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Top 10 Significant Moments of Chevrolet Performance History

Stephanie Davies Dec 23, 2013
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Chevrolet reached a milestone this year when it earned the title of “most successful name in professional motorsports in the United States.” We told you about its fourteen wins last week: three NASCAR championships, one in IndyCar, two in GRAND-AM, three in World Challenge, and five in ALMS.

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The 2014 season will go off with a bang in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit with the unveiling of the all-new Z06 and C7.R.

But to know where we’re headed, we must first know where we’ve come from, so Chevrolet has taken the initiative to bring us its pick for “Top 10 Moments” that contributed to the legacy of Chevrolet racing.

1955: Introduction of the Small-Block Engine

The 1955 model year brought with it the first of Chevy’s legendary small-block V-8 powerplants, beginning the performance movement within the brand. Chevrolet’s Ed Cole developed the engine along with a team of engineers, and as soon as word spread throughout the racing world, a star was born. The Chevrolet small-block V-8 was the stuff racers dreamed of as it was lightweight, compact, and easy fit into diminutive engine bays. Powerful, affordable, durable, easily maintained, and easily accessible, the new engines were, and continue to be, the perfect application for performance vehicles.

1956: Chevrolet Enters 12 Hours of Sebring and Proves Performance Capabilities

The 1956 Corvette cemented Chevrolet’s place in the performance world with Duntov and Cole’s risky and successful venture to enter four Corvettes in the 12 Hours of Sebring. Chevrolet took 1st in its class and 9th place overall proving to the wary public that its engineers were capable of producing performance vehicles that people wanted to buy and saving it from extinction. The two-seater American icon features new and improved body styling, bucket seats, and a removable hardtop – leaps and bounds from its predecessors.

1958: First Ever Championship in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

In 1958, Chevrolet won its first Manufacturers’ Cup award and took 25 of 51 races in the NASCAR Grand National Series, including its very first race of the season at Champion Speedway located in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Rex White took the victory while Fireball Roberts led Chevrolet to six victories, and Bob Wellborn scored five more. Speedy Thompson earned four and Buck Baker contributed to the count with three wins for the season.

1961: The Super Sport (SS) Option Debuts on the Third Generation Impala

While the Super Sport name can be traced back to 1957, Chevrolet didn’t offer its first production Super Sport option until 1961 on the Impala. It was first used on the Corvette SS racecar that debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Super Sport trim for the interior and exterior, chassis reinforcements, stronger springs and shocks, power brakes, spinner wheel covers, and narrow-band whitewall tires were all components of the Super Sport package, and there were a number of mandatory options necessary to order the SS Equipment option – the purchase of either a 348 cubic-inch or 409 cubic-inch big-block V-8 engine being one of them.

1963: Introduction of the Corvette “Sting Ray”

Chevrolet Corvette had already found its way into the heart of the public when the Corvette Sting Ray came to be in 1963. General Motors Design Chief Bill Mitchell penned a one-off sports racer and the Sting Ray was created based on that concept, which was designed with a split back window. The “Split-Window” Coupe emerged as arguably the most exciting production car that America had yet to experience. A flattering tailored form, new and effective independent rear suspension, an extra powerful fuel-injected small-block V-8, and a low price tag all guaranteed its popularity among consumers.

1968: Penske Racing Wins 10 of 13 SCCA Trans Am Races with Camaro Z28

Setting a record that stood for a full 30 years, driver mark Donohue piloted a Roger Penske-owned Chevrolet Z28 to win ten of the thirteen races he entered in 1968. The year prior, he had begun driving the car and won three races, setting the stage for his future domination of the SCCA Trans Am Series.

1970: Introduction of the 454 Big Block Engine in the Chevelle SS

Up until 1970, Chevrolet had not permitted the addition of engines larger than 400 cubic-inches in its production intermediate-sized cars. The SS 454 Chevelle’s addition to the Chevy Super Sport line-up meant that the Chevelle produced 450 horsepower with its LS6 big-block engine, and could launch from 0 to 100 in about 13 seconds. The SS 454 Chevelle, the largest displacement production Chevrolet V-8 ever, helped lead the way to the summit of the muscle car era that year.

1986-1993: Chevy 265 Makes Competition Debut and Becomes Dominant in IndyCar Competition

The Chevrolet 265 cubic-inch V-8 debuted at the 1986 Indianapolis 500 for Team Penske driver Al Unser. It had been built in collaboration with Ilmor in Great Britain and it secured its first IndyCar victory a year later in 1987. The following year, it powered Rick Mears to victory at the Indy 500. The engine amounted to a huge amount of success for Chevrolet, powering eleven drivers to a total of 86 victories from 1987-1993.

2001: Chevrolet C5.R Wins Class at Le Mans, Corvette Racing Wins Seven Times in Twelve Years

General Motors and Pratt & Miller designed the C5.R as a purpose-built racecar obviously built on the fifth-generation Corvette platform. This move kicked off a modern era of racing for Chevrolet when the C5.R was introduced to the grand touring circuit in 1999. By 2001, the C5.R won the first of its three class victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the C6.R followed in its footsteps, dominating Le Mans with four more victories.

2009: Corvette ZR1 Deemed Most Powerful Production GM Ever Made

The ZR1 designation was resurrected in 2009 to be placed on a new supercharged Corvette, which completely surpassed the performance of the 1990-1995 version. Equipped with a 638-horsepower LS9, the ZR1 reached a top speed of 205mph, and secured the title of most powerful production-car engine ever built by GM.



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