November 9, 2010
Legendary Corvettes: ‘Vettes Made Famous on Track and Screen. Click image to enlarge
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By Randy Leffingwell
Review by Russell Purcell
The term “legendary” carries the same kind of punch as a 12-gauge shotgun. It’s not an adjective that you casually throw around, as earning the status of being a legend is a pretty special accomplishment. Basically it means that something (or someone) is extremely well known, famous (or perhaps infamous), or renowned. In Legendary Corvettes, author Randy Leffingwell and capable lens-man Dave Wendt reflect on a collection of 18 Corvettes which they have deemed to be some of the most special examples of the car ever produced. Considering the fact that the Chevrolet Corvette has been in production for almost 60 years and as such, has held a rather prominent place in American culture, the process of selecting a mere 18 cars for this book would have been a task peppered with arguments and moments of indecision.
Wisely, the two men centred their attention on a much smaller population of Corvettes – those cars that had become known for their achievements on the track, appearance in a film or television show, or had unique attributes that made them the desire of Corvette enthusiasts and collectors.
The book begins as it should, with a concise history lesson explaining how the 1953 Corvette came to fruition, the people involved, the reasons why its body is made of fibreglass, and a photographic record of car #003, the oldest Corvette still in existence.
The first race car is the focus of chapter 2. The 1956 Corvette SR Sebring Racer in Polo White with bold blue racing stripes was blessed with a V8, and through success at Sebring, allowed Zora Duntov to prove that success at the track does in fact help sell cars in the showroom. The following chapter looks at the 1957 XP-64 Corvette Super Sport that Harley Earl and Duntov created to challenge “single-purpose racers” on the track. Interestingly this concept borrowed heavily from both the Jaguar D-Type and the Mercedes-Benz 300SL.
One of the most interesting cars I have ever seen is the 1959 Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle I which reveals how early Chevrolet designers started to evaluate mid- and rear-engine placement. The car looks more like a late 1960′s era formula car than a Corvette. Very forward thinking.
The first Corvette to become a television star was a 1960 Corvette Convertible in sparkling Tasco Turquoise. It was the mode of transportation for the pair of do-gooder road warriors featured in Route 66.
The big screen brought us Corvette Summer, which put Mark Hamill behind the wheel of an overly customized 1973 Corvette that was converted to right-hand-drive to allow the driver to be closer to the curb so that he could talk to the girls while cruising. The story line involves the car being stolen, and we learn that near the end of production the car was in fact stolen by some crew personnel.
The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray Z06 represented Chevrolet’s desire to offer a “customer racing package” and now legendary hot-shoes like Bob Bondurant and the late Mickey Thompson spent time behind the wheel of these beasts. We also learn that Carroll Shelby had been turned away by Chevrolet when he came looking for a Corvette chassis to be the basis for a road racing dream of his own.
John Greenwood’s wide-body 1976 race car was named the Spirit of LeMans, but based on its swoopy bodywork it could easily be mistaken for the Batmobile if it was painted black. Dave Wendt did an incredible job shooting the photos of this legendary car, which would prove a challenge as its mostly white paint scheme masks the many of the lines of its crazy flares and styling cues.
Other special cars include:
- 1960 Cunningham No. 3 – Lemans racer
- 1961 BM/SP – drag racer
- 1963 Lightweight Grand Sport Coupe – Duntov killed the split-window with these cars
- 1964 CERV II – experimental racer
- 1966 L88 Coupe – Roger Penske’s dominant steed driven by Dick Guldstrand
- 1978 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car
- 1981 Corvette Coupe #31611 – The last car produced in St. Louis.
- 1988 Callaway Sledgehammer – Tuner Reeves Callaway takes turbo-charging to new heights
- 2001 C5-R-003 Le Mans Class Winner
- 2009 ZR1 #5900001 “Blue Devil” – The latest and greatest
While you may not agree with some of the selections contained within, I have no doubt you will still find this book an enjoyable read as it gives a look at some of the most notable and significant Corvettes in existence. As an added bonus, the cover dust jacket features a removable glossy poster of the 1956 Corvette SR Sebring Racer on its reverse side. If there is a Chevrolet or Corvette fan on your holiday shopping list, this title is well worth consideration.