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Story about Chevrolet Corvette SR-2

05 March 2013

By Jim Gessner

In the spring of 1956, it was a known fact the son of GM Head of the Styling Studio, Harley Earl, had a son Jerry Earl who was road racing a Ferrari. Management told Dad that he should be racing a GM car. Harley made a deal with his son. “If you sell the Ferrari, I will build you a special Corvette to race”

Once the idea was put into motion, Bill Mitchell, Earl’s assistant, wanted a SR-2 Racing Corvette also. A third car for the President of GM, Harlow Curtice was built as a show car. The show car did not include racing brakes etc. All three cars, started life in St. Louis as stock Corvettes, but were shipped to the Styling Studio in Warren, Michigan for race modifications and cosmetic additions. The vehicle VIN number on the first car is E56F002522, and has a “F” letter code. All Corvettes of this era had the letter “S” code in the forth digit as all were built in the St. Louis factory. Warren is not far from Flint, but the VIN letter change is still a mystery today.

The Mitchell (red car that Pete Lovely and Paul O'Shea raced in Sebring 1957) and Curtis' SR-2 VIN numbers are E56S002532 and E56S002636 and were also built in the Styling studio in Warren, Michigan also, but have the standard “S” code forth digit as all St. Louis cars. The car VIN #2522 received Shop Order # 90090 to keep tract of all of the modifications. The Earl car had the highest priority, and no cost or manpower was spared in building it.

Work began in early May 1956 modifying the body and adding Sebring Racing (the SR) brakes and suspension. Special windscreens were fabricated for each driver and passenger, and a low fin adapted down the middle of the trunk. The front was lengthened, and special side cove stainless steel was installed as well as unique parking lamps that had screens in them for cool air to enter the screened backing plates of the front brakes.

Over 17 engineers worked around the clock and by June 13th the painted new body had its trim installed complete with its SCCA race number 144 attached to the doors. On June 23-24, 1956 the car was entered in the June Sprints at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Jerry Earl drove the car in practice and not being familiar with its handling, spun it out fortunately with no damage. Dr. Dick Thompson took over the controls and completed the six hour race in a respectable position. He noted that the car was overweight and more horsepower was needed. Jerry Earl continueld to race it in the Central Region SCCA thruout 1956 and 57. Over the winter, he had the new special 331 cubic inch fuel injection engine installed along with the new 57 four speed transmission.

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Complete additional history of this car includes Jim Jeffords, National B/P SCCA Champion in 1958 and 59, purchasing the car on January 28, 1958. The original bill of sale is still with the car as well as Jerry Earl and Jeffords original titles and notorized tranfers. Jim presented it to Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago and said, “If you sponsor me I will bring you the SCCA National Championship. Nickey agreed, and this was the first "Purple People Eater" Corvette car and raced at Sebring March 58 with Jim driving and Auggie Pabst as back up driver.

History shows that Jeffords sold the car to Indianapolis Chevrolet dealer and racer Bud Gates . Bud raced the car in SCCA events and also had good friend Bob Spooner do some of the driving. Gate raced the car in Sebring 1959. Gates sold the car to Vernon Kispert thru his Gates used car dealership on July 5, 1962. Vernon did lots of drag racing for 4 years. He was from Terre Haute, Indiana, and the car was named “The Terror of Terre Haute” He sold the car on April 11, 1966 to the owner of a recycle yard. He kept it for some time and then it went thru a few more owners who stored the car, but never titled it. In 1986, Rich and Shar Mason purchased the car. Rich and his family have loved and enjoyed the car since.

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The car has been vintage raced since 1987 at venues all over the Western US, especially the Monterey Historic Automobile Races. In 1987 when General Motors celebrated 75 years, the car received the prestigious Monterey Cup / Phil Hill Trophy. The award is “Presented to the Owner of the Automobile that is judged to have excelled in both Presentation and Performance”.

In 2002, when Corvette celebrated its 50th Anniversary at the Monterey Historic, the SR-2 was one of the featured race cars in Group 4A, “1955-59 Sports Racing Cars over 2500cc”. The car ran well against the likes of a '58 Lister Jag, 57 Maserati 300S, and a 58 Ferrari 355.

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