Could there have been a more exciting time and place to be a car buff than in Southern California in the 1950s? Probably not. It was postwar America, rock 'n' roll was in its infancy, and the car culture was just revving up. El Monte was still a semi-rural community in Los Angeles County, the perfect place for young Dave MacDonald and legions of other guys to pour their hearts and souls into their cars.
MacDonald's first car was a '53 Cadillac. But when Chevy dropped its small-block 265 V-8 into the Corvette in 1955, 19-year-old MacDonald had to have one. He saved his money, and a year later bought his first Corvette, a Gypsy Red '55. (Both cars are shown in the facing photo.) While the Caddy was fast enough for some informal street racing, it was the Corvette that got MacDonald into drag- and eventually road-race competition.
"Best Corvette Driver"
In February 1960, MacDonald had his first official "ride" as team driver for Don Steves Chevrolet at Willow Springs Raceway, where he won the Sunday main event. In his first year, MacDonald entered 15 regional races, taking three outright wins, three Second Places, and four Third Places--very impressive for a rookie.
The next year was even better. MacDonald entered 20 races in '61, taking 13 victories and three Second Place finishes. His last win of the year was in his lightweight, tube-frame Corvette Special. But 1962 was the year the spotlight really shined on MacDonald. While he didn't dominate the season, he did finish on the podium in 16 races, including 10 victories.
It's worth noting that MacDonald won every race he entered from early February to June that year—seven wins in a row. The first three wins were with the lightweight Corvette Special. After that, the Special only raced two more times. MacDonald ran one race behind the wheel of another lightweight tube-frame car, a Devin Corvette that provided him with a Second Place finish.
MacDonald was one of sports-car racing's up-and-comers, and two very powerful people were watching him carefully. Zora Arkus-Duntov was a racer at heart and the only GM executive who ever raced at Le Mans. While following MacDonald's career, Duntov became familiar with the lightweight Corvette Special that he and his racing partner, Jim Simpson, had built. Duntov even spent a day with the MacDonalds, dissecting the 1,750-pound racer as he honed his own Grand Sport Corvette project.
Doug MacDonald, Dave's then-15-year-old brother recalls, "Duntov's accent was so thick, I couldn't understand much of what he said. Somehow, Zora and Dave understood each other enough." A bond of racers' respect was forged, and Duntov would later put the elder MacDonald to work on some "field testing."
By the summer of 1962, when preproduction C2 Corvettes were ready for some promotional track testing, MacDonald and Dr. Dick Thompson were invited to a sampling. On August 21, Chevrolet produced a promotional film with MacDonald and Thompson driving a '63 coupe and roadster at the GM test track. After a few laps, Duntov interviews the pair. Today, that film survives on YouTube.
A few weeks later, Duntov flew MacDonald and his wife, Sherry; Jerry Grant; and Bob Bondurant out to St. Louis to pick up the first three of Duntov's latest "racer kit" Z06 Corvettes. (The MacDonalds were given Chassis No. 1.) Grant headed to Washington State, while Bondurant and the MacDonalds pointed their Z06s to California.
Dave didn't mind his lady driving a hot car; in fact, he rather enjoyed it. Sherry recounts, "A lot of times if I was driving one of our Corvettes, Dave was telling me, 'Drive faster, drive faster!'" It's not surprising, then, that the MacDonalds "opened up" the Z06 on the way home from St. Louis: Sherry remembers seeing the speedometer pegged at more than 140 mph. While the Z06 was scheduled to become a race car, the MacDonalds' personal Corvette was a Riverside Red '63 fuelie coupe with 4.11:1 gears, a four-speed, and power windows.