Hemmings Motor News old sister publication takes a look back at the first special-built Corvette race car, the SS Corvette
(Be sure to check out the SS Corvette video at the bottom of this post!)
Back in the early ‘80s there was a new trend in the car magazine biz – specialty publications. Marty Schorr’s VETTE Magazine was ahead of the curve when it came out in ‘76. VETTE was the first “Corvette-only” news stand magazine ever published. By the early ‘80s there was a specialty publication for most brand cars. Hemmings Motor News branched out with a unique magazine called, “SIA – Special Interest Automobiles.” While I remember seeing the magazine on the news stands it wasn’t something I was interested in back then, as it featured many pre-WW II “classic” cars, and I was interested in other things at the time.
Fast forward to today and the wonderful world of blogging, Hemmings has one of my favorite car blogs. It’s the preverbal “box of chocolates” because “you never know what you’re going to get.” (thank you Forrest Gump!) Recently at http://blog.hemmings.com/ they posted an interesting and detailed story about the 1957 SS Corvette race car from the October 1988 issue of SIA magazine.
Don’t let the rather scathing introduction put you off, “…the SS was little more than a poorly executed and slapdash affair, deserving of its failure at Sebring and merely spared the pain of further embarrassment… “ The actual article from SIA is very good with lots of pictures, statistics, and some nice technical illustrations of the SS Corvette.
This is just my opinion, but I think that the introduction was a little unjust for the following reasons. While it is true that Duntov and his team copied the Mercedes 300SL race car’s birdcage frame and chassis, so did many other cars. The design was the standard road racing layout of the day. General Motors of the mid-’50s was arguably the least prepared auto company to even take on such a project, as they had NO experience what-so-ever in building race cars. The only part of the car Chevrolet engineers were familiar with was the 283 Fuelie engine. Plus, the small-block was only in its third year of production and F.I. unit was brand new.
There was also a healthy dose of naiveté on Chevrolet’s part. Management seemed to think that a brand new, never seriously tested or developed race car would be competitive with the likes of Mercedes and the other well developed road racers of the day. Chevrolet was more concerned that the racer look like a show car. So with very little track time for the finished car (two were built – one mule and one finished car), the SS Corvette did not perform well and was somewhat of an embarrassment.
However, it should be pointed out that two years later, Bill Mitchell “borrowed” the mule chassis, rebodied it with his Stingray body design, and campaigned the car at his own expense. After a year of racing and sorting the bugs out, the Stingray/SS Corvette won the ‘60 SCCA B/Production championship. It takes time to develop a race car. Pratt & Miller developed the C5-R for over two years before the ‘01 LeMans win. Had an outside development company campaigned the SS Corvette with help from Duntov and Chevrolet, it would have been a very different story.
Regardless, if you love old Corvette race cars, the SIA eight-page story is is worth a read. Enjoy! – Scott
PS – You can access the SIA story HERE.
When you get there, click the thumbnails to open the pages. Once the page opens, click it again for an even larger version of the page.
Chevrolet produced a film about the construction of the SS Corvette. Pretty neat stuff!
Also, I covered the SS Corvette and the SS Corvette mule car in my VETTE Magazine column, the Illustrated Corvette Series. You can check it out HERE. Or, click the below image.
Here’s the BEST way to keep up with K. Scott Teeters’ Corvette blog!