The Cars

1955 First V-8

Production Highlight, Changed Financial Direction of Corvette

 

Climbing out of the rat hole”

 

January 1, 1955--a surplus of 1,076 1954 Corvettes remained unsold.  GM was applying heavy pressure to shut down the Corvette project, which in mid-1955 looked like a bottomless rat hole down which good money could only be poured after bad.

 

“We really didn’t know what we wanted.  We had no feeling of the market.  Was Corvette for the boulevard driver or sports-car tiger? We weren’t quite sure, but we loved that car and weren’t going to let it go.” - Ed Cole, Chevrolet CEO

 

The V-8 was a necessary reaction to the Ford Thunderbird and consistent with Zora Duntov’s vision of performance.  Therefore, Chevrolet became convinced it should make and install a 265 cubic inch V-8 in the otherwise structurally unchanged 1955 Corvette.  The V-8 is noticeably symbolized by the clever script on the front fenders –cheVrolet.

 

In 1955, Corvette was in deep trouble; trouble from which it might never be rescued.  Yet against these tremendous odds, a recovery was engineered and achieved as is apparent by looking at the historic vehicles present within the Great Hall.

 

The 1955 Corvette V-8 marked the turning point for Chevrolet’s sports car. Performance has remained the brand’s trademark for nearly six decades.

 

The vehicle on display (#002) is representative of all 1955 V-8 Corvettes.

 

Owned by:  Terry Michaelis

 

   

1956 SR-2

Racing Pioneer, Styling/Engineering Exercise

 

“Sell the Ferrari and I’ll build you a special Corvette”

 

The SR-2 (Sebring Racer) designation was given to three 1956 Corvettes.  All of them left the factory as stock Corvettes, and were shipped to GM styling in Warren, MI for race modifications and cosmetic additions.  This is the first of the three.  In the spring of 1956, it was a known fact that the GM Head of the Styling Studio, Harley Earl, had a son Jerry who road raced a Ferrari.  Management told dad he should be racing a GM car.  Harley made a deal with his son: “If you sell the Ferrari, I will build you a special Corvette to race.” 

 

This car, #2522, had the highest priority with no cost spared. Work began in May ’56 modifying the body, brakes and suspension.  Special windscreens were installed for driver and passenger.  The parking lights were removed allowing air to flow for front brake cooling.  Fifty-five years ago this weekend, Earl debuted his SR-2 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.  Dr. Dick Thompson completed the six hour race with a respectable finish.    Jerry Earl continued to race the SR-2 throughout the 56-57 seasons and sold the car in 1958 to Jim Jeffords. National race champion Jeffords painted the car purple to match the moniker, “Purple People Eater,” named after the 1958 song by Sheb Wooley. 

 

The SR-2 was an early racing pioneer.  It inspired enthusiasm among Corvette fans and for Chevrolet’s future racing development.

 

Owned by:  Rich Mason

 

   

Route 66 TV Show

Influenced Public Awareness of Corvette

 

“Clever PR Inspires the Corvette Dream”

 

Route 66 was seen on CBS TV between 1960 and 1964, with the most remembered parts of the weekly series being the theme song and the Corvette.  The show’s Corvette, owned by Tod (Martin Milner) was supposedly inherited from his wealthy father and shared with his buddy Buz (George Maharis).  The storyline revolved around the young pair driving across America on Route 66 taking odd jobs along the route to pay their way.

 

The plots had little to do with Corvettes or Route 66; many episodes centered in locations nowhere near Route 66, and had more to do with current social issues.  Plots centered on everything including mercy killings, nuclear annihilation, addiction, gang violence, and even terrorism. Although there wasn’t one minute of talk about fuel injection, 4-speeds, or 0 to 60 times, the teen-age gear-heads watched it for fleeting glimpses of the Corvette.  Enough to fantasize while peddling a Schwinn or driving a Fox go-kart thinking: “Someday I’ll have one of those!”  Although little is known about any of the many different Corvettes used on the show, it is known that Chevrolet updated the model years annually.  The radically new 1963 Sting Ray was introduced in the third season.

 

This show created tremendous awareness and excitement in the Corvette brand, and is remembered to this day.

 

The Corvette on display is not documented to be one of the TV cars.   It  was selected as an icon of the first Corvette used on the show.

 

Owned by:  Robert Marvin

 

   

1960 LeMans Racer #3

Racing Pioneer, Influenced Corvette Credibility

 

“The First Corvette to Win its Class at LeMans”

(and remained the only one for over 40 years)

 

Spring 1960 was a milestone in racing history.  Briggs Cunningham entered three Corvettes (along with a single Corvette nominated by the Camoradi team) into the legendary and most prestigious race of all time—the 24 Hours of LeMans in France.  The Camoradi team didn’t officially finish and the other two Cunningham Corvettes spun out and crashed. 

