covered most of Kevin’s cut-away Corvettes here on CorvetteReport.com.
But it is unusual when a factory cut-away hits the auction block, meaning that a private citizen will get a chance to own a unique piece of Corvette history. The 1965 Fuel Injected Corvette Sting Ray Coupe Cut-Away car will go on the block at the 2018 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, January 13-21, 2018. The Lot number is, Continue reading
Dec 25 1909 – Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy Birthday to Corvette Godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov – 2 VIDEOS
December 25th, 1909 – Happy Birthday to Corvette Godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov
Dateline 12.25.17: (UPDATE! My monthly column in Vette Magazine, “The Illustrated Corvette Series” is in the middle of a six-part series titled, “Corvette’s Founding Fathers”. Part 4, “Corvette Godfather, Zora Arkus Duntov” will be available soon on Super Chevy .com, and will be in the June 2018 issue of Vette that will be out in March 2018.)
Zora used to joke that he had the “birthday-Christmas curse”, which means you won’t get double the number of gifts – which is funny coming from him because he was Jewish. The man had an awesome sense of humor! Regardless, Zora Arkus-Duntov’s part in the Corvette story is just as important as the original design of the car.
When Zora went to work for GM on May 1, 1953, no one inside GM knew anything about serious sports car racing. I Continue reading
Rare Corvette Engineering Prototype Goes ON THE BLOCK at Mecum Kissimmee 2018 Auction, January 5 – 14 – Lot 165
Car auctions are a lot of fun because you never know how much or how little any given car is going to sell for. The exception being rare Ferraris, Cobras, and anything owned by Steve McQueen – they always sell for A LOT! Corvettes are especially unpredictable. Several years ago the John Greenwood Sebring ’74 IMSA Corvette (the Batmobile) was a NO SALE. In 2016 the very first C7 2017 Grand Sport Corvette to roll off the assemble line sold for only $170,000. Many, including me, thought that the car would go for a lot more, as previous “first off the assembly line” Corvettes have sold for big bucks. A lot of it has to do with the mood of the economy. So, we never know and predictions are often way off.
Next month at the Mecum Kissimmee Auction, January 5 – 14, a truly rare ZR-1 Corvette will hit the auction block. The Lot Number is, S165. When the ZR-1 finally came out as a 1990 Corvette is was a very big deal. This was truly an exotic Corvette with its Lotus DOHC all-aluminum engine and wide body. Tommy Morrison’s race-prepared, but stock, ZR-1 shattered speed endurance records, thus legitimately giving the ZR-1 the nickname, “King of the Hill.”
Engineering prototypes and mule Corvettes are typically stripped of their good parts and then sent to the crusher; a terrible fate. But sometimes, a few are saved. According to Mecum, the ZR-1 that will be auctioned off next month is one-of-two “known” C4 ZR-1 prototypes; 25 prototypes were build in July 1987. Continue reading
The 1964 AWD CERV II – Duntov’s planned Ford GT40-Killer and Le Mans Champion.Dateline: 11.23.17 – For decades the topic of a mid-engine Corvette was simply “pie in the sky.” It was a fanciful piece of Corvette lore going back to the early days when Zora Arkus-Duntov was driving the Corvette brand. Every so many years, the topic would resurface, so when I heard it again for the umpteenth time, just after the C7 arrived, I said, “Oh, sure…” But, it’s going to happen, finally! The mid-engine C8 Corvette will make its grand debut at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit as a 2019 model.
In the interest of explaining how we got to where we are with the whole, long, mid-engine Corvette story, lets buckle into the Corvette Report Time Machine, set the dials (yes, we still use “dials” here at Corvette Report) and go back to 1963/1964 when that wiley, silver-haired Russian fox, Zora Arkus-Duntov tried once again, to build a “Corvette” to race at Le Mans. Indulge me while I bench race a little here, Continue reading
Corvette “Timeline Tales” Nov. 16, 1956: One magnesium-bodied XP-64 (Corvette SS) would be built for the 1957 12 Hours of Sebring race
The 1957 Corvette SS Racer’s exotic body turned out to be the hot ticket to failure!
Dateline: 11.16.17 (VIDEO BELOW!) – This was such a heady time! Corvettes were starting to do well in racing and the Fuelie was about to go into production. Chevy general manager Ed Cole gave Duntov the green light to move forward with the XP-64/Corvette SS racer. The XP-64 was a purpose-built, tube-frame racer that was to be the template for Duntov’s 1957 Le Mans assault team of Corvette SS racecars.
