March 23, 1957 – Chevrolet Corvette SS makes only racing appearance

Although Chevrolet Corvette sales began to climb after the introduction of a V8 option in 1955, GM engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov saw a way to convince more buyers the Corvette was a true sports car: race it. He loaded up two stock Corvettes and a modified one and headed for the 1956 Daytona Speedweeks. The results were more than favorable. Race car driver John Fitch won the Sports Car division in one of the stock Corvettes, followed by Betty Skelton who took second place in the other. Duntov himself drove the modified Corvette in the Modified Sports Car division, which he won.

The success led to the entrance of four modified Corvettes in the 1956 12 hours of Sebring. Ed Cole, General Manager of Chevrolet, watched the action. To his dismay, the cars his team brought did not do well against the global competition. He reasoned only a Corvette designed specifically for racing would stand a chance at earning a win when pitted against the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes and other well tuned machines. His realization would result in the 1957 Corvette SS, the first Chevy to wear an SS badge.

Above: The 1957 Chevrolet Corvette SS at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. By Drew Lindberg CC BY 3.0,
Top: The same car, as seen in Car & Driver.

When the order finally fell, engineers and designers had just six months to build the car before the next 12 Hours of Sebring. Ultimately the car was to race the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans. The original mule car utilized a custom Mercedes 300 SL chassis. The Jaguar D-Type inspired it’s fiberglass body design. The full-spec car had a magnesium body, unlike the mule or production Corvettes. During testing, however, drivers found the fiberglass did a better job of insulating against excessive engine heat in the cockpit. Final drive train elements included 283 small block V8, a Borg Warner 4 speed manual transmission and 4-wheel drum brakes. It measured 168 inches and weighed just 1,850 pounds.

Juan Manuel Fangio and Carroll Shelby originally signed on to drive the car at Sebring in 1957, but both later asked to be released from their contracts. John Fitch and Piero Taruffi would fill in. It was on this day in 1957 that Fitch took the wheel following the Le Mans style start. He soon pitted for tires, then a coil wire, then a coil itself. Not long after that he headed to the pits again. Crew found that the bushings tying the rear lower trailing arms to the chassis had split due to improper installation. The Corvette SS retired after just 23 laps of its first and only race.

The next month the Automobile Manufacturers Association voted to enact a ban on motor racing for all of its member companies, this included Chevrolet. With the ban going effect on June 1, the SS had to be withdrawn from further racing, thus preventing it from having a shot at the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car did find its way to a track at least one more time. At the opening of the Daytona Motor Speedway in 1959, Duntov used the SS to set the fastest lap with a speed of 155 mph. The car now resides at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.


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