Corvette At Le Mans
It is no secret that Zora Arkus-Duntov had a warm place in his heart for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
A successful participant at Le Mans for four consecutive years from 1952 through 1955, driving such disparate entries as a Chrysler Hemi-powered Allard J2X, Cadillac-powered Allard J2R and Porsche 550 Spyder, Duntov knew both the demands of the annual enduro at La Sarthe and the rewards which participation brought in production development and promotion.
Steady improvement in power, handling and reliability of Corvettes under Durov's guiding hand brought the first appearance of a team of three Corvettes in 1960, entered by the redoubtable American sportsman Briggs Cunningham and a single car entered by 'Luck' Casner's Camoradi team. All of them, but particularly Cunningham's team, benefited from advice and guidance from Durtov, and even some assistance wîth 'preparation.' The value of Duntov's input was apparent when Cunningham's #3 car, driven by John Fitch and Bob Grossman, finished first in class and eight overall in Corvette's first, but far from last, appearance at LeMans.
The LeMans fans loved the big, loud, bruta V-8-powered American cars which often showed their heels to exotic European throughbreds. Many years later, after Duntov died, a new generation of Corvettes, factory-prepared and entered, fulfilled his dream when the C5Rs roared to victory in the GT class and established the same domination of the GT category that the Ferrari 250 SWBs and GTOs had enjoyed when Corvette first appeared at La Sarthe
In the meantime, privately entered Corvettes kept up a steady, if intermittent, presence at LeMans. SOmetimes, particularly when Duntov had snuck a new secret weapon like the fabled L88 Big Block into Corvette's racing arsenal, there was quiet factory help. But most of the time Corvette's LeMans entries were the endeavor of enthusiastic privateers like John Greenwood, Henri Greder, Dick Guldstrand and Reeves Callaway, who recognized the potential of its power and torque on the long, fast LeMans course and who cherished the idea of realizing Zora Arkus-Duntov's dream.
There was no Corvette at LeMans in 1961, but the first of many returns came only a year later.The 1962 Corvette
The big news from Corvette in 1962 was not the long-awaited Stingray - it was the Stingrays 327 cubic-inch engine, achieved wîth a 1/8 inch increase in bore and .25 increase in stroke. The 15.5% increase in capacity brought wîth it comparable increases in horsepower and torque, making Corvette even more fun to own and drive. It also made 'America's Sports Car' more competitive on the racetrack.
The enthusiastic Corvette team at Chevrolet had plenty of goodies under the shelf, even as they worked on the Stingray, to support Corvette racers. The big engine for 1962 was the fuel-injected 327, now offered in only one highly developed state of tune wîth a solid lifter camshaft and free-breathing cylinder heads. It twisted tires into oblivion wîth 360 horsepower. Amazingly, 1,918 Corvette buyers in 1962 opted for this expensive high-performance option, 13% of 1962 production, plunking down $484.20 to enjoy the Fuelie's mystique and performance.
Out of those 1,918, however, only a few checked off the real racing packages on Corvette's list of Regular Production Options. RPO 687 was the first hurdle: Heavy Duty Brakes and Steering. It included a host of high-performance goodies that made a Corvette essentially unsuitable for street driving: special shock absorbers, air scoops for the front and rear brakes wîth deflectors ('elephant cars') up front, metallic brakes (that didn't work until they reached blast-furnace temperatures), finned braked drums wîth integral cooling fans and a quick-§teering adapter. In 1962 only 246 Corvette buyers were sufficiently performance committed to select RPO 687.This Car
This 1962 Corvette is an early production example built on October 11, 1961, and based upon its chassis number is only the 1,261st Corvette built from the 1962 production of 14,531. Delivered through M.K. Smith Chevrolet in Chino, California, to its first owner, Hugh M. Powell in Riverside, Calif., its purpose was clear from its specifications. This Corvette was going racing.
Equipped wîth the top-of-the-line 360-horsepower fuel-injection engine, Powell's Corvette was a radio (but not heater) delete car wîth RPO 687, the very rare Heavy Duty Brakes and Steering package, as well as the no-cost optional 15x5.5 inch steel wheels, hardtop and Posi-Traction rear axle which was required wîth all RPO 687-equipped Corvettes.
The engine was immediately rebuilt, blueprinted and fitted wîth high performance Carillo connecting rods, then the Corvette was shipped to Italy where a 37-gallon fuel tank was fabricated and installed. The fuel tank is believed to have been fabricated in the Maserati shops. The quick filler, normally located inside a box structure is the hardtop's rear window on Big Tank cars, is permanently installed directly through the hardtop's rear window.
Delivered in white wîth red interior, race preparation included painting a distinctive dark-blue scalloped stripe, which surrounded the grille, tapered to a narrow stripe across the center of the hood, then widened out to surround the cockpit before again tapering down to another narrow stripe and finally swelling outward to cover nearly the full rear apron. Other changes included installation of a clear bug deflector on the hood, a Sun competition tachometer on the dash top, auxiliary engine gauges, straight exhaust pipes exiting in front of the rear tires on each side, five-leaf rear springs, passenger's door car-number light and Lucas fog/driving lamps flanking the grille. Únusually for a race car, even in 1962, no roll bar was fitted and the passenger's seat was left in the car.
