1958 Corvettes Test - From the Archives

Sam Hanks: "I'm Impressed"

Drew Hardin Sep 1, 2011 0 Comment(s)
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Sam Hanks was a pioneering oval-track racer who started driving Midgets in the '30s and capped his career with a win at the 1957 Indy 500. He announced his retirement from racing while still in the Indy winner's circle; and while contemplating the next chapter in his life, he was approached by the editors of Motor Trend to test the '58 Corvette. Not just one Corvette, but four of them.

Vemp 1109 01 1958 Corvette 2/2

The magazine visited three different Los Angeles–area dealerships to gather the test fleet, which represented nearly every engine option available for the model year. This outtake from the March '58 issue shows Hanks (in the checkered shirt) chatting with MT editor Walt Woron while surrounded by the cars.

As Hanks described them, "One was a 230-horsepower job with a single four-barrel carb and three-speed box. The second had 245 horses, two four-barrels, a three-speed box, and a limited-slip differential. The third was fuel-injected, with five more horsepower, but had a four-speed box. The last one was an all-out racing job, with special springs and shocks, and heavy-duty brakes. It put out 290 horsepower from a fuel-injected engine, and used a four-speed and limited-slip rear axle."

Testing took place at Riverside Raceway. Right off the bat Hanks liked the fact that the Vettes were equipped with then-optional seatbelts: "Anybody who's driving a car as hot as the Corvette ought to be glad to slip on a belt." He wasn't thrilled with the steering wheel's position, which was "too straight and too close to the driver. You don't get any leverage this way for fast cornering. It's like throwing close-in uppercuts instead of long-range jabs where you can get the weight of your body behind them."

The placement of the other controls—clutch, brake, throttle—got a thumbs-up. "They didn't take any getting used to, and I never fumbled around with my feet trying to find the right pedal. This means a lot if you're doing any fast driving, particularly in a road race," Hanks said. He did suggest, though, that the clutch be adjusted to provide "about an inch of free travel after [it] is fully engaged. This is a must if the car is to be used in competition on a dragstrip or road course." While "booming down the long straightaway at 6,000 revs for the top speed check, the cockpit filled with smoke," Hanks said, which he described as having "that odd smell you get from a burning clutch." The same smell came back during his acceleration runs. "A proper clutch adjustment might have corrected this."

Hanks enjoyed the Vette's handling: "It would break loose quite easily, yet the power slide was easy to correct. I soon found myself taking it around like I took my racing ‘stock' '57 Merc. Down the chute, brake hard, downshift, through the corner fast without going sideways, on the throttle coming out, snapshift to the next gear and wait—not too long—for the next corner." He called Riverside "a tough test of transmissions and brakes," and noted he could lap the course at an average speed of 75.2 mph in the race-prepped car—about 2 mph faster than the 250hp street model—thanks to its "bigger brakes, finned drums, and airscoops front and rear."

But while he'd like to race in it, Hanks felt the 290hp Vette was "strictly not a street job." Instead, the Vette he'd want for everyday driving "would be either the 250 with fuel injection or 230 with single quad carb and three-speed box. I'd also choose the hardtop model because vision is better.

"Any way you look at it, I think the Chevrolet designers ought to be proud of the style of the Corvette, and their engineers should be proud of a fine sports car," he concluded. "It's real great to have an American-built production car that's available to the public as a combination cross-country, city traffic, competition sports car. I'm impressed."

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