“Lightweight” was sports car exotica in those days and the only thing lighter than fiberglass or aluminum was magnesium, so the XP-64 was to have an exotic magnesium body. Continue reading
The 1962 Monza GT – Corvair-based, Mid-Engine Sports Car – Think Porsche 550/1500 RS Spyder and you’re close!
By the early 1960s the Fuelie Corvette, equipped with Duntov’s “Racer Kit” suspension and brake packages, established itself as a solid, dependable platform for a B/Production or A/Production SCCA racer. Several cars had killer reputations on the track, including; the Nickey Chevrolet-sponsored 1959 “Purple People Eater” driven by Jim Jeffords, Dave MacDonald’s “Don Steves Chevrolet” C1 Corvettes, C1s raced by Dick Thompson and Dick Guldstrand, as well as Grady Davis’ 1961 B/Production and 1962 A/Production “Gulf Oil” Corvettes, and others. Setup right, these cars could be unbeatable.
Yet, despite their track success, the European sports car community did not accept the early Corvettes. Why? Because Corvettes were big and heavy, compared to European sports cars. Traditionalists considered Corvettes to be crude, with more in common with a Chevy Bel Air than anything from Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar, Aston Martin and other low-volume European exotics. Corvettes were “mass produced” while European sports cars were “hand-crafted.” This perception did not go unnoticed inside Chevrolet, and some were thinking of a “Plan B” for the Corvette.
The Monza GT and the Monza SS roadster were never intended to be replacements for the Corvette. After all, the basic platform was the rear-engine Corvair. Now before you go, “Puke! Puke!” lets go back to 1957 for a brief look at where the Corvair came from, Chevrolet General Manager, Ed Cole’s aggressive and innovative, “Q-Chevrolet” line of cars. Continue reading
Chevy’s New “Performance” Model C5 Corvette, the Z06!
Dateline: 10.19.17 – (All images, GM Archives) The arrival of the C5 Z06 was a delicious surprise for Corvette fans at the end of 2000 as the new 2001 models were being announced. It had been 38 years since the first and only RPO Z06 quietly arrived as an expensive Off Road suspension option, designed strictly for racing. Ordering a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray with the Z06 option for street use was pointless because there was no horsepower advantage, as the Z06 option required the same 360-horsepower L84 317 engine that was available on any Sting Ray. There were no special badges or trim to make a Z06-equipped Corvette look unique. No, all the good stuff was in the suspension and brakes. And since only 199 Z06 Corvettes were built in 1963, unless you were into road racing, you didn’t even know about the Z06. Then add in a 38 year gap between 1963 and 2001, and its no wonder that hardly anyone knew what a Z06 was!
For years there’d been a clamoring for a “cheap Vette”, you know, a strippo model void of all the thrills and creature comforts. The “logic” being that if Chevy would just take out all the goodies, the car would be lighter, leaner, and therefore, meaner and cost a bunch less. After the successful launch of the C5 Corvette, Corvette Chief Engineer, Dave Hill and his team seriously considered such a Corvette.
The problem was that removing the frills didn’t add up to much an any weight advantage and the price hardly dropped at all. To really make the car cost less, smaller wheels and tires, and a lesser engine were needed. The end result was a Corvette that no one would have wanted. Continue reading
Retired Corvette R&D engineer Bill Tower shares some of his insights into the background of the 1963 Grand Sport Program
The 57-Year Saga to the C8 Mid-Engine Corvette – The Old Mid-Engine Advantage & the 1960 CERV I
Dateline: 8.13.17 – Images: GM Archives & Mecum.com – Introduction: Honestly, I didn’t believe it at first. It seemed like the floodlights from the debut of the C7 Corvette weren’t even cool yet when the automotive press and the Internet started chattering about the C8 Corvette being a mid-engine design. GM then added fuel to the fire when it was announced that they had trademarked the word “Zora” which ignited the speculation of a mid-engine Corvettes.
Part of Corvette-lore is that Zora Arkus-Duntov unsuccessfully tried many times to make the Corvette a mid-engine car, because in Zora’s day, it made perfect sense. The trouble was that Chevrolet was selling enough Corvettes to make the argument that, “the Corvette wasn’t broken, so don’t fit it!” The mid-engine Corvette concept lost its champion after Duntov retired in 1975. Dave McLellan’s team tried to recycle the body design of the mid-engine Four-Rotor Corvette, powered by a transverse-mounted small-block Chevy engine. That idea was actually “approved” briefly, but died a quick death. The mid-engine Corvette concept came back again as a development program that started with the Corvette Indy (a full-size static model), the Running Corvette Indy (a functional, drivable version), and finally the CERV III. This CERV III was an almost completely flushed out car, meaning that it “could” have been put into production, had GM not been embroiled in a financial crisis in the early ‘90s. The crisis was so bad that once again, the Corvette was on the chopping block!
