Corvette’s racing efforts were building up a fair head of steam in 1956. A three-car race team, with drivers Zora Arkus-Duntov, John Fitch, and Betty Skelton, tore up the Daytona Beach sand in February of that year. A month later, Fitch drove a Corvette to Ninth overall and First in class at the Sebring 12-hour endurance race. Duntov, convinced that racing success would directly translate to sales success for Chevrolet’s sports car, wanted a purpose-built competition Corvette to take on Europe’s finest.
Duntov’s vision became the Corvette SS, a sleek, curvaceous sports racer with a hand-fabricated magnesium body, a chrome-moly tubular frame, and a fuel-injected 283 that produced about 300 hp—plenty to motivate the ultra-light 1,850-pound car. Duntov’s team actually built two SS race cars: this magnesium-bodied one and a fiberglass-bodied mule that was used to sort out the car’s component groups.
What Duntov didn’t have was time. Once his plan was approved, he had just six months to fabricate and test the car before the Sebring race in March 1957. Having the mule helped considerably, and that car’s initial tests looked promising; but the SS arrived at Sebring unfinished and unsorted.
Problems cropped up immediately. The magnesium body, a great choice in theory to reduce weight, wound up transmitting a tremendous amount of engine heat to the cockpit, making driving conditions nearly unbearable for Fitch (who was tapped at the last minute to drive). The brakes started fading early in the race, and a loose rear suspension component ultimately ended the car’s Sebring effort after just 20 laps.
Unbowed, Duntov vowed to make the car ready for an assault on Le Mans a few months later. But, as would happen several times during his career, the corporate suits had other ideas. The Automobile Manufacturers Association called for a ban on factory-sponsored racing in June, and Chevrolet adhered to the policy, bringing the SS program to an end.