 

However, as stated by Karl Ludvigsen, “the John Fitch-Bob Grossman entry #3 soldiered on to an honorable eighth place overall, and became the first Corvette to win its class.  It remained the only Corvette to win its class at LeMans for over 40 years.  Corvette had impressed the Europeans.   If any proof were needed that America’s only production sports car had come a long way in a few short years, it was provided by LeMans 1960.“ Cunningham, Fitch, Grossman, and Duntov proved that Corvette could compete on not only the home soil of America, but also on the world stage as well.

 

Through the vision of Chip Miller, No. 3 returned to LeMans 50 years later in 2010 and was again driven around the famous track by 93 year young driver, John Fitch. 

 

Tens of thousands of LeMans race fans went wild to see it in real life.

 

Owned by:  The Chip Miller Family

 

   

1963 Glamour

Styling & Design Highpoint

 

“Designed for the Dean of Detroit Stylists”

 

Unable to resist tampering with their new toy, GM stylists produced a show-car version of the 1963 convertible for display at the Chicago Auto Show with external exhaust and functional hood grilles. The car was finished in blue with a white stripe and special finned aluminum wheels.  While Zora Arkus-Duntov was known as the Godfather of the Corvette, the man responsible for conceiving the concept and design was Harley Earl, chief of GM Styling until retiring in 1958. Five years after his retirement, GM honored Earl with this personalized 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. The car was fitted with several components planned for 1965 production. The interior was modified with instruments installed in the glove box panel, metal foot well grids, and custom leather seats and door panels.

 

Stylists believed the coupe body was the only one needed.  Great Hall inductee, Joe Pike, felt that the convertible would assert its traditional role in the Corvette picture.  The market proved Pike correct.  By the end of 1963 production, about 10,000 of each body style had been sold.  After disappearing into obscurity, the car was discovered by Corvette enthusiast Joe Clark. The son of a retired GM executive, Clark purchased the car and confirmed it as the one built for Mr. Earl.

 

The Harley Earl Corvette is arguably one of the most visually attractive Corvettes built and continues to be admired by Corvette and automotive enthusiasts.

 

 

Owned by:  Private Consortium

   

1965 State of the Art

Influenced the Direction of Restoration

 

“What are those funny crayon marks on the frame?”

 

After years of automobile restorations looking more like customizations than reliable documents of factory authenticity, this restoration turned the page.  Featured in the 1981 book, Corvette Restoration, State of the Art, author Mike Antonick follows the research, disassembly, documentation, and reassembly of this Corvette to factory standards, including crayon marks on the frame, and numerous components receiving paint over spray. The 4-year, 4,000-hour restoration was far beyond the degree of precision of any other known restoration. The goal was to reproduce the factory Corvette - flaws and all. Not flaws from sloppy restoration, but accurate representation of assembly plant production.  The analogy is the difference between a documentary vs. a book of fiction.   In other words; Corvette, the way it was…not the way we wished it was. 

 

Why? The restorer, David Burroughs, wanted to demonstrate the type of restorations he expected to see in order to qualify for a new type of Corvette award he was considering - Gold Certification.  Burroughs began the project one year before creating the Bloomington Gold Certification event in 1978 but didn’t finish it until three years after Certification was introduced.  Upon release of the book in 1981, this new concept in factory accurate restoration caught on and  has influenced Corvette restoration ever since;  resulting in a shift from cosmetic perfection to historic accuracy. 

 

Although some of Burroughs’ original work on this vehicle has been altered and a few precious original pieces have been “lost” over the years, the impact of the vehicle continues.

 

Owned by:  Ron Hohmann, Sr.

   

First 1967 L88

Production Milestone & Racing Pioneer

 

“Al Gore’s Nightmare”

 

This is the first production L88 Corvette built.  It instantly established racing dominance and the legend of the “badest” of the big block Corvettes.  With over 560 horsepower, guzzling 103 octane fuel, L88s would give Al Gore the shivers.  Ordered by Tony DeLorenzo Jr., son of GM executive Anthony G. DeLorenzo, this L88 was delivered to Detroit’s Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit. Dawson  supplied the equipment and backing necessary to mount a full campaign in SCCA Production racing.  Delivered to the Hanley shops directly from the transporter, the car was prepped to A Production specs for its first event at Wilmot Hills, WI, which it won going away.  At the next event, Road America, the car’s 155 mph top speed was such a shock to DeLorenzo, Sr., that it was two years before he would attend another of his son’s races.  That successful first season qualified the car for the SCCA Runoffs (American Road Race of Champions) at Daytona Beach. Some of DeLorenzo’s strongest competitors were eliminated in an early multi-car wreck; the L88 finished 2nd behind a 427 Cobra.

