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CERV: The Chevrolet Ultimate R&D Vehicle, Circa 1960

From the Archives: Chevy’s Research Roadster

Drew Hardin Nov 29, 2017
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In November 1960, Zora Arkus-Duntov publicly unveiled a project he had been working on for several years, the Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle, or CERV. Hot Rod magazine’s technical editor Ray Brock and Petersen Publishing photographer Eric Rickman were on hand at Riverside Raceway to document the car’s track time, during which Duntov, Dan Gurney and Stirling Moss drove the roadster on several different combinations of Firestone tires and Halibrand magnesium wheels.

(An interesting bit of trivia: Some of the research we’ve seen about this car said its name was changed from CERV to CERV I after Duntov’s second CERV appeared a few years later. Not so. Brock points out in his Feb. 1961 Hot Rod story that the car is called CERV I as it’s “number-one of this particular type.”)

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Duntov built the car in the thick of Chevrolet’s racing ban, and Brock was careful to position the car as “a research tool to evaluate ride and handling characteristics of many new ideas Chevy engineers wished to try.” But in a nod to its obvious race-car appearance, he added, “To amplify the suspension and ride qualities, CERV was designed with a high power to weight ratio so that the car could be tested under the extreme conditions found only on various types of race courses at high speed.”

And that’s exactly what Duntov had done in the months leading up to CERV’s Riverside appearance. At GM’s high-speed track at the Milford proving ground, “the car was run in excess of 170 mph and handled beautifully despite 15-20 mph crosswind gusts,” Brock wrote, while a late fall test on Pikes Peak “produced times comparable to those turned in by the fastest championship cars that climb the hill each July fourth.” At Riverside, Gurney and Moss “both turned lap speeds under 2 minutes, 4 seconds, with just a couple of warmup laps behind the wheel. Moss’ lap record at Riverside with a Grand Prix Lotus is just under 1 minute, 55 seconds,” Brock noted.

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CERV I is among the most famous of Corvette prototypes, and its now-well-known engineering details were spelled out succinctly in the subtitle of Brock’s story: “Designed to test new engineering ideas, Duntov’s latest creation features fully independent suspension, transaxle, tube frame and 350-pound aluminum V8 with one horsepower per pound.” Digging into the Petersen photo archives turned up outtakes by both Brock and Rickman that weren’t published in Hot Rod and so provide a fresh look at components like the tall intake tubes feeding the Rochester fuel injection, the modified Corvette inboard-mounted brakes that sandwiched the Halibrand quick-change rearend, the delicate-looking chromoly tube frame within the fiberglass body panels, and the beautifully crafted control arms at each corner.

“With 350-plus horsepower and 1600 pounds of car plus driver, the natural conclusion would be that this car is an outstanding performer, and that’s the exact description,” said Brock. “Just what CERV will be used for next has not been announced by Chevrolet, but it is apparent that the initial tests of suspension, transaxle, engine, etc., were quite successful. Only time will tell but we wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see many of the features of CERV show up in production Chevrolets of the future.” Vette

Photos by Ray Brock, Eric Rickman, and courtesy of Petersen Publishing Archives

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