Big-time vintage Corvette race cars, like this Briggs Cunningham Le Mans-winning '60 Corvette, don't usually come back from the dead. Once in a while, they luck out if some far-thinking owner takes them under his wing, seeing the historical value in reviving them. Ask Chip Miller, the owner. Or ask Kevin Mackay, the super-sleuth who tracked down the car, then restored it in his shop, Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, New York. They know.
Those who picked up our September '03 issue will no doubt remember our short story about Duntov's famous race cars. The Briggs Cunningham No. 1 Le Mans-winning car was raced by the legendary driving duo of John Fitch and Bob Grossman, who took first in the 4,000-5,000cc class for GT cars and placed Eighth Overall at Le Mans in 1960. (Only two drivers were used for this 24-hour race. Today, the normal number is three or four drivers for most 24-hour endurance races.)
But, first, a little history. Chevrolet pulled the plug on racing in 1957 with the now infamous AMA (American Manufacturer's Association) ban on direct factory teams. This GM mandate put the big kibosh on Duntov's dream of winning the most prestigious endurance race in the world. Enter Briggs Cunningham. Briggs fielded a trio of Corvettes at that endurance race in 1960. It's a legacy Chip Miller knows well.
"Two of Briggs' cars ran at Sebring that year," Chip says. "Mine was one of them; it was the No. 1 car in 1960. Briggs drove the first leg and noticed a noise in the rear end; he didn't know what it was. He brought it into the pits. They looked things over and Fitch went out again. Shortly thereafter, the rear axle snapped and put Fitch into a flip."
The car was a DNF, of course, but it was fixed for Le Mans and given the No. 3 to wear. Briggs' other entry from Sebring also ran in France, along with a third Cunningham Corvette. The class included still another Corvette entered by the Camoradi team, making four Corvettes in all.
Today, when a Corvette races at Le Mans, there is no losing track of it. The C5-Rs are instant collectibles, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. C5-Rs are built from the beginning as racing cars, which was not the case in 1960. As many modifications as Cunningham did to ready his straight-axle Corvettes for Sebring and Le Mans, he started with an assembly line-created car. That's the way it was in those days.
Sometime in the '60s, somebody, as yet unknown, converted this winning Corvette back to street service. Chip's educated guess was the car disappeared in the 1963-1964 time frame, like the crate in the final scene of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, cast out in a sea of Corvettes never to be found again.
Then, nine years ago, Kevin Mackay, celebrated for his meticulous restorations of great racing Corvette ghosts of the past, tracked down the long-lost Le Mans winner. Through a title search by VIN, he located the car, which still existed, in far from racing condition. The owner wouldn't sell. At that time, the telltale signs of its racing past were hidden under layers of non-white paint.
Initially, Chip was not involved with the hunt. When he learned of Mackay's quest, he asked to be first in line should Mackay's current customer lose interest. "I told Kevin years ago, if that guy ever wants to step aside, plug me in," Chip says. That's just what happened; Chip got the car. The VIN was for real, and Chip bought the car sight unseen.
Chip recalled his initial inspection. He was talking to Mackay on his cell phone. First, he popped the hood and checked the VIN. It matched. He noticed other details. On the cowl, the windshield-wiper transmission was moved over. You could see the outline of where it was filled in. The same went for the quick-fill gas cap. When the car arrived at Mackay's shop they peeled back the layers of paint and uncovered more unique features. The VIN was also stamped on the frame, so it too was original.