My name is Paul. I’m a ’57 Corvette junkie, and although I’ve been clean for some decades, I still quaver a bit when I see one. But seeing two, side-by-side? Well, I should just have passed when I saw these posted at the Cohort by LeSabretoothTiger, but the temptation was too great, especially since one is fuel-injected.
When did I have my first dose of the ’57 Corvette? In August of 1960, at the very impressionable age of seven, having just arrived from Austria the day before. A relative took us kids on a tour of Manhattan, in his white-over-yellow ’57 Bel Air hardtop coupe, no less. On Park Avenue I spotted an all-white single-headlight Corvette, being driven by a beautiful young woman, no less. It was an encounter that made me an American on the spot; instant assimilation. My previous automotive passion, the Mercedes 300SL, was abandoned for this plastic fantastic lover.
Speaking of the 300SL, you don’t imagine for a moment that the car under wraps in this 1957 ad is supposed to be anything other than Stuttgart’s finest? It’s no coincidence that the 300SL’s fuel injected six made its peak power (215 PS/212 HP) at 5800 rpm.
The Corvette’s optional fuel injected 283 V8 was rated at 283 hp @6200 rpm. That the pushrod V8 had a higher power peak than the Mercedes six is a bit surprising, but then that’s a gross rating, without mufflers and such. A net rating would probbaly have put them a bit closer in output and peak power.
Any other comparisons are inevitably a bit unbalanced, as the 300SL was vastly more expensive (over $10k in the US), whereas the ’57 Corvette started at $3445. And needles to say, the Mercedes had a much more advanced suspension and stronger brakes, as well as general refinement.
The ’57 Corvette was raced successfully, by privateers with covert factory support, since the racing ban was in effect. And in reality, the Corvette wasn’t likely racing often against 300SLs, as they were actually not that common on the tracks in the US. After Mercedes dropped its factory racing efforts in 1955 after the LeMans disaster, the 300SL, especially the roadster, was not raced all that much by privateers, especially in the US. Jaguars, Maseratis, Ferraris, and other brands were the more likely competition.
The relative pros and cons of these two very different yet publicly high-profile roadsters are infinitely debatable. But in one arena, the Corvette had the 300SL beat hands down: acceleration. Road and Track tested a ’57 (with a high-numerical rear axle ratio), and it yielded spectacular results unlike any they’d ever achieved with a production car: 0-60 in 5.7 seconds, and the 1/4 mile in 14.3 seconds (the 300SL took some two seconds longer in both runs).
This ad is a little hard to read, but it’s pretty clear that Chevrolet thought it had a classic on its hands in 1957. Pretty prophetic.
Which brings us back to today; or August 24th, the day these were shot. This one sports the “Fuel Injection” badges on its front fender, and I’d like to think it’s an original. Realistically, a fair number have been converted to that status.
Here’s what the FI 283 looks like in the light of day. I’m going to restrain myself, but this engine probably made more than a few expensive European sports car makers sweat bullets. For a fraction of the price of their exotic alloy V12s and such, here was an engine that equaled the very best of them for power output. No wonder it became the engine of choice for a number of Euro-American sports/GT/racing cars, never mind what its absolutely overwhelming influence on all aspects of the high-performance automotive scene in the US.
Undoubtedly, that’s the newly-available optional four-speed manual in the FI car, the first appearance of the legendary BW T-10. That was another key step in making the Corvette a genuine world-class sports car. Now all it needed was a frame and suspension not borrowed from a ’53 Chevy sedan. That would have to wait until 1963.
Given the license plates, one wonders if these two are a husband-wife duo? The tail end of these is what lots of folks saw, but viewed straight-on, it’s not exactly their best end, stylistically. It’s a bit too wide, and the proportions are not ideal, a necessity of sitting on that shortened sedan frame and its axles.
That’s better, although the Motorama rear end with the exhaust pipe in the fender blades was looking a bit dated already. The ’61 got a temporary fix, one that might have happened sooner. But Corvette sales were slow in the early years, and what money there was for the program went for other things, like a new front end instead, in 1958, They had their priorities ass-backwards on that.
Yes, this my preferred end, although I’ve come to realize it’s also too wide, for the same reason. The Corvette was an expedient compromise from the beginning, and really didn’t come into its own fully until 1963, when it was designed from the ground up without those limitations. But it made the most of a brilliant engine and an enthusiastic go-get-em face.
I used to lust for one, ironically, when they were still quite affordable. Now I can appreciate them for what they are (and were at the time), but my addiction is truly cured. Of course, I wasn’t the one that found these two in the flesh.