 

The L88 successfully raced the 1968 season, was sold, and subsequently campaigned with a winning record culminating with the 1982 Canadian Road Race Championship. Raced and nearly thrashed to pieces by the mid-80s, it was restored to factory original configuration with almost no sign that it was ever driven over the speed limit.

 

Only recently was it returned to the racing livery of its days of glory in 1967. This car was the opening page to the legacy of the L88s.

 

Owned by:  Chuck Ungurean

   

1969 ZL-1

Production Milestone

 

“Needle in the Haystack ”

 

Within the haystack of the 254,309 Corvettes produced between the golden years of 1953-1969, finding a ZL-1 is the needle. The L88 “racing engine option” offered between 1967-1969 was extremely rare.  Only 216 Corvettes were produced with those engines.  However, only a couple (?)  L88s were built with the lighter aluminum engine - the ZL-1 option.   Therefore, factory built ZL-1’s are nearly non-existant.  

 

The ZL-1 engine option alone cost $4,718.   With everything totaled, the price of this specific vehicle reached nearly $11,000.  In 1969 this was a staggering amount of money. This ZL-1 was ordered as a company car by George Hiberling, the resident engineer of the St. Louis Corvette plant.  His rationale was that a production vehicle would benefit from an “evaluation” in actual use by one of the plant personnel.  Good thinking, George!  After about 2,000 St. Louis street miles, the ZL-1 was put up for sale through GM at the zone level.  The original ZL-1 engine was blown right after the next owner took possession.  The car sat idle for years and eventually went through a succession of “interesting” owners and sales transactions, including the US Marshall’s Office in 1991. 

 

The ZL-1 is the text book definition of the “rarest, fastest, and most desirable” of production cars; Corvette or otherwise.

 

Owned by:  Roger Judski

   

1971 ZR-2

Production Milestone

 

“Zora’s Last Stand”

 

Born of Russian students in Belgium, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette’s legendary first chief engineer, was nothing if not sophisticated.  He studied engineering in Europe’s best schools, and raced against Europe’s best drivers. 

 

Zora’s approach to the Corvette was sophisticated too, except for one simple, unshakable belief:  The more cubic inches, the better. 

 

The L-88 and super rare ZL-1 both ended in 1969.  Was this to be the end of high-horsepower, high-displacement Corvettes?  Not by a long shot—enter the ZR factory production option.  Zora’s mandatory 1974 retirement was on the horizon, but while he had anything to say about it, Corvette would have a big-block performance option.  Although only sixty-four 1970-72 Corvettes had the ZR option, they left their mark on Corvette’s rich history.  Based on the humongous 454 cubic-inch engine, the ZR-2 option featured the LS6 engine package and required a 4-speed manual. For 1971, just twelve were built.

 

These rare ZR-2 models coincide with the first rumblings of the Corvette phenomenon.  With government intervention into the auto industry, and fuel shortages looming, enthusiasts with keen perception saw the end—at least for a while—of high performance Corvettes.  Perhaps it was time to celebrate, preserve and restore, the great Corvettes already built.

 

As one of only two 1971 ZR-2 convertibles, this 8,703 mile original was Zora’s last fingerprint on Corvette performance.

 

Owned by:  Ed Foss

   

1978 Pace Car

Increased Public Awareness of Corvette

 

“Wall Street Journal Declares Corvette a Collectible”

- March 27, 1978

 

A front-page story in the WSJ announced that Limited Edition Corvettes (maybe 300) would be produced as replicas of the car to pace the 1978 Indianapolis 500 and proclaimed these would become an “immediate collectible.”  Selection to pace the race coincided with Corvette’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Painted silver and black, trimmed with Indy decals...this would be a distinctive look for both track and street.  Good marketing!  Too good?

 

The WSJ article stirred up a commotion at dealers who were bombarded by excited buyers. Though some dealers held the line at the suggested retail of around $13,000, many bumped the price north of $18,000.  The secondary market high jumped the $30,000 level and some sold at double that figure and more.  By race day, Econ 101 kicked in.  Fearing legal action from its dealers, Chevrolet decided to build enough Pace Cars to supply each dealer at least one, a tactic that exploded final production to 6,502.  Inevitably, supply and demand caught up with reality and by race day, prices dropped like a bag of hammers.

 

Not a Cinderella ending, but many owners still view the Pace Car as an excellent investment.  Some are still out there, preserved in as-delivered condition.  Within the enthusiast community, some Corvettes were already viewed as collectible long before 1978.  However, the Pace Car became the first Corvette to be recognized on the national scene in this light. The Wall Street Journal spotlighted the Corvette-collectible linkage for the world to see.

 

Just look around the Great Hall.

 

Owned by:  Ed Foss

 

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Cars are displayed by invitation only.