New Petersen Museum exhibit highlights Corvette’s racing pedigree
The Petersen Museum’s newest exhibit, Corvettes in Competition: Racing America’s Sports Car, contains examples of Corvette’s vast racing history over seven decades. From a 1953 model that was fitted with a V-8 to a C7.R, the exhibit—located in the Charles Nearburg Motorsports Gallery on the second floor—has examples of Corvette’s illustrious road racing history from every generation except for the C8. Which is understandable, as those C8s are still a long way from retirement.
Early C1 Corvettes, with their Blue Flame Six engines, weren’t really cut out to be sports cars compared to the V-8-powered models that debuted in 1955. Still Chevrolet put considerable effort into making the Corvette a worthy competitor. You can thank Zora Arkus-Duntov for that; it was he that pushed for Corvette and its Chevy small-block V-8 to be that hot-rodder’s go-to powerplant.
In the wake of the disaster at Le Mans in 1955, the Automobile Manufacturers Association called for a ban on manufacturer-backed racing efforts in 1957. Arkus-Duntov sprung into action, spearheading the Grand Sport program to get lightweight, high-performance Corvettes into the hands of racers. Chevrolet put the brakes on the program after just five examples were built, and this one, chassis 004, was the most successful in competition. It placed third overall at Nassau during Bahamas Speed Week 1963, piloted by Dick Thompson.
The Corvette didn’t have an official factory racing team for ages, though Corvettes nevertheless found their way onto tracks across America and around the world.
Perhaps spurred by the Callaway LM, which proved to be very competitive in its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a privateer, Chevrolet eventually got back into endurance racing on the world stage. The 1995 Callaway LM pictured above won the GT2 pole and finished 3rd in class before going on to win the 1996 SSCA Pro World Challenge Series.
Corvette Racing has won its class at Le Mans nine times since its founding in 1999, and the team also took home four wins at Daytona. A C5-R, two classes of C6.R, and a C7.R make for an impressive display of the era.
If you’d like to see these thoroughbred machines in person, visit Petersen.org for tickets.