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Vintage Road Test: Building a SCCA-Winning 1956 Chevrolet Corvette

From the Archives: Road Testing a “Stock” Corvette

Drew Hardin Jan 5, 2016
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The quotes say it all. The 1956 Corvette that the editors at Hot Rod magazine tested back in 1956 may have started out as stock, but the finished product would go on to be a regular winner at sports car club events in California. It was even driven by Dick Thompson during his SCCA C-Production championship year.

As chronicled by Hot Rod’s Technical Editor Racer Brown in the October 1956 issue, the Vette was equipped from the factory with comfort accessories like power windows and a power top, but also with the hot, 240hp small-block with dual Carter carbs and Duntov cam. Behind the motor was a three-speed manual transmission along with 4.10 gears, while the chassis was set up with the factory’s heavy-duty suspension.

Since the car was intended for production-class racing, there were limitations as to just how much could be changed. Right off the bat the power top and radio were removed, shedding 70 pounds and bringing the Corvette down to a trim 2,900 pounds wet. They found the 52.5/47.5 front/rear weight distribution to be “quite favorable,” even though it gave the car a tendency to oversteer. “With the driver fairly close to the rear wheels, he can feel and correct for any lateral motion of the rearend before it gets carried away,” Brown wrote.

1956 Chevrolet Corvette Interior 2/3

The Vette’s suspension was left alone for the most part, save for a re-arching of the rear springs to bring up the rate a bit. “The only other gimmick was to juggle tire pressures,” said Brown, with 27 (cold) psi in all four tires being optimal.

Those optional Firestone Super Sports were “not at all suitable for relatively ‘slick’ courses,” wrote Brown. “In fact, our test car was thoroughly trounced twice in road races simply because it couldn’t get a ‘bite.’” German Engleberts or Italian Pirellis would solve the traction problem, he said.

Brown found the Corvette’s 16:1 steering to be a little slower than, say, a Ferrari’s, but that it had a very nice feel to it. To help with “fast maneuvering,” the steering column was shortened by 2-1/2 inches, getting the wheel out of the driver’s lap. They also mounted a tachometer to that abbreviated column, since the gauge’s stock location in the center dash panel “makes quick and accurate reading somewhat difficult.”

1956 Chevrolet Corvette Engine View 3/3

Hot as the small-block was, it didn’t escape some tinkering by Brown and Petersen photographer Bob D’Olivo. The twin Carter carbs, especially, got a lot of attention. The progressive linkage was replaced with direct linkage “so that both carburetors can be operated in unison, as they should be,” Brown wrote. The idle was richened to eliminate “hesitations” and “stumbles,” and the carb floats were adjusted to alleviate the ’56 Corvette’s “strong desire to ‘drop dead’ in the turns.”

Brown also removed the “soggy mess” that was the Corvette’s plug wires and wire shields, replacing them with “a good grade of stranded copper or stainless steel cable…routed in such a way to clear the exhaust manifolds.” Timing was adjusted, and spark plugs were swapped.

When all the mods were made, “timed acceleration runs showed this particular Corvette to be a real bomb,” said Brown. Zero to 60 came up in 6.3 seconds, and the average quarter-mile time was 15 seconds flat at just over 94 mph.

Better still, when the car was put in competition, “our test Corvette has proven to be perhaps the best performing one on the West Coast to date.” Driver Bill Pollack earned several class and overall wins racing in California, while Thompson “decisively shut off three very fast Mercedes Benz 300 SLs for another overall first and first in class” in Seattle.

Said Brown in sum, “The Corvette can beat a large share of the European competition at their own game.”

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