The top engine pumped out a then-amazing 283 hp, a breakthrough of one horse per cubic inch. The fuel injection didnt give appreciably more power than twin carbs, but it did pull stronger in the mid-range and was preferred by most racers for its conspicuous absence of fuel-sloshing in the corners. The Duntov cam was revised and continued to be the hottest factory-offered bumpstick.
Backing the new powerhouse was an all-new T-10 four-speed transmission, designed by Chevy engineers but built by Borg-Warner. Early ones had iron cases and were a dream come true for racers. Finally they were on even footing with foreign sports cars sporting four-speed gearboxes.
But Chevy didnt stop there. The brakes finally got some attention in the form of RPO 684, a race-spec brake-and-suspension package. Special wider-finned, cast-iron drums resisted warping, and vented backing plates allowed hot air to escape. Chevy added ducting that ran behind the rocker panels, carrying cool air from the front of the car to the back brakes. Inside, special linings were formed from Cerametalix, a ceramic/metallic material developed for aircraft brakes. These brakes, while of variable efficiency, were a huge improvement (although they were not recommended for street use).
RPO 684 also included the suspension upgrades from RPO 581 and an adapter that lengthened the idler arm to speed up the steering. Another racer-oriented option was a set of steel wheels that, at 5.5 inches wide, were a half-inch wider than stock. These allowed fitting the large, heavy racing tires of the time.
Equipped with these options and the injected 283, the 57 Corvette was ready to take on the best. And it did, dominating the B-Production SCCA Championship in the hands of Dr. Thompson. Corvettes would continue to win B-Production until the mid-1960s. At last the Corvette could take on the Mercedes 300SL for overall production-car honors.
Power outputs for the hottest injected engines climbed to 315 hp by the time 283 production ended in 1961. That same year saw the introduction of the 461 double hump cylinder heads that would be standard issue on hot Chevy engines for years to come. A baffled oil pan was developed to keep oil pressure up in sweeping turns.
Power is your friend was the drivers motto. It also made for some hairy action at the apexes.
In 1960 the standard Corvette was fitted with a rear sway bar, and this became standard fitment on all racing models. In 1961 the housing of the T-10 transmission was changed from cast iron to aluminum.
In late 1958 the racing brake package lost its ducting to the rear brakes, and other changes were made as well. The brake lining material was changed to sintered iron and the backing-plate cooling holes were covered with screen to keep out rocks. A sheetmetal fan was added to the wheel to direct air into the drum, and scoops channeled air from the ducts under the headlights to the front brakes.
Following that seminal time period, in 1960 production-car racing got a big shakeup when the SCCA took a leaf from the CSCC rulebook and stopped classifying by engine size; instead, overall performance became the primary criterion. Cars that turned similar lap times ran together, regardless of displacement. It was a stroke of genius and resulted in some of the best production sports-car racing in the world. New classes were formed, and the Corvettes were placed in B-Production.
Corvettes ended up running against the potent Ferrari 250GT short-wheelbase Berlinettas and California Spyders. The Italian cars gave them a run for their money in 1960, with Corvette-mounted Bob Johnson ultimately taking the title. In 1961 CSCC joined the SCCA as a region, finally burying the hatchet after years of bitter and pointless rivalry. The Corvettes were joined in B-Production by the Porsche 356 Carreras that dominated CP the previous year. The Porsches were very quick on tighter tracks, but while 356 hotshot Bruce Jennings would win two championship races in 1962, Corvette driver Don Yenko took one of his many SCCA titles.
Meanwhile the 62 Corvette was packing a 327-inch mill and itching for a fight with the Ferrari 250SWBs and California Spyders, as well as the Aston-Martin DB4GTs, in A-Production. It was a close race, with the Ferraris down on power but way up in braking, while few Astons showed up. Still, Thompson pulled yet another championship out of his hat for Chevy.
That would prove to be a one-year party, though, as the 260 and 289 Cobras arrived in 1963 to spoil the fun for the Bow Tie brigade. Bondurant saw the handwriting on the firewall, and signed up with Shelby at Carrolls invitation. This venture would launch him into a whole new realm of racing, leading to winning the World Manufacturers Championship in 1965, among many, many other victories.
SCCA amateur road racing changed as well in 1964. The SCCA title was again based on points totals from national races. Even though the Corvette domination of BP came to an end at the ARRC, with the 283 Corvettes meeting their match in Merle Brennans Jaguar XKE, the points championship fell to Frank Dominiannis 283 Vette. Never again would a live-axle Corvette win an SCCA championship.
Today the live-axle C1 Corvette is once again a contender on the tracks, this time in vintage racing. The old warriors have returned with a vengeance, battling with Ferraris, Jags, and Porsches to demonstrate throttle-steering skills from the slip-and-slide era.
Special thanks to the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, and car owner Steve Earle.
05 These days, the Washburn racer is part of the Petersen Automotive Museums extensive collection. Here, the old warhorse is wheeled outside for our photo shoot.06 Dealer sponsorship of race cars was commonplace in the 50s and 60s.07 A small roll hoop provided theoretical protection in the event of a rollover.08 Leather straps were used to secure the hood, which tended to pop open during cornering as a result of body flex.