This freshly restored '57 "airbox car" was quite a find for Sean Hussey and his brothers, Kent and Kevin. Actually, the trio didn't really find the car so much as the car found them. We spoke with Sean and Kent about the story.
As it turns out, it was Kevin who was sitting in a bar one night, talking Corvette restoration with a friend. At some point, the friend asked what was involved in restoring a '57 race car to mint condition.
After seeing the poor condition of the car in question, Kevin averred that a rebuild was likely to be an expensive proposition. If the guy decided to sell, however, Kevin said he might be willing to take the Vette off his hands. He knew his brothers were interested in adding an older car to their collection, and this one looked to be as good as any other, provided the price was right. A few days later, the owner called with an offer to sell. A deal was struck, and the Husseys took possession of the car.
At first, the three were completely unaware of the Vette's impressive pedigree. It was clear the car had been raced, but it wasn't until after the resto had gotten underway that the brothers started to notice some unusual hardware. Their first thought was that the parts were aftermarket modifications that had been added by racers. But as they saw more unique equipment, the idea that these items were actually factory options started to evolve.
Kevin, a longtime NCRS member, re-searched the pieces in some of his old magazines. It was there that he learned about the competition-oriented-and ultra-rare-RPO 684 and RPO 579E "airbox" options (see sidebar), both of which appeared to be present on the car. Suddenly, the '57 was starting to look like much more of a prize.
To verify the Vette's bona fides, the brothers took it to the '04 NCRS Regional Meet in Orlando, Florida. There, vintage-Corvette experts Noland Adams and Kevin Mackay handled the task of authenticating the car. At this point, only one questioned remained: Should they restore the '57 to NCRS-correct specs or rebuild it as a functioning historic racer?
In the end, the decision to pursue the vintage-racer route wasn't hard. The brothers had a long history of racing Corvettes-both on drag strips and on road courses-so the idea of building an as-campaigned C1 track car appealed to them on a personal level
The decision to ship the car to Legendary Motorcar in Halton Hills, Ontario, for restoration was also an easy one. If the Vette was as rare as it seemed, it had to be restored properly. Legendary, whose handiwork can be seen regularly on the SPEED channel, had the facilities and the expertise to do the job.
The car was completed early in 2007, just in time for the Bloomington Gold event in June. It then appeared at the Corvettes at Carlisle show, where it helped commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the '57 Corvette. It even put in an appearance at the Monterey Historics.
As for the car's competition history, the Husseys were able to determine that the Vette was delivered new to Bob Mouat, who raced it in SCCA events throughout the northeastern U.S. They suspect Mouat was one of the early members of the DC Corvette Club, which, incidentally, also listed Zora Arkus-Duntov as a charter member.
As delivered, the car came with the RPO 579E engine and a long list of other factory-installed pieces that completed the RPO 684 Heavy Duty Racing Suspension option. The $7,026.30 charge for 579E was a huge sum in 1957, representing a large percentage of the total cost of a stock car.
Also included from the factory were an electric fuel pump, traction bars, and a competition exhaust. Originally black, the car was repainted red for its last year of racing, in 1964 The change in color stemmed from the Vette's sale to a local car dealer named "Red" Huffman, who wanted to use it as a promotional tool (Mouat stayed on as the car's driver)
The Husseys' research also turned up a comprehensive file on the car's race history, along with some period photos of the Vette in action. It seems that Mouat raced the car continuously in the B/P class from 1957 until 1964, placing as high as Second overall. Assuming this information is accurate, the Husseys' car could be the one of the most extensively raced Corvettes of the period.
Around 1965, a subsequent owner attempted to return the Vette to streetable condition. After driving the car for a few years, he placed it in storage, where it remained until the Husseys purchased it and returned it to the condition shown here. While it may not hit the track with the same frequency and intensity it once did, it's nice to know that this historically important factory racer is once again being used as its designers intended.
The First Corvettes Go Racing
The development of the Corvettes that were eventually known as the airbox cars began in February 1956. Ed Cole wanted to develop the Corvette from a touring car into a genuine high-performance vehicle. He hired John Fitch to transform the '56 model into a reliable platform for GM's early road-racing efforts at Sebring.
Development moved quickly, but the Corvettes were too heavy to be effective on stock suspension components. Fitch added an extra leaf to the rear springs, then installed stiffer (340-pound) front springs; 1.375-inch shocks (up from the stock 1.0-inchers); finned brake drums with sintered, cerametallix linings; and airscoops to cool the brakes. He also increased the diameter of the front stabilizer bar from 0.068 to 0.081 inches, reduced the steering ratio, and added a new limited-slip Positraction
Hood and trunk straps were fitted to the car, as the standard latches weren't reliable on the track. Fitch's group also fabricated what was perhaps the first cold-air intake to deal with high underhood temperatures. In the process, they relocated the generator to the right side of the engine bay to give the tension side a firmer grip on the water pulley. The final addition was a steering-column-mounted tach
By March of 1956, four Corvettes were ready to run at Sebring-three in the Production Class and one in the Modified Class. One of the Production cars finished First in class and Ninth overall. Fitch is quoted as saying, "Our performance was less than we had hoped but more than we deserved." More importantly, this development process yielded what eventually became the components for the RPO 579E and RPO 684 options for '57.
When the '57 Corvette was introduced in the fall of 1956, it featured the new Rochester fuel-injection system. By April of 1957, a second, more powerful FI system-the airbox option developed by Fitch-was introduced. RPO 579E was actually a collection of small improvements to the original FI setup. The biggest single improvement came from the airbox itself, which was mounted to the driver-side inner fender panel and drew cold air from the left of the radiator.
Inside, the tach was moved from the standard location in the center of the dash to the steering column. The airbox option, which was clearly intended for racing, also included a heater-and-radio delete. Combined with a lack of ignition shielding, this feature permitted a more favorable routing for spark-plug wires. Of the 43 RPO 579E Corvettes built for '57, only 23 are known to exist today.
Another race-oriented option, RPO 684, was introduced in '57. It featured all the developments from Sebring, including the heavy-duty springs and shocks, the extra leaf in the rear spring, and the finned brake drums with cerametallix linings, vented backing plates, and cooling scoops. Of special note was an air-duct system that ran into the fender wells and through the rocker panels to feed cold air to the rear brakes. This was also the first year for the synchronized four-speed transmission, Positraction differential with three available gear ratios, and 15x5.5-inch wheels. A total of 51 '57 Corvettes were built with the RPO 684 option.
SCCA National Points in B/P Class (East Coast, Northeast Region)
1957 - Third (21 points)
1958 - Second (46 points)
1959 - Sixth (8 points)
1960 - Eleventh (8 points)
1961 - Nineteenth (400 points)
1962 - No information
1963 - Ninth (1,200 points)
1964 - Incomplete season