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.
Unlike today’s Corvette Racing Team’s massive year-around, non-stop R&D program, the Sebring cars were prepared in just a few weeks and were being worked on around the clock. But all things considered, it was a valiant effort that paid off. Here’s a list of the modifications made to the Corvettes. This is why these were no “ordinary” Corvettes and by 1956 standards, these cars were very advanced.
Here are the basic modifications:
* Magnesium knock-off wheels shod with Firestone Super Sport 170 tires
* Oversized brakes with finned cast-iron drums and Bendix Cerametallix linings
*Side rear brake scoops
* 37.5-gallon fuel tank
* Quick ratio steering
* Shortened steering columns
* 7,000-rpm tachometer that replaced the speedometer
* Hi-torque limited-slip read differential
* Longer axle shafts with threaded ends for the knock-off wheels
* Tubular shocks, springs, and anti-roll bars stiffened with a pair of Hodaille van-type rear shocks
* 265-cid and a 307-cid dual-quad engines equipped with Duntov camshaft and race prepared and tuned by Smoke Yunick’s Best Damn Garage in Town
* Open dual exhaust
* Custom ZF four-speed transmission
* Auxiliary racing headlights
* Windshield replaced by driver side-only short windscreen and tonneau cover for the passenger side
* Front and rear bumpers removed
Today the Sebring track is notorious as being one of the hardest, roughest tracks in road racing. But in 1956, the 5.2-mile Sebring airport circuit was even worse – after all, it was a concrete Air Force base runway, made into a racetrack. Parts would literally fall off of racecars, it was that rough.
Of the 60 cars that started the 12-hour race, only 24 finished and three of them were Corvettes. The Fitch/Hansgen No. 1 Corvette finished 9th overall and was 1st in Class C. The No. 6 Corvette of the team, Crawford/Goldman placed 15th overall, and the No. 3 Corvette of David/Gatz finished 23rd.
Then as today, endurance racing is all about finishing the race. The team Corvettes weren’t without problems. Fitch felt that his No. 1 Corvette’s slipping clutch and the No. 6 Corvette of Crawford/Goldman only being able to run in 3rd gear, prevented the engines and drive trains from being over stressed. In other words, the car’s problems helped them finish the race! Regardless, the Corvette won its class at Sebring!
To stick it in the eye of the snooty exotic Europeans, Chevrolet’s advertising man at Campbell-Ewald, Barney Clark, knew exactly what to do. Using a dynamic front-view action photo of the No. 1 Corvette in the pits with the driver running towards the back of the car for a driver change, the ad headline simply said, “THE REAL McCOY”. Nuff said! – Scott
PS – In January 2014 the 1956 “Real McCoy Corvette sold at the Mecum Kissimmee Auction for $2.3 million dollars. However, after the auction, the transaction was postponed over a dispute over the ownership of parts used in the car’s restoration. Afterwards some serious, complicated and no doubt expensive litigation ensued.