Chevrolet -- Racing? 14 Years of Raucous Silence

by Paul VanValkenburgh


Mystery race car
A Chevrolet prototype race car you've never seen before -- unless you have this book. ....... updated 5 Sept 2005

This is a reference to a 24-year old book which revealed the secret inside story of Chevrolet's early surreptitious involvement in racing, from 1957-1970. It is one of few automotive books that has become a rare collector's classic, going for as much as $300 today (when one can be found), because of its limited print run and the quiet opposition to its incriminating content -- the sole published expose.

I was an R&D engineer at Chevrolet during the years we were actively supporting Chaparral, Penske, McLaren, and Smokey Yunick. As the program wound down, I left to became a writer, and decided that all the invisible insiders deserved some credit. I submitted the manuscript to Road & Track Books, who at first gave me a contract and advance, then for some unknown reason got nervous about it and passed me on to a small obscure publisher back East.

When it was published, John deLorean, the new manager of Chevrolet, saw a copy and asked, "Who is this guy? Did we really do all this stuff?" When assured it was all true, he reportedly decided that all they could do was ignore it. For some reason, in spite of its eventual recognition as a classic, no automotive magazine at the time would review it.

I had little enthusiasm for reprinting it, even though Chevrolet (in a change of heart) actually suggested that possibility a few years back for an anniversary celebration. My feeling is that their subsequent racing successes deserves a sequel covering 1970 to the present. However, the SAE decided that it's technical value was worth reprinting, and they have produced a book with the same content, but in a much more attractive package.


"The year was 1953 -- not an extraordinarily significant date in automobile racing. Total import car registrations passed the 100,000 mark in the U.S. and the years' sales projection was another 40,0000. The MG TD was the leading import, with the Jaguar XK 120 in second place.

Over in Europe, Alberto Ascari was defending the World Championship in a Ferrari against Juan Fangio in a Maserati. Everyone was racing in T-shirts, and roll-over bars were unnecessary weight. A man named A.C.B. Chapman was driving and marketing a Lotus kit chassis which used a MG engine. Tazio Nuvolari died. Jaguar took 1,2,4 at LeMans while Mercedes was designing the SLR for a new FIA racing formula.

Elkhart Lake and Bridgehampton were running races on blocked-off highways, while Watkins Glen had just opened a permanent closed circuit. Walt Hansgen won the first race there in a modified Jag, and the XK 120C was the car to beat on airport courses across the U.S. Sebring ran its third AAA-sanctioned race with John Fitch winning in a Cunningham-Chrysler. Crosley Motors was in deep financial trouble. An Oldsmobile won the Daytona Beach stock car race at 89.5 mph.

At Offut AFB in Omaha, Allards came in first and second, driven by Carroll Shelby and James Hall. Roger Penske was delivering newspapers after school in Cleveland. Mark Donohue was working as a service station attendant in Martha's Vineyard, because he could get a driver's license at sixteen in Massachusetts.

And then something moderately unusual happened. Conservative old Chevrolet announced that the company was going into production with an all-American sports car called the Corvette. But as everyone knew, Detroit couldn't build a good-handling sports car ....."


Chapter 1 -- THE PREAMBLE
Chevrolet's official interest in racing, starting with the Corvette and the smallblock V-8 in 1955. Stock cars and the Corvette SS in road racing. The 1957 American Automoble Manufacturer's agreement not to participate in or advertise racing.

A short history of road racing "specials" builders taking advantage of the Chevrolet smallblock's potential, including Sadler, Reventlow's Scarabs, Troutman-Barnes, Lister-Jag, Devin SS, Bocar, Cheeta, McKee. Why they couldn't survive. Jim Hall's first Chaparral.

Futile attempts by factory insiders to circumvent the ban. Bill Mitchell's Stingray racer. Duntov's open-wheel "Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle" as a hillclimb car, his 4-wheel-drive CERV-II, and his five legendary 1963 Corvette GS racers. Surprisingly successful "privateers" in NASCAR. Jim Hall's mid-engine Chaparral.

The engineering R&D connection, involving programs in aluminum smallblocks, automatic racing transmissions, aluminum and fiberglass chassis development, the aerodynamics of wings on race cars, and vacuum-traction. Engineering trips to Midland Texas. Vehicle chronology -- both visible and invisible.

Penske's career as a driver of aluminum-block Chevy specials. Retirement and the discovery of Donohue, sports-racing against Chaparral and McLaren. The Camaro's success in the Trans-Am with a certain degree of Chevrolet support. The justification for switching to American Motors.

Smokey's connections with executives at Chevrolet. His background with Chevelles and the bigblock in NASCAR. Secret "rules-bending" exercises with chassis and aerodynamics. Experimenting with a Camaro in road racing.

Chapter 7 -- OTHER RACERS
Semi-independent race teams and the support they got through Vince Piggins' "Product Promotion" group: Traco engines competing against the factory, Don Yenko's limited production Corvair Stingers, Thompson and DeLorenzo's Corvettes, Grumpy Jenkins' drag cars, Mickey Thompson's Indy cars, McLaren's Can-Am engines.

Smallblock power development, failure history, and the origin of the rare aluminum block castings. The die-cast and opposed-8 versions. Bigblock development in aluminum for Chaparral and Mclaren. Experiments with 3-valve and overhead-cam heads. Power and rpm evolution.

Amazing engineering discoveries and developments due to racing involvement: laboratory tire testing, wind tunnel and road test techniques for aerodynamic downforce, computer simulation of vehicle dynamics, chassis stiffness modeling and stress cycling, automatic racing transmission performance and durability, computerized track simulation, realtime data telemetry from the track to the factory (28 years ago!), driver performance recording, the proof of vacuum-traction.

The value of racing programs to the production automobile: vehicle dymamics information for the defense and improvement of the Corvair, justification for the "black lake" skidpad, awareness of aerodynamic downforce stability, understanding of compliance in handling, durability of engines and brakes, radiator ducting and cooling, evolution of the Corvette's world class engine and chassis.

Chapter 11 -- THE FINAL END
Keeping such a large program quiet. Justifying it to management. Loss of proven performers to production programs. The power of particular persons. The death of a driver and word down from upper management. Dissolution of the accumulated knowledge and the people -- where they went. The problems of being invisible. Transfer of racing budgets to safety, economy, and environmental programs.

"Surreptitious automobile racing had a long and stormy life at Chevrolet. Fourteen years, more or less. It grew slowly and it died slowly -- it had neither a birthdate nor a death date. It was not stopped by Government influence, or by AMA decision, or by Corporate mandate. It could only be stopped by replacing it with another form of competition -- a more humanistic kind. It didn't go out with a bang or a roar, it just sort of faded away."


The original book didn't have an index ready in time. I created one later for the second printing -which took about 24 years. I would like to also include it here for the reference benefit of historians looking for particular racing names. Thanks to Michael Hollander's OCR, the index is available at Car Tec/chev-index.html


To order the book, autographed if you like, just send $45.00 (ppd. in US) to:

Paul VanValkenburgh, Box 3611, Seal Beach, CA 90740

If you want to pay a little more (with VISA) to order it right now,
goto, and mention you saw it here.