How many '57 Corvettes were built with the industry's first factory-installed cold-air intake, or "airbox"?
Are you sure it's only 43?
That's how many '57s are documented RPO 579D cars, powered by Chevy's 283hp, fuel-injected small-block and equipped with a system that supplies the fuelie's air meter with cold air from the grille opening. But according to this car's owner, they weren't the only '57 Corvettes to get it.
How does Dominick Salvemini know that his has a correct airbox? He found out from the leading airbox-Vette authority.
"I was talking about this car with Ken Kayser, who wrote the book on the '57 Corvette race cars (The History of GM's Ramjet Fuel Injection on the Chevrolet V-8 and its Corvette Racing Pedigree), and he gave me some interesting facts that I didn't know." Namely, that Chevrolet built a total of 50 airboxes. "He said that 43 went on the known airbox cars that were out there, and four boxes were installed incorrectly at the factory. He has pictures—taken on the assembly line—of them putting an airbox on a base-engined, carbureted car."
Salvemini, owner of Vette Dreams in West Babylon, New York, says Kayser told him the 48th airbox was delivered by Zora Arkus- Duntov himself to Rosenthal Chevrolet in Arlington, Virginia, to go on the dealership's RPO 684 big-brake '57. And Salvemini—with Ken's help—fills in where the last two went.
"There's a picture in Ken's book of a low-horse fuelie with a box. Zora is seen showing the car to some visiting VIP, and they don't know where that car is. That's airbox No. 49, and Ken says, ‘You've got the 50th!'"
This 50th-airbox-equipped '57 has some other rarities on it, including the steering-column-mounted tach, the RPO 440 Aztec Copper/Beige two-tone color scheme that was shared with 261 other '57s, and the Borg Warner T-10 four-speed gearbox, which didn't appear on a factory '57 until early April.
It's all original—and, per Salvemini, it had quite a history before he bought it in the mid-'90s.
"It was sold new at Bill Greene Chevrolet in Stuart, Florida," he says. It turns out that this C1 went to its original owner in the spring of 1957, who received it as a graduation gift when he was 18. He lost it a couple years later, when he told his father he wanted to buy a Porsche. The father took the car away from him and sold it to the second owner, who drove it until the late '60s. After then, it was parked, and changed hands several more times. Then Salvemini bought it, after hearing about it while displaying his famous "half and half"—one side restored, one side original—'57 C1 at a show at the Nassau Coliseum.
As soon as he got it, Salvemini started looking into this '57's history. "I put an ad in the Stuart, Florida, Pennysaver, and I asked if anybody who worked at Bill Greene Chevrolet in 1957 would contact me. It was just a stab in the dark."
That stab got results. "I got a call from somebody who said, ‘I think you want to speak with me.' It was Michael Greene, who ran the dealership for his father. I told him, ‘I'm asking about an Aztec Copper 1957 Corvette'—and he interrupted me and said, ‘I remember the car well! Airbox, steering-mounted tach—I remember firing some kid over that car, because he washed it and got the carpeting wet.'"
Salvemini didn't restore the Vette right away, but he performed preliminary work on it while it sat in his shop. "I did stuff like rebuilding parts, and sending parts like the wiper motor out to get restored," he says. "When I was ready to do it, I had everything lined up and labeled, plus I had some N.O.S. stuff."
He also had a challenge restoring the original colors over the original fiberglass. The 1957 model year was the last time Chevrolet used nitrocellulose lacquers for all Corvette colors (except Inca Silver, which was an acrylic lacquer), before switching to acrylic lacquers for '58. Salvemini used the old-school paint, but—while painting a test panel—he found out the hard way about not mixing the two kinds of lacquers.
"I was under the impression that I'd do the '57 in nitrocellulose lacquer, and then I'd mix some clear in as I'm going," he recalls. "Little did I know that acrylic lacquer clear does not mix with nitrocellulose paint.
"I learned a valuable lesson," he continues. "With acrylic lacquer, you can spray on 25 coats, sand 20 coats, and still polish it. If you have 25 coats of nitrocellulose lacquer, the only coat that matters is the 25th. I didn't know that—I even learned some things after all these years doing it."
Salvemini kept the mesh grille that was on the car, rather than "re-tooth" it with a production '57 Corvette one. "I have a letter from the original owner stating that's the way he bought the car," he says, "and I have a letter from Michael Greene, stating that's the way it was delivered to the dealership. And then I actually have a photo of the car from 1959, which shows it with fog lights and a mesh screen."
Was this Corvette prepared to race, but sold before it ever turned a lap on a track? Salvemini says that's possible.
"There was a lot of racing going on around there back then, and it wasn't far from Sebring." He adds that it's likely the father of the original owner told the dealer what he wanted in a '57 Vette, and the dealer showed him the car he was planning on racing—but would sell if buyer would take it as it was.
Salvemini says he's contacted—and kept in touch—with all of the '57's previous owners, who all live within a few miles of each other in Florida. He adds, "I've owned 40 or 50 '57 Corvettes, and I just love that year. To find a '57 base-engine/automatic car with this kind of history is so rare, [and being able to] talk to all these people. But to find a car like this?"