What a team of first-generation Corvette experts found, during an inspection held during 2009's Corvettes at Carlisle, was that the well-used '57 Corvette before them was one of two '57 Corvettes built to race at Nassau, Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans starting in late 1956.
That first race date at Nassau's Speedweeks, for the Nassau Trophy and Governor's Trophy races in December, meant that getting the production-based '57s ready in time would be a major thrash. Chevy's General Manager, Ed Cole, gave the green light in October 1956 for the two production racers, which were built the following month and race-prepared by the Corvette engineering team (which included Zora Arkus-Duntov and John Fitch). These two cars were the first Corvettes built with Rochester fuel injection and four-speed manual transmissions, items that were on track to join Corvette's option list before the 24 Hours of Le Mans ran the following June.
At Nassau, Dick Thompson drove one to a class win (seventh overall) in the 20-lap Governor's Trophy race on the 5.63-km airport track. Jim Jeffords was close behind, finishing second in class and ninth overall. That was better than they fared in the 200-mile Nassau Trophy race on the same track the day before, when Jeffords' Vette DNF'd and Thompson's placed 20th.
The Vettes' good luck continued on the sand at Daytona in early '57, where Paul Goldsmith drove one to Production class wins in the Standing Start Mile and Flying Mile.
Then came Sebring, where the two production-based '57s were joined by the Corvette SR-2 and the just-finished XP-64 Corvette SS. The Number 3 and Number 4 Vettes ran 1-2 in the GT 5000 class, while the SR-1 won the Sports 5000 class, and the Corvette SS lasted just 23 laps before brake problems and a broken rear suspension sidelined it.
That was the last time out for the factory-backed Vettes. Thanks in no small part to GM President Harlow Curtice, who'd been spooked by the fatal crash at Le Mans in 1955 (where Mercedes-Benz driver Pierre Leveigh crashed into the front-stretch stands at high speed and burned, killing himself and 80 spectators), GM backed a ban by the Automobile Manufacturers Association on all factory race efforts. That ban was proposed by longtime-Buick man Curtice in February, and adopted by the AMA in June, a month after the word came down from The 14th Floor to stop work on all racing projects.
So, GM sold off the racing Vettes later that year, along with a big stock of spare parts with each one. Over time, both of those cars disappeared, that is until one resurfaced last year at Carlisle.
Per the story that accompanied it, it was bought by Don Amendson, from fellow Texan Jim Hickman, to drag race. It had a collection of spare parts with it, as well as a connection to E.B. Rose, a name vintage Vette racing historians are familiar with. A couple months before Carlisle, the Amendson family sold the well-used '57 and its parts stash to John Justo, who brought it to Carlisle.
The last four digits of the subject '57 Vette's VIN were 1034, which meant an early-year build at St. Louis (November '56). The team of experts-which included Art Armstrong, Bill Connell, Ray DeCesare, Jim Gessner, John Justo, Ken Kayser, Ralph Kramer, Kevin MacKay, Rich Mason, John Neas, and Joe Trybulec-took a very good look at 1034. They concluded that this was the Corvette that wore Number 3 at Sebring in the early spring of 1957.
How Could They Tell?
In their eyes, two items in particular nailed the car in question. One was a repair in the fiberglass at the car's right front, below the grille opening. This had been documented in on-track photos taken during the race and were confirmed when they saw the bare 'glass body in person. (The paint on the car had been previously media-blasted off.)
Also confirming this car's identity was the location in the hood of the mounting-strap holes, where the leather straps that held the hood closed at speed were attached. The angle of the holes was different on the Number 3 car than on the Number 4, and a comparison of this car's hood with pictures of Number 3 confirmed it.
Other items that the experts found on the 1034 car included a fiberglass repair just behind the passenger door, where the fuel filler had been located for the Sebring race. There were no records of any other '57 Corvettes getting this modification other than the Number 3 and 4 cars, and the only '57 races where it would be used were Sebring and Le Mans.
Also, the original front shocks were still on 1034, which fit onto offset mounting plates that were made necessary by suspension geometry revisions at the frame. In turn, those mods meant that the steering arm had to be mounted upside-down. Also on 1034 were the canvas seat belts, the OE brake drums-filed down so that wider-than-stock wheels would fit-and the six-leaf rear springs, which carried not only an original patina but an experimental part number.
About the connection to E.B. Rose: When the order came down from The 14th Floor to get rid of all the race cars and parts, Ed Cole called on Rose, the owner of a trucking company in Houston, to find a home for Number 3, Number 4, and the SR-2 racer. Rose acquired them for $1 apiece, which included all their spares and related parts. Rose later painted the cars black and pink, traces of which were found on 1034's body.
After Amendson road- and slalom-raced the '57, it was stored for many years until it came to the attention of California-based Corvette finder Jim Gessner, before its purchase by Justo.
Now, the question is: Will this car be preserved in its current condition, or will it be restored to its original glory, looking ready to conquer Sebring-and later, Le Mans-just like Ed Cole and Zora Arkus-Duntov planned way back when?