With its fender flares and simple hoop rollbar, the '57 Corvette former race car of Randy and Ann Scott is definitely a snapshot from another era—and then there's the engine. It's a big-block. In a C1 road racer. Talk about swatting flies with sledgehammer.
Who would put a huge, heavy big-block in a C1 road-race car? That's exactly what the Scotts have been trying to find out for nearly five years. They bought the car in 2008 while attending a car show near their Michigan home. It was sitting on a side street and drawing little attention.
"With its bodywork, many people assumed it was some sort of kit car," says Ann Scott. "Others didn't believe the sign that mentioned a big-block, but Randy and my son, Brian, checked under the hood. When they saw the old big-block [there], they were convinced."
While Randy and Brian continued to inspect the car's mechanicals, Ann checked out the interior, which contained a few vintage Stewart Warner gauges, the aforementioned rollbar, no radio (thanks to the work of some sticky- fingered neighborhood kids years earlier), and a dashboard missing the characteristic "humps." There was also a leather-wrapped "Duntov" steering wheel.
On the outside, the flared fenders were definitely evocative of Cobras, while other cues—the boxy hoodscoop, a single windshield wiper, deleted door handles, and an aluminum fuel-filler cap—reinforced the race-car aesthetic. And there was another item that caught the Scotts' collective eye: The vehicle identification number (VIN) was E57S100017.
"We looked at one another and were thinking the same thing: Could the car really be the 17th car off the assembly line for 1957?" says Ann. "We were really interested at that point, thinking we'd found something pretty unique."
Apparently the owner was neither aware of what he had nor particularly concerned about finding out. He had received the car as part of a legal settlement, and it was taking up valuable real estate in his garage. He wanted it gone. The Scotts negotiated with him and took the car home.
As soon as it was in the Scotts' garage, they wasted little time in confirming the identification number. Unfortunately the VIN on the doorjamb was long gone, which meant squeezing under the car with a flashlight and mirror to locate the one on the frame. It matched the number on body. As it turns out, VIN E57S100017 was one of the first 24 cars produced that year. They were pilot cars, all painted Cascade Green and fitted with the range of features and options intended for production. An anomaly on the Scotts' car is a power antenna located on the passenger-side rear fender, rather than on the driver side.
When it came to tracing the car's competition history, the story became much cloudier. The Scotts found the previous owner in Texas, a pilot who lost the car in the lawsuit to the gentleman they purchased it from, who also happened to be a pilot. The Texan told them that prior to his time with the car, it had been owned by yet another pilot, this time a fighter jockey at the famed Miramar "Top Gun" Air Force Base in California who teamed up with a fellow flyboy to go racing. They set up the car for SCCA Solo events and apparently claimed back-to-back points championships at Sears Point (now known as Sonoma Raceway and previously Infineon Raceway). That's when the Corvette was apparently transformed into a race car and fitted with the big-block powerplant.
At first blush, running a heavy big-block seems antithetical to the balance required to make a C1 competitive on a road course, but on second thought, maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. The 2.52-mile Sonoma course has 160 feet in elevation changes, enough to require some serious downshifting by torque-challenged cars. The big-block, on the other hand, would enable the Corvette to squirt up the grades effortlessly. Of course, cornering and braking with the nose-heavy C1 was probably a white-knuckle experience suited to a fighter pilot, but those consecutive championships prove that the sledgehammer approach was effective, if not exactly delicate.
The four-barrel-fed big-block powering the Corvette is a 1966-vintage Corvette 427/390-hp version backed by a matching Muncie M21 four-speed transmission and connected to the original solid rear axle. It was reportedly enough to push the little C1 to 160 mph. A set of '72 Chevelle front disc brakes were adapted to the car, along with a Mopar proportioning valve mounted under the driver-side front fender. There's also a two-stage power-assisted master cylinder for the braking system.
The Scotts dug deeper into the backstory of the fighter-pilot driver, but so far have come up empty. Our inquiries at Sonoma Raceway have been fruitless, too, after being told the track's owners weren't exactly diligent record keepers in the early days. However, Sonoma's public-relations manager suggested we speak with Gary Horstkorta, the archivist for SCCA San Francisco region.
Based on the information we had, Horstkorta told us a championship, either in road-racing or solo competition, would not have been run or won solely at Sears Point, but at a number of venues throughout the year, with the points earned at each event totaled to determine the class/regional champion. Based on the mods to the Corvette, it most likely would have been classified as a "modified" car.
The trophy that went with the championship, however, wasn't a tool that kept the car competitive. The brutal effectiveness of the Corvette's devastating power-to-weight ratio wasn't enough to fend off newer, nimbler sports cars, and, like so many winners that went before it and after, it was put out to pasture. That's the natural order in racing. In this case, the pasture was a dealer's lot in Oklahoma, where a pair of brothers bought it. Reportedly, one of the brothers bought out the other's interest and drove the car for a few years before selling it to the Texas pilot at a Super Chevy Show.
The Scotts weren't privy to all the sordid details behind the lawsuit that saw the Corvette wind up with the seller they bought it from in Michigan, but he was a pilot, too, and the legal morass apparently also involved an airplane. The car sat untouched for years in Texas during the drawn-out litigation.
"We drove the car home after purchasing it, and we were really worried the engine was on its last legs, because it registered only about 10 pounds of oil pressure," says Randy. "The oil had that milky appearance, too, from moisture contamination. It had started breaking down."
But old big-blocks never really die. They just need a transfusion, and that's what the Scotts performed.
"We drained out the old oil and added some 20W-50, adjusted the carburetor and replaced the spark plugs," says Randy. "The engine fired right up, and the oil pressure instantly went to 50 psi. It's been running great ever since."
Since then, the Scotts have put some additional elbow grease into the car, wet-sanding the very subtle baby-blue pearl lacquer paint it has worn for decades. Their efforts yielded a presentable shine that looks wholly appropriate for a race car from a bygone era. They also tackled a couple of minor yet necessary fiberglass repairs, added carpet, and replaced the previous pair of worn-out seats. A set of Hoosier-wrapped standard Corvette steel wheels were bolted to the hubs, too.
"We added the racing number, because it really needed one as a race car, but we don't know what the car's number was back in the day," says Randy. "The numbers are removable, and when we learn what the original number was, we'll put it on."
While the Scotts were thrilled to locate and revive the vintage race car, they're still assessing their plans for it. All the lights and signals work, so it's definitely streetable, but there's also the lure of the racetrack.
"It must have been a real handful on the track," says Randy. "There's so much torque in such a comparatively small, lightweight package. The acceleration is instant and awesome, but there's not a lot of room under the hood for cool air, and it heats up quickly. A more elaborate cooling system would be necessary for more than pleasure drives. I don't know how those pilots kept it cool when racing."
Establishing the provenance of a vintage Corvette is one of the more fascinating aspects of the Corvette lifestyle, and the Scotts have carved out an intriguing mystery with their pilot-build and pilot-driven race car. Not all of the blanks have been filled in yet, so if you recognize the car and can help with the back story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll pass along the information.