1956 Corvette SR-2 Race Car:
Be the first on your block, and Earth, to own the only Nickey Chevrolet SR-2 Racing Corvette.
The first General Motors-sponsored purpose-built Corvette racer, the SR-2 Racing Corvette is one of three built and will be displayed for private treaty sale at Scottsdale Sport & Classic Motorcars, 8053 E. Raintree Drive in the Scottsdale Airpark, during Arizona Auction Week. The vintage racer is expected to attract $6−$7 million dollars –– and many admirers.
This car offered for sale in Scottsdale, VIN E56F002522, was built for Harley Earl, the legendary GM designer and “Father of the Corvette,” and is the first of two SR-2 racecars built, says the owner, Greg Boehme, who has contracted the well-known Mike ‘Corvette Mike’ Vietro to publicize and market the car.
The second racecar was built for design great Bill Mitchell, then assistant to Earl, and the third SR-2 was intended for auto show display, requested by Harlow ‘Red’ Curtice, GM president. That car does not include items such as the racing brakes on the other two versions.
The owner of SR-2 #2, the second of the racecars built, has had it for approximately 40 years. “It’s in Florida, I believe,” Boehme says. He believes that the display car is owned by the CEO of Paragon Corvette, a Corvette parts supplier. “Obviously, these cars do not come to market often.”
He first saw SR-2 #1 racing at the legendary Laguna Seca near Monterey, California. “I loved the car and its iconic styling. I did some research and found it was likely the most important early Corvette ever produced with a hugely successful racing history,” says Boehme, whose grandfather raced midgets in the ‘40s and who began to love cars in the 1960s when he saw the first turbine-powered car –– the one Parnelli Jones had raced at Indy –– at a Firestone store in Renton, Washington, near his home.
The previous owner of SR-2 #1 had enjoyed it for 27 years, he says. “I didn’t think he would ever sell it, but one day I received a call: ‘The owner, Rich Mason, is ready to sell.’ I had to own it.”
Harley’s Son Whoa’s a Ferrari to Ride the SR-2
GM actually built the car for Earl’s son, Jerome, who was racing a Ferrari 250 MM Vignale in 1956. GM higher-ups were not enthralled that the son of the man who had envisioned the first true American sports car was racing one of Enzo’s cars.
So, dad asked him to sell it, as GM was building him a special racing Corvette: “If you sell the Ferrari, I will build you a special Corvette to race.” The son loved the opportunity to have the world’s largest car company build it, and maintain it, so he sold the Prancing Stallion for the same price he had purchased it.
When Harley spoke, everyone listened. Head of the Styling Staff at General Motors from its 1927 inception, he retired in 1959 as the GM’s director of Styling and Design. Among his many achievements was designing and building show cars for General Motors Exhibitions and those great “Dream Cars” of the 1950s.
Earl is also credited for the Cadillac Aero-Dynamic Coupe, the 1940 Buick Y-Job, the Chevy Nomad, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, the early 1950s Buicks such as the gorgeous Skylarks, “tail-fins” on Cadillacs beginning in 1949.
He collaborated with Zora Arkus-Duntov, the “Godfather of the Corvette” and the “Father of Corvette Performance,” to build the stunning SR-2, even sharper than the famous four Sebring racing Corvettes Chevy had already created for that great race.
Engineer and racecar driver (driving a Porsche, he won his class at Le Mans in 1954), he was the first chief engineer for the Corvette program after seeing the original ‘Vette at the 1953 Motorama. It was Duntov who had established a new record of 150 mph on the flying mile at Daytona Beach, driving a modified, 307-cid Corvette, and he developed the Duntov Cam and championed the Rochester fuel injection system for the 1957 Corvette.
Because of his efforts, the Blue Flame Six Corvette has become today’s high-performance car, the equal of any street/ racecar in the world. With others such as Earl, Mitchell and Ed Cole at GM, Arkus-Duntov saved the Corvette.
