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1956 Corvette Drag Car - Stress Relief

With Mike Kreeb's 1956 Corvette drag car, show meets go at 167 mph

Eric Orban Apr 3, 2008
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Owning and restoring classic Corvettes can be taxing on more than one's checkbook. After all the time, money, and effort that goes into perfecting a car, it can be quite nerve-wracking to take the finished product on the street. Parking lots provide an ever-present threat of dings and scratches, and cellular-phone-distracted clods prowl the roadways in three-ton SUVs. Sometimes it just seems safer to leave the Vette parked at home.

Mike Kreeb, of Tarpon Springs, Florida, faced this dilemma. "I have four Corvettes, but I needed one to help eliminate my stress," he says. Kreeb discovered what he was looking for in a weathered '56. "This was a beat-up, old race car I found at an auction. Other buyers thought I was crazy to buy it, but I had a plan for it." That plan involved making the fifth car in his collection-which includes an NCRS '54, a fuel-injected '62 "big brake" car, a fuel-injected '65 roadster, and a '67 427/435 coupe-into a full-on drag racer.

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"I've always wanted a car that was fun to drive but contained a certain element of risk, one that can bite you if you're not paying attention," Kreeb says. A lifelong GM mechanic, he involved himself in far more than check writing. He carried out nearly every step of the build process, working out of a home-based shop that houses three lifts.

In an effort to preserve the iconic looks of the C1, Kreeb retained the original body. As it was in poor condition to begin with, the car underwent an extensive restoration and was enhanced with a full-tube chassis in preparation for its future at the dragstrip. "The only things that have not been redone or replaced are the framerails," Kreeb says.

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The luscious red-and-silver paint job was applied by C.P. Autobody. All of the original lighting is functional, including the license-plate lamp. The result is remarkable-a high-quality restoration that looks every bit the show-car beauty, albeit one outfitted with a functional wheelie bar. "The car looks somewhat stock, but it really is street illegal," Kreeb assures us.

As is to be expected from so serious a machine, the C1's interior is a business-like environment. A pair of aluminum racing seats with black covers keep occupants in place behind an assortment of Auto Meter Sport-Comp gauges and a custom Grant GT steering wheel. As with much of the rest of the car, everything in the interior, from the dashboard to the carpeting, was installed by Kreeb himself.

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Though Kreeb is no stranger to GM muscle, he decided to cede the assembly of the big-block powerplant to Scott Shafiroff Racing in Bohemia, New York. The resulting purpose-built 582-cubic-inch Shafiroff engine more than doubles the volume of the '56's original 265-cube V-8. The base of this mastodon motor is a Brodix aluminum block with a 9.8-inch deck height. Its innards consist of a Callies Pro crankshaft attached to an octet of JE 15:1 compression pistons with Callies Compstar connecting rods.

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On the top end, a pair of ported and flowed Dart Big Chief Pro Series cylinder heads are fed by a CNC-ported Dart Pro Series intake manifold. The heads feature immense titanium valves with diameters of 2.40 and 1.90 inches on the intake and exhaust sides, respectively. The insatiable fuel needs created by this induction system are met with a race-prepped Holley 1250-cfm carburetor. Residing within the motor is a Crane Cams roller camshaft with 0.833/0.810-inch lift ratings.

Ignition is controlled by an MSD 7AL3 magnetic-pickup system, and the oil system benefits from a custom pump and a Moroso oil pan. The exhaust system is made up of a pair of custom headers with 2 3/8-inch primary tubes that feed into sizeable sidepipes. This exhaust setup gives the high-compression big-block a raucous wail as it tears through quarter-mile passes.

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The output of this naturally aspirated behemoth is an astounding 1,150 horsepower and 866 lb-ft of torque, with peak performance achieved at 7,800 rpm. This much thrust is sufficient to propel the '56 through the eighth-mile in a scant 5.28 seconds at 131 mph, or to punt it down the quarter-mile in 8.11 seconds at 167 mph. Such performance usually finds Mike as the top qualifier at his local eighth-mile dragstrip, and it has helped him finish First in several competitions.

Transforming that swell of power into forward momentum is no small order, and the drivetrain has been enriched with heavy-duty components accordingly. A custom Powerglide transmission with a J&W 6,500-rpm stall torque converter and a Turbo Action shifter sends the power rearward through a custom-made aluminum driveshaft. Housed in the back is a solid, 4.56-geared Dana spool rearend.

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Keeping this C1 in a straight line at the track are a strut-type front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. A 4-link rear suspension system with adjustable QA1 shocks aids in providing traction, with Kreeb dialing in the exact settings himself. Weld Pro Star wheels adorn all four corners, and 32.5x17-inch Hoosier slicks provide a nearly three-foot span of rubber in the rear. Wilwood front and rear disc brakes haul the car to a stop, while a parachute protects against unforeseen drama at the end of the strip.

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Even with an original body and functioning lights, this Vette rarely cruises public streets. After all, spool rears and high-stall torque converters don't make for a pleasant commute. "The car is street legal but way too hairy to drive on surfaces not prepared for racing," Kreeb tells us. Still, he will admit to occasionally zip-tying a license plate to the 'chute and taking the car out for a spin.

This '56 is something of a sacrifice, a Corvette that is raced so that four others can go on living unmolested. It's more than just a well-built and highly effective drag car, inasmuch as its noteworthy performance doesn't interfere with the beauty of its original design. No fiberglass-bodied "silhouette car" can match the arresting looks of this resto-racer. Mike Kreeb's C1 has been a labor of love, and a testament to his passion for classic Corvettes.



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