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SNAPSHOT 151: 1957 Chevrolet Corvette SS

Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?  Is it a Scarab?  No, it’s a Corvette.

The original 1953 Corvette, with its solid rear axle and in-line 6-cyclinder engine, was unsuited to racing.  In competition with a Mercedes-Benz 300SL that had better brakes, better handling and 100 bhp more, it stood very little chance.  Nonetheless, when the 1955 model offered an optional V8 for the first time, Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette, started work on modifying the engine and chassis for racing.

The American racing driver John Fitch fielded four Duntov-modified Corvettes in the 1956 Sebring 12 hours. These cars had revised suspension and a modified engine with a revised cam, ported manifolds and two four-barrel carburettors, producing a healthy 250 bhp, and the best finish was ninth for the Walt Hansgen/John Fitch car.

Encouraged by the promising performance of the Fitch cars at Sebring, Arkus-Duntov started the design of a new lightweight sports racing car, with a new magnesium alloy body on a tubular spaceframe chassis and a De Dion axle in place of the original live axle.  Named the Chevrolet Corvette SS, only two examples were made: one a mule for testing, and one that we see in our Snapshot.  It made its debut on 23rd March 1957 at the 12-hour Sebring race, driven by Fitch and Piero Taruffi.

After a highly promising qualifying performance, the SS was forced to retire from the race after 23 laps with suspension failure.

Later in 1957, the Corvette SS was fitted with a plastic bubble top for testing – but it never raced again.  In May 1967, Zora Arkus-Duntov presented the car to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the driver’s meeting before the Indy 500 race.  It remains in their museum to this day.

Despite the promise the Corvette SS showed in its only race, it was fated never to be developed into a fully competitive racer.  So it is fitting that we remember the car in this Snapshot, not as a polished and silent reminder sitting in a museum, but “full chat” at Sebring, doing what it was designed to do.

With our thanks to Guy Loveridge for the photograph


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