Stock to Exotic
All three cars began as stock Corvettes from the St. Louis plant and were shipped to Earl’s Styling Studio in Warren, Michigan, for race modifications and cosmetic additions, directed as Work Shop Order 90090 as of May 29, 1956, to track modifications. This one, the first built, was 1956 Corvette #2522.
The vehicle VIN number on this, Jerry Earl’s car, has an “F” letter code. The Mitchell and Curtis SR-2 VIN numbers are E56S002532 and E56S002636, respectively. All Corvettes then carried the letter “S” code in the fourth digit, documenting the St. Louis factory. Warren is not far from Flint, it’s been suggested as the origin of this difference, but the VIN letter change is still unknown.
The SR-2s, for “Sebring Racer” or “Sports Racing,” began with a Sebring Corvette chassis and included a rear fin, two small racing windscreens, air scoops on the side coves and an extended front end with driving lights. Sebring Racing (the SR) brakes and suspension were added as well as side scoops to cool the rear brakes.
The front was lengthened, and a stainless steel side cove was installed as well as unique parking lamps that had screens for cool air to enter the screened backing plates of the front brakes. More than 17 engineers worked on the car beginning May 1956. By June 13, the painted SR-2 #1 included the SCCA race number 144 on its doors.
The car raced in 1956 with the low fin and a 283-cid/ 240-horse V-8 engine and a manual 3- speed. That winter, GM added a high fin with a new gas tank filler cap and the 331-inch fuel- injected engine connected to a ZF 4-speed and positraction. The current 306-cubic-inch motor is a reproduction of the original Smokey Unick motor with the block X-code heads, Boehme says.
A Half-Century of Racing Success
On June 23−24, 1956, the car raced in the June Sprints at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, with Jerry Earl driving the car in practice. Unfamiliar with the car, he spun out and the Dr. Dick Thompson, completed the six-hour race respectably, noting that the car should have more horsepower, hence the upgraded block and higher fin.
Chevrolet factory driver Jim Jeffords, purchased the car on Jan. 28, 1958. This bill of sale remains with the car as well as Jerry Earl and Jeffords original titles and notarized transfers and other car documentation.
Jeffords obtained sponsorship from the famous dealership, Nickey Chevrolet in Chicago, and the SR-2 became the first “Purple People Eater” Corvette, racing at Sebring in March ‘58 with Jeffords driving and Auggie Pabst backing up. In this car, Nickey won the SCCA National Championship in 1958, repeating in 1959. Jeffords entered the Corvette Hall of Fame in 2002.
“When it raced for Nickey, the car was purple, but I elected to restore it at a different point in history,” Boehme explains. “Race cars change so much, one must pick a point in time and go with it. This doesn’t wipe out the history.”
Indianapolis Chevrolet dealer and racer Bud Gates became the next owner in 1959. He raced the car in SCCA events, and his friend Bob Spooner also drove.
On July 5, 1962, Vernon Kispert, Terre Haute, Indiana, purchased the car and drag raced for four years, and it became “The Terror of Terre Haute.” After a series of later owners, Rich and Shar Mason purchased SR-2 #1 in 1986. Boehme acquired it and has vintage raced since at venues in the Western U.S., especially the Monterey Historic Automobile Races.
“On special occasions, I’ve lent the car out for special events, such as when GM borrowed the car to celebrate 60 years of Corvette,” he says, noting that as part of the deal he and his daughter led the parade lap at Laguna Seca for the Monterey Historic races.
In 1987, when GM celebrated 75 years, the car received the prestigious Monterey Cup/Phil Hill Trophy, and in 2002, when Corvette celebrated its 50th Anniversary at the Monterey Historics, his SR-2 was one of the featured race cars in Group 4A, “1955-59 Sports Racing Cars over 2500 cc,” and performed well against period classics such as a ‘58 Lister Jag, ‘57 Maserati 300S and a ‘58 Ferrari 355.
Boehme also lent his SR 2 to the Indianapolis Speedway museum in 2014 to be displayed next to the Corvette SS prototype.
“The display was a huge hit,” he says, noting that he received benefits such as passes to the Indy Grand Prix and