Found: The Corvette that wore...
Found: The Corvette that wore Number 3 (and finished second in the GT class) at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1957.
What a team of first-generation Corvette experts found, during an inspection held during 2009's Corvettes at Carlisle, was that the well-used '57 Corvette before them was one of two '57 Corvettes built to race at Nassau, Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans starting in late 1956.
That first race date at Nassau's Speedweeks, for the Nassau Trophy and Governor's Trophy races in December, meant that getting the production-based '57s ready in time would be a major thrash. Chevy's General Manager, Ed Cole, gave the green light in October 1956 for the two production racers, which were built the following month and race-prepared by the Corvette engineering team (which included Zora Arkus-Duntov and John Fitch). These two cars were the first Corvettes built with Rochester fuel injection and four-speed manual transmissions, items that were on track to join Corvette's option list before the 24 Hours of Le Mans ran the following June.
Stripped of its layers of...
Stripped of its layers of paint, and minus its fuel-injected 283 (and its top), the former Sebring racer awaits restoration in John Justo's shop.
At Nassau, Dick Thompson drove one to a class win (seventh overall) in the 20-lap Governor's Trophy race on the 5.63-km airport track. Jim Jeffords was close behind, finishing second in class and ninth overall. That was better than they fared in the 200-mile Nassau Trophy race on the same track the day before, when Jeffords' Vette DNF'd and Thompson's placed 20th.
The Vettes' good luck continued on the sand at Daytona in early '57, where Paul Goldsmith drove one to Production class wins in the Standing Start Mile and Flying Mile.
Then came Sebring, where the two production-based '57s were joined by the Corvette SR-2 and the just-finished XP-64 Corvette SS. The Number 3 and Number 4 Vettes ran 1-2 in the GT 5000 class, while the SR-1 won the Sports 5000 class, and the Corvette SS lasted just 23 laps before brake problems and a broken rear suspension sidelined it.
That was the last time out for the factory-backed Vettes. Thanks in no small part to GM President Harlow Curtice, who'd been spooked by the fatal crash at Le Mans in 1955 (where Mercedes-Benz driver Pierre Leveigh crashed into the front-stretch stands at high speed and burned, killing himself and 80 spectators), GM backed a ban by the Automobile Manufacturers Association on all factory race efforts. That ban was proposed by longtime-Buick man Curtice in February, and adopted by the AMA in June, a month after the word came down from The 14th Floor to stop work on all racing projects.
Skillful driving, plus long-term...
Skillful driving, plus long-term storage, kept the "crunch factor" on this '57's body down to almost zero.
So, GM sold off the racing Vettes later that year, along with a big stock of spare parts with each one. Over time, both of those cars disappeared, that is until one resurfaced last year at Carlisle.
Per the story that accompanied it, it was bought by Don Amendson, from fellow Texan Jim Hickman, to drag race. It had a collection of spare parts with it, as well as a connection to E.B. Rose, a name vintage Vette racing historians are familiar with. A couple months before Carlisle, the Amendson family sold the well-used '57 and its parts stash to John Justo, who brought it to Carlisle.
The last four digits of the subject '57 Vette's VIN were 1034, which meant an early-year build at St. Louis (November '56). The team of experts-which included Art Armstrong, Bill Connell, Ray DeCesare, Jim Gessner, John Justo, Ken Kayser, Ralph Kramer, Kevin MacKay, Rich Mason, John Neas, and Joe Trybulec-took a very good look at 1034. They concluded that this was the Corvette that wore Number 3 at Sebring in the early spring of 1957.
The team spots one of the...
The team spots one of the tell-tale signs of this car's identity: the fiberglass repair made under the grille at the '57's right-front corner, "battle damage" from Sebring.
Art Armstrong examines one...
Art Armstrong examines one of the original shock absorbers that was on this '57 Vette when found.
Another area of attention:...
Another area of attention: the rear leaf springs. Not only did these six-leaf bundles wear a coating of oxide-colored patina, they also wear experimental part numbers.