Entered at LeMans by Scuderia Scirocco of Modena, Italy, Powell hired Tony Settember and Jack Turner to drive his Corvette at LeMans. Prior to the race it was entered in a hill-climb in Verona, Italy, as a shakedown and test which it won handily.
At LeMans in 1962 the grid was set by engine size, putting the 5.4-liter Settember/Turner Corvette in the number-one position, and it is shown in the Moity/Teissedre LeMans book charging up the hill beyond the Dunlop bridge just after the start pursued by a flock of GTOs, Jags and the thundering Maserati 151 Coupes. But while running third in class after 13 hours, Jack Turner accidentally lifted the reverse lockout while downshifting at the end of the Mulsanne Straight and selected reverse instead of first wîth the expected consequences to the gearbox. Settember attempted to continue wîth only one usable gear in the 4-speed, probably third. Continuous high engine revs snapped the fuel-injection unit drive cable after another half-hour of racing and the Corvette retired in the fourteenth hour, having completed 150 laps. It was a disappointment, but on tempered by the fact that Hugh Powell's privately entered and prepared Corvette outlasted most of its competition, including all the Maserati 151s, the factory-entered Aston Martin Project 212, both Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagatos and Ferrari's special 330 LMB.
Following LeMans, the Corvette's fuel-injection drive was repaired and it was driven to London and shipped back to the Únited States where it was driven on the street for the next 10 years, receiving two repaints, first in black and later in red. The second owner was Edward Ropone in San Bernardino, Calif., a riding mechanic in the Indianapolis 500 from 1933 to 1937. Acquired in 1972 by Roland Gorman of New Carlisle, Ohio, off a Fairfield, Calif., used car lot called 'Kar Klinic,' it was again street driven for another seven years. On December 1, 1987, it was acquired by Dale Pearman of Atwood, Tenn.
Dale Pearman was widely known and respected among Corvette owners and reporters. A successful engineer and high-tech entrepreneur, Dale was also one of the acknowledged experts on early solid rear-axle Corvettes. He was a longtime National Corvette Restorers Society member and an NCRS Master Judge for 1958-1962 Corvettes, as well as a Founding and Lifetime member of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY. Dale authored numerous Corvette-related articles and was a Senior Instructor at Bloomington Gold workshops for more than 15 years. His true passion was racing Corvettes and he made restoration of the ex-Hugh Powell/Tony Settember/Jack Turner 1962 LeMans Corvette an exercise in preservation and accurate restoration.
The restoration was completed in late July of 2004 some six months after Dale Pearman's untimely death, by his nephew Ken Hansen at Orindales Corvette Restorations. The LeMans Corvette has been displayed since at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green where it is one of the Museum's highlights among its collection of some of the most important Corvettes ever built.
Fortunately, despite its many years on the street, the Corvette was remarkably complete and original, including the original engine, clutch scatter-shield and the rugged 4-speed gearbox which still shows evidence of Heliarc welding repairs to the maincase and attaching dog-ear. It is equipped wîth the complete RPO 687 package including the correct front and rear brake scoops, screened vented brake backing plates and the quick-§teering adapater. The original racing shocks have been rebuilt and retained, along wîth the five-leaf springs which were all owner-installed competition part in 1962. It rides on 15x5.5 inch steel wheels as it did at LeMans.
The interior has been restored as closely as possible to its configuration at LeMans including a correct 1962, 90-degreen Sun tachometer and auxiliary engine gauges in a panel above the center stack. Tony Settember was consulted during the restoration for such details of equipment, including placement of the driving and race-number light switch on the center stack near the heater controls. Settember has endorsed the Corvette's restoration wîth his signature on its gigantic 37-gallon fuel tank.
The size and installation of the custom-fabricated 37-gallon fuel tank has obscured nearly all evidence of the (possible) prior existence of the optional 24-gallon tank. The modifications necessary for the straight, side-exit exhaust pipes were still on the car when it was restored. The Posi-Traction rear axle pumpkin is correctly dated for the LeMans Corvette's build date, however the axle ratio has been changed from the 4.11 gears it had when it was acquired by Dale Pearman to a higher ratio more appropriate both for street driving and for the high top-end that would have been needed at LeMans.
Even after 30 years there were still four sets of bug deflector mounting holes in the hood, showing that Settember and Turner had experimented to find the best location. They have been partially filled but are still visible on the restored hood, wîth the deflector mounted in the set that most closely matched photos of the Corvette at LeMans.
Dale Pearman's mission to preserve this unique example of Corvette history is complete. Carefully restored to like-new condition, it is a symbol of the dedication of a few Corvette owners to build Corvette's reputation in the most demanding long-distance race in the world and of their successors to preserve the history of the marque. The next time a Corvette took the start at LeMans was when Dick Guldstrand and Bob Bondurant brought their L88 coupe under the flag in 1967. Dale Pearman's 1962 LeMans Corvette is one of only five straight-axle Corvettes to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the first in a long string of enthusiastic owner-entered Corvettes that laid the groundwork for Chevrolet's ultimate success wîth the current Corvette generations.Source - Gooding & Company