Perhaps by sheer luck, the C5 plan eked through and turned out so good, that the mid-engine concept then seemed antiquated. Then suddenly, shortly after the C7 came out, the Mighty Wurlitzer Rumor Organ got cranked up and once again, we are in mid-engine mania. But does the mid-engine make sense? Is this what the Corvette community really wants? I’ve had my head plugged into the world of Corvettes since 1965 and followed all of the mid-engine Corvette concept cars. Most were engineering studies and not real, drivable, serviceable, safe cars – a few were close to production-ready.
The “story” of the Corvette is long and rich with colorful characters, loud and awesome machines, and two, BIG, “Could’a been so cool!” chapters – The Grand Sport and the mid-engine Corvette. While it was wonderful that Chevrolet used the Grand Sport moniker for one of the two special-edition 1996 C4 swan song Corvettes, and then as a separate model Corvette starting in 2010, these were not Duntov’s original vision. Continue reading
Dateline: 8.12.17 / Photos: WikiCommons, Illustrations by K. Scott Teeters – When I was a wee lad and would see the term, “For Off Road Use Only” I used to think, “Well who drives these cars in the dirt and grass?” What I didn’t understand was that the term is code for “RACING”! Beginning in 1957, Chevrolet’s new general manager, Ed Cole, made the command decision that he would let “customers” carry the Corvette racing mantle by offering Chevrolet-engineered parts, specifically designed for racing, available through the Chevrolet Parts Department.
For decades, Zora Arkus-Duntov has been credited for the implementation of the Corvette “Racer Kits” through the RPO (Regular Production Option) system. Zora was the face of the unofficial Corvette racing effort, but while researching C1 Corvette chassis design, I came across some interesting information in Karl Ludvigsen’s 2014 book, “CORVETTE: America’s Star Spangled Sports Car”. While Duntov was definitely the front man, Ed Cole also charged three-time Indy 500 winner and engineer, Mauri Rose with the development of the Corvette’s RPO parts program. So, the Corvette “Off Road” RPO effort guided by Le Mans racer and class winner, Duntov, AND Mauri Rose, the second man to win the Indy 500 three times (1941, 1947, and 1948)! Pretty cool, huh?
The Racer Kits weren’t a “secret” but unless customers were tuned into racing, most weren’t aware of this special program. In truth, since improvements in suspension and brakes were for racing, customers rarely used them for their street Corvettes. And typically racers used the expensive dual quad or Fuel Injection performance engines. The Racer Kit RPO option program enabled Corvette racers to be seriously competitive in SCCA racing such that by the end of the 1950s, Corvettes were a force to be reckoned with.
Engineer Maurice Olley designed the chassis and suspension of the first Corvette in 1952 and was considered to be the best suspension and chassis engineer in Detroit. It is essential to remember that the Corvette was NOT designed to be a racecar. Continue reading
Dateline: 8.11.17 – Photos: GM Archives, Michael Beal, Illustrations: K. Scott Teeters – There’s an unwritten, unofficial “Law of the Jungle” that basically states, “If you are at the top of the food chain, you might not be there for long.” Such was the case for the C4 ZR-1 Corvette, for a little while. The C4 ZR-1 had a six-year production run with only 7,018 units produced. The ZR-1’s head-exploding price was the biggest limiting factor. The crummy economy in the early ‘90s didn’t help, and the much-rumored, all-new C5 no doubt was a drag on the ZR-1’s sales. And then there was also that pesky Dodge Viper. The 427 Cobra’s “Marley’s Ghost” was obvious, only this time disguised as a Dodge,
While armchair quarterbacking is easy and hindsight is 20/20, it is worth asking the question, why wasn’t such an awesome car more successful? “Timing” aside, the ZR-1’s aesthetics was a big factor. Stated simply: When viewed by itself, the C4 ZR-1s look like “regular” Corvettes. As an illustrator and stylist, I find it astonishing that Chevrolet would have done this, after all the engineering work that went into the ZR-1. The body panels from the doors all the way back to the rear bumper cover, are unique to the ZR-1 – made wider to cover the widest tires put under a factory-built Corvette body, to that point. This means that the panels had to be redesigned. But rather than make them visually unique, the Corvette stylists were commanded to imitate the basic design of the standard Corvette, with one exception Continue reading