The story of the Corvette and how it came to race at Le Mans is one in which the dreams of a number of individuals intersect, over a prolonged period of time. While each of these dreamers came from vastly different backgrounds and held often times very different agendas, they all shared a common vision—an American sports car winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For Le Mans, the Sebring #2 car was renumbered as #1.
This 1961 Chevrolet Corvette factory race car possesses a host of rare options and a provenance worthy of the velvet rope treatment at any of the world’s finest auto museums or vintage races. Gulf Oil sponsored and driven to an SCCA B-Production national championship by the likes of Dr. Dick “The Flying Dentist” Thompson and Don Yenko, it stands as one the most successful and important production-based Corvette race cars ever constructed.
The Purple People Eater MKIII is a 1959 Corvette that was literally unbeatable in SCCA B-Production racing in the late 1950s. There were three Purple People Eaters built in 1958 and 1959. The 1959 model, won every race it entered, except the last one, with Jim Jeffords behind the wheel and mechanic Ronnie Kaplan turning wrenches. The car was built by a team at Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago.
Duntov started off with a ‘54 Corvette as his test mule. He knew that accomplishing his goal would require two things: more power and improved aerodynamics. First, he removed the stock windshield and built a small windscreen. A tonneau cover was then added to the passenger side, and a fairing with a long fin was added to the rear deck behind the driver’s head.
When the crankshaft broke on Gary Laughlin’s Ferrari Monza he had had enough. Being the owner of several Chevrolet dealers, he turned to Peter Coltrin to have a few rebodied. Fortunately, they pursued Sergio Scaglietti who made three fastback coupes on the Corvette chassis.
The XP-755 was designed and the prototype was built in the beginning of 1961. Bill Mitchell was very excited about the double-bubble roof, the side exhausts and rear. It is equipped with a single four-barrel carburetor that produces upwards of 425 horsepower. The Corvette XP-755 Concept had a streamlined design, pointed snout and outlandishly future looking elements everywhere. The 1961 Mako Shark I (XP-755) was an early concept.
If you were a senior GM employee, one of the perks was being able to have your own custom built for you. Bill Mitchell was known for it, but this SR-2 Lookalike was built for GM president Harlow Curtis, who was president of GM during the period that the SR-2 were developed. The lookalike was built by GM’s styling staff and presented to him.
Built for outright top speed, this prototype Corvette was built by Zora Duntov. He successfully piloted the car to a two-way average speed of 150 mph in January of 1956 at Daytona. Later two more similar cars were built for the 1956 Daytona Speed Weeks in February. After initial resistance from Engineering, Duntov’s cam was delivered to the Proving Ground.
GM’s 1950s Motorama-mobiles were mostly pretty out-there, with flamboyant fins, rocket-inspired skegs and cockpits, and other flights of wild imagination. Frankly, many of them were a bit absurd and even childish. But there were a few that were somewhat down to earth, even rather brilliant, like this 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne.
Chevrolet Corvette Coupé, 1957, by Ghia Aigle. Designed by Giovanni Michellotti a one-off built on a ‘54 Corvette chassis by Carozzeria Ghia in Switzerland. The Ghia Corvette was powered by a Blue Flame 6 in-line engine with a 4-speed manual gearbox
The Corvette SS began life as an experimental race car, and was unveiled to the public at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race on March 23, 1957. The SS was in training for Chevrolet's debut at LeMans that year. The Sebring race was, in many ways, Chevrolet's inauguration into modern racing. But the SS never finished the race, much to the dismay of the racing community.
Carl Renner was responsible for the Nomad which was essentially a Corvette built with an extended station wagon roof. This meant the Corvette shared its lightweight fiberglass body, ‘Blue Flame’ inline-6 engine and curvaceous styling with the Nomad.
Designed mid-1956 for Harlet Earl’s son Jerry, the SR-2 was put into racing duty in 1957. The car debuted at Daytona Beach in 1957 with a high-speed canopy, fender skirts and bullet-shaped frond headlights. Driven by Betty Skelton and Buck Baker, the car won the modified class with an average speed of 93.074 mph. The SR-2 also finished second in class for the flying mile with a top speed of 152.886 mph.
The “CERV-1” (Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle) was developed as a research tool for that company’s continuous investigations into automotive ride and handling phenomena under the most realistic conditions. The car was built at the Chevrolet Engineering Center at Warren, Michigan in a special project headed by Mr. Zora Arkus-Duntov, Chevrolet Staff Engineer.
Known as the “Race Rat,” this rare 1960 Corvette is one of just 10 produced by the factory with the LPO (Limited Production Option) 1625A 24-gallon fuel tank designed by Zora Arkus-Duntov for racing purposes to reduce the frequency of pit stops. A true factory-prepared race car, this 1960 Chevrolet Corvette Tanker was ordered by gentleman racer and businessman George Reed of “Reed’s Race Rats” fame to compete in 1960 Sebring 12 Hours.
Designed and built under the personal supervision of Bill Mitchell, the wild-looking XP-700 used many regular Corvette components (frame, chassis parts and engine). Bill Mitchell had a lot of “customs” built for himself. This XP-700 previewed the new tail of the upcoming 1961 Corvette.
Always on the hunt for greater speed and greater thrills, Delmo decided to replace the '61 he had been racing with a brand-new 1962 Chevy Corvette. Owing to his demonstrated skill behind the wheel and prior successes with Corvettes, Delmo had a close relationship with legendary chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov and enlisted his assistance with the new car. "It was easy," Delmo recalls. "I called Zora and said, 'Build me a race car.' The only other thing I said was to make it white."
The Stingray that never was. The stretched version of this new Corvette model for 1963 has rear seating and was built as ordered by Chevrolet chief Ed Cole. Larry Shinoda designed this coupe, that never went into production because the demand for the two seated Stingray already was overwelming. A running prototype of a 2+2-seat C2 Corvette intended to compete with the Ford Thunderbird was built, but the project was canceled.
In 1959, the bones of the SS were revived when Bill Mitchell secretly funded the Stingray race car. Mitchell purchased the chassis of the 1957 SS race car mule for $500 and had a design team create a new body. Mitchell felt the first generation Corvettes were too rounded and soft, so the Corvette Sting Ray Racer featured a sharper body edge that made it work.
The Airbox option package designated RPO 579D came with the Duntov-cammed, Rochester fuel-injected 283/283 HP V-8. It incorporated a fiberglass intake plenum on the drivers-side inner fender. Fed by an opening in the radiator bulkhead, it channeled cooler, denser outside air through an internal filter and along a rubberized duct to the Rochester fuel-injection.
In 1956, Ed Cole, then General Manager of Chevrolet, decided Corvette could be saved from extinction due to lagging sales by promoting the car as a performance car which could be raced in production classes. The first of these Corvettes was to debut at Daytona Beach for acceleration and top end speed trials, the 12 hour race at Sebring, and also possibly Le Mans.
On July of 1955, the Chevrolet design studio staff created a dream car for the 1956 GM Motorama shows, called Corvette Impala. The Corvette grille and grille surround are incorporated, as well as other Corvette components. This hardtop five-passenger sports sedan shows the name "Corvette Impala" on the front emblem and rear license plate.
In August of 1955 GM styling created an exclusive Corvette for Prince Bertil of Sweden, who reportedly placed his order direct with Harlow Curtice, GM President. All modifications were confined to the exterior. Visible in the frontal view are an entirely new, larger grille assembly with flat black screen instead of teeth and the replacement of the front emblem by a large "V".
The engineers came up with a unit-body construction that relied on strength coming from the side sills of the chassis. These contained the exhaust which probably easily overheated the cockpit, especially in the coupe. Unfortunately, GM fitted fake V6 engines in both cars with a concept valve train that included dual overhead camshafts.
The Corvair concept car was initially presented to the public at the 1954 Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. The Corvair presented at the Waldorf was not the same car that traveled to other Motorama shows throughout the year.
The 1954 Corvette was outfitted with several unique design features. These were the results of two design exercises that included both interior and exterior upgrades. Outwardly, this styling concept is distinguished by its sharkfin headlights which effectively split each headlight down the center.
The Corvette SS racing car and its mule test car were planned as far back as August of 1956, well before the Super Sport show car. However, that one was referred to within GM as the XP-64, and it was finished in march, well after the show car had been on the show circuit for a couple of months.
Based on Harley Earl’s Project Opel plaster model, the EX52 / 122 was the original concept car that inspired the nation and left countless consumers wanting a Corvette to call their own. This Corvette concept was introduced at GM’s Motorama in January 1953.