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Test Driving the 1956 Chevrolet Corvette SR-2 Custom-Built for GM President Harlow Curtice

From the Archives: Just a touch of '58?

Drew Hardin May 13, 2016 0 Comment(s)
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When Motor Trend Editor Walt Woron was driving this special Corvette around the streets of Detroit in June 1957, a local stopped him and offered him a check for the car. “Or, if you can’t sell it to me, can I order one? It is the ’58 Corvette, isn’t it?”

Turns out it wasn’t. What GM had loaned him was, as Woron described it, one of several Corvettes “that had been especially styled by the General Motors Styling Section as experiments in Fiberglas.”

2 1956 Chevrolet Corvette Rear View 2/4

That may be what the Chevy P.R. folks told him—or what they told him to say, anyway. But with hindsight working in our favor, we recognize this as the SR-2 Corvette that was custom made for GM President Harlow Curtice.

Chevrolet built three SR-2 Vettes in the mid 1950s. One was for Jerry Earl (son of GM VP Harley Earl) when the younger Earl wanted to go sports car racing and his dad didn’t want him in a Ferrari. The second was commissioned by stylist Bill Mitchell, a red and white car that was famously driven to 152 mph at Daytona Beach in 1957 and later raced at Sebring.

3 1956 Chevrolet Corvette Interior 3/4

Curtice’s SR-2 was the only one of the three built purely for street driving. It shared a rear wing with the other SR-2s, only on this car it was smaller and centered on the decklid. GM stylists lengthened the nose and hood, and built functional ducts into the trailing edges of the coves. When it was given to Curtice, this SR-2 had a stainless-steel removable top, though when it was in Woron’s hands it had a more conventional soft top.

Built in 1956, Curtice’s SR-2 was notable for being among the first Vettes fitted with fuel injection (an option new for the 1957 model year) and a four-speed synchronized manual transmission. It’s interesting that Woron devoted nearly half of his write-up about this car to that transmission and how you can “whip the stick around from one gear to any other the way you’d stir a can of paint. That,” he gushed, “is a gearbox that’s synchronized.” (All the italics for emphasis are his, by the way.)

4 1956 Chevrolet Corvette Engine Bay 4/4

At the time, Woron hadn’t seen the upcoming Vette, so he admitted in his “Driving Around” column in the September 1957 issue that “what styling features may be borrowed from this car for the ’58 Corvette are a matter of conjecture at this time, but it’s my guess that the longer look—for one—will show up.”

That didn’t happen. But, the redesign did use a couple of styling elements found on this car—faux hood louvers and covered taillights—in addition to the quad headlights, chrome hood and trunklid trim, redesigned coves and other cues that distinguish the ’58 Vette.

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