By today's standards, solid-axle Corvettes are among the poorest riding, least comfortable, and most ill-handling cars imaginable. All the same, a handful of individuals with the skill and the courage to tame the wild beasts actually went racing with them, and in so doing managed to blaze a trail through the record books at tracks around the country and around the world.
Delmo Johnson is one of those skillful and courageous souls who helped establish Corvette's reputation as a world-class production road racer. He owned Johnson Chevrolet, the largest Chevy dealership in Texas, and began competing in Corvettes in 1959. In a harbiger of things to come, he won the first race he ever entered, the "Frostbite" at Ft. Worth, held January 1, 1959. He went on to win hundreds more races, as well as class honors at Sebring and SCCA divisional championships.
In 1962 Chevrolet supplied...
In 1962 Chevrolet supplied an immense 37-gallon fuel tank to about a half-dozen top Corvette racers, including the incomparable Delmo Johnson. Modified hardtop rear window and quick-fill cap were part of the setup.
As Corvette history buffs know, 1962 marked the debut of the 327 engine. Because the larger powerplant packed a lot more punch, the SCCA decided to move Corvettes up a notch into A-production. Older cars fitted with 283 engines continued to compete in B-production.
Always on the hunt for greater speed and greater thrills, Delmo decided to replace the '61 he had been racing with a brand-new 1962 Chevy Corvette. Owing to his demonstrated skill behind the wheel and prior successes with Corvettes, Delmo had a close relationship with legendary chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov and enlisted his assistance with the new car.
"It was easy," Delmo recalls. "I called Zora and said, 'Build me a race car.' The only other thing I said was to make it white."
Stylish headlamp covers aided...
Stylish headlamp covers aided aerodynamics and protected the lights when they were not in use.
Zora knew exactly what to do, and in mid-January a gleaming Ermine White Corvette rolled off the St. Louis assembly line fitted with all available competition options. Included among these were fuel injection, a four-speed transmission, Positraction axle, a 24-gallon fuel tank, and RPO 687, the heavy-duty brake and suspension package that turned a normal Corvette into a capable-for the time-road racer.
Delmo flew to St. Louis, took delivery of his new toy, and drove it back to his home base in Dallas. Once there he and Bill Goodfellow (the man Delmo describes as "probably the finest mechanic I've ever known") went to work on it. They performed all of the basic race car prep, including blueprinting the engine and drivetrain, installing a rollbar and competition lap belt, and removing the bumpers and other unnecessary, weight-adding parts.
Delmo and Goodfellow also installed the contents of a wooden crate that arrived at Johnson Chevrolet a few days after the car did. Shipped from General Motors' Research and Development Center, the innocuous looking container housed what Chevy engineers dubbed the "Sebring Package."
Unique hood louvers and deflector...
Unique hood louvers and deflector were part of Chevrolet Engineering's "Sebring Package," which was supplied to select Corvette racers in the late '50s and early '60s.
The Sebring Package consisted of an assemblage of parts designed to make Corvettes go faster and last longer in endurance road races. A louvered hood insert helped cool the engine compartment. A thin, contoured strip for the leading edge of the hood was intended to deflect debris away from the windshield. To further stiffen the suspension, a second front anti-sway bar and its mounting hardware were included. For the longer races, such as the 12-hour event in Sebring, an immense, 37-gallon, internally-baffled fiberglass fuel tank was supplied. And finally, contoured headlamp covers were provided to aid aerodynamics and protect the lights when they weren't in use.
With essential preparations attended to and the much appreciated Sebring Package fitted in only a few short weeks, Delmo and his A-production Corvette headed into battle.