The exterior modifications to the two-year-old Corvette were subtle. So subtle, in fact, that Motor Trend technical editor Chuck Nerpel opened his June 1959 story noting that the “well-groomed ’57 Corvette that owner Ernie Landel drove into the pit area of Riverside Raceway gave no indication” of the supercharged V-8 nestled beneath the car’s flat hood. “The rumble of the dual exhaust might have given away the fact that it was idling a bit fast for a street machine, but the absence of stacks or bumps usually associated with highly modified engines in stock cars is completely disarming.”
Disarming, too, was the car’s behavior on the track. Wearing Inglewood recapped slicks (camouflaged by wide whitewalls), 4.11s in the diff, and with the Lakes pipes uncapped, Landel’s Vette tore down Riverside’s dragstrip in 13.4 seconds at a top speed of 106 mph. To maximize traction, Nerpel put a 125-pound bag of cement in the spare wheel well. Prior to adding the ballast, the Vette produced so much wheelhop that the black streaks of rubber left by the slicks at launch looked like ladders lying on the ground.
Under the hood, the V-8 had been bored and stroked to 328 ci. Its 270 heads had been reworked to deliver an 8.8:1 compression ratio “to take better advantage of the volume from the Latham blower that produced 8.75 pounds of boost at 5,000 rpm,” wrote Nerpel. A Chet Herbert 270 cam actuated stock valves, and induction was via four Carter side-draft carburetors, “the same type used on the old ’54 six-cylinder Corvette,” Nerpel pointed out. “Plus a lot of tuning and jet experimentation on the engine dyno finally produced an engine that was docile enough for the street but could give a good account of itself on the ’strip.” After all the tuning was finished, the dyno logged some 415 hp coming from the engine.
Nerpel and his crew didn’t stop after the acceleration tests. They allowed the 20-year-old Landel to take a few hot laps around Riverside’s road course as something of an experiment. “We have watched these young drivers do fantastic things with fast accelerating cars at the dragstrips, but were often concerned about the other phases of their fast driving of stockers on the highway,” he wrote. Since Landel’s “real ambition” was to road race, and they were testing at Riverside, “an internationally known road-racing circuit that had seen some of the best drivers in the business learn a new respect for this type of racing,” Nerpel wondered how this “young, eager driver with a hot car” would “handle braking and cornering problems.”
After taking Landel around the course “to point out the tricky turns, the cut-off markers, and how to downshift to conserve brakes and aid cornering,” they turned him loose. “Five erratic laps later he pulled into the pits, excited and amazed. ‘I had no idea that a car had to do anything but go,’” he told the magazine guys, who waved him off for more practice. His drag slicks “actually aided him to reduce lap times in the corners,” Nerpel said, “as the 4.11 rearend kept straightaway speeds down to about 130 mph.”
Apparently, Landel lapped Riverside until he was low on fuel; Nerpel estimated the car was getting about 5 mpg. “By the time he decided to quit, the tire dust that seeped up from behind the seats was well imbedded in the rivulets of perspiration running down from beneath his crash helmet.” Landel was a changed man, said Nerpel. “He now not only wants to go, but stop and turn, as well.”
About the blower, slicks, and other changes made to the Vette, Nerpel said, “No one is ever satisfied with such modifications unless he can use them to the fullest. Locked rearends and slicks have certain limitations for street use…and while this engine does behave well in traffic, it is very hard to start…Only top premium gasoline works well, and around town the car has a hard time getting better than 8.5 miles per gallon, but it sure does go-o-o-o…”