1956 Chevrolet Corvette SR2
The Chevrolet Corvette SR2 was a project car designed and built by the country's largest automaker, GM. During the mid-1950s, GM had annual sales of about 13 billion which was more than some countries and twice that of the second largest company in the US, Standard Oil of new Jersey. The company was very vast, and it needed a car that showed-off its capabilities and its greatness.
The Corvette was a new automobile and still had yet to prove it racing potential. In 1955 it could be ordered with an optional V8 engine which had earned it some notoriety and respect in the automotive community.
Zora Arkus-Duntov, commonly refereed to as the father of the Corvette, was tasked creating the SR-2. He worked with Chevrolet's Chief Engineer, Ed Cole, on creating a version of the Corvette that could outrun and outpace the competition.
A modified single-seater Corvette test-bed was brought to the Daytona Speedweeks in February of 1956. Its V8 engine produced around 240 horsepower and carried the car to an average speed of 150.58 mph. A little more fine-tuning to the engine increased the horsepower to 255. The car traveled the smooth sand surface at an average speed of 147.3 mph which was nearly 15 mph faster than the Ford Thunderbird's run.
The first cars to bear the SR name were shown at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1956. It is still a mystery as to the official meaning of 'SR'; some believe its for 'Special Racing', others say its for 'Sebring Racer', while others argue its just initials. Four 'SR' cars were entered in the race, three with a 265 cubic-inch engine and one with a 307 cubic-inch unit. The 307 ci car had a newly created, and still unproven, Rochester mechanical fuel-injection system and a ZF close-ratio four-speed gearbox. It raced in the Class B category while the three other cars competed in the Class C group.
One Class C and the Class B entry retired prematurely from the race. John Fitch drove one of the Class C cars to a very respectable 15th place finish. The other entry finished next to last. The Corvette's were still in their infancy of racing but the potential for greatness had been proven.
From there evolved the SR-2, with inspiration from Harley Earl's son, Jerry, who was head of GM styling at the time and an automotive sports car enthusiast. Construction of the SR-2 models began with a chassis very similar to the Sebring cars. The body was designed by Robert Cumberford, a GM designer at the time, and Tony Lapine using design cues and inspiration from the legendary Jaguar D-Type. The windshield panels were similar to the Sebring cars; a large fin was placed in the rear and original the cars were without a headrest which was added later in the design process.
Duntov handled some of the mechanical aspects of the car including the engine. It was similar to the Sebring cars.
Though intended for racing, it retained many of the refinements of a traditional road going car. It had a wood-rimmed steering wheel, radio, instrumentation, and even stainless steel decorative panels. This extra weight proved to be its Achilles heal when it went racing for the first time at Elkhart Lake in June of 1956. After the race, the weight was reduced. The vinyl seats were removed and replaced with lightweight Porsche Spyder seats. Non-essential components were also removed where necessary and possible.
There were a total of three SR-2 cars that would eventually be built. The second SR-2 was constructed for Bill Mitchell. Smokey Yunick prepared the engine and worked on the braking aspects of the car. Having learned valuable lessons from the first car, the second SR-2 was given lightweight materials which brought its weight down to 2300 pounds. The average stock Corvette weighed around 3,000 pounds at the time, so the decrease on the second SR-2 was rather substantial.
The Smokey Yunick tuning and weight reduction worked, and the car ran a 152.886 mph at the Daytona Speedweek in 1957.
The final SR-2 was built for GM president Harlow Curtice. This car was destined for the show circuit, and as such, did not feature many of the exotic setups as the second car. Instead, it had a bolt-on, bolt-off removable stainless steel top. There were Dayton wire wheels mounted on all four corners and the interior featured many stock Corvette pieces.
The lessons learned on the Sebring cars and fine-tuned on the SR-2 cars would quickly make their way into the production Corvettes. One of the first to make its way into the 1957 Corvettes was the four-speed gearbox and the fuel-injection system.
By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2008
This was seen at the 2018 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance
Don’t miss seeing this year’s Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance March 8-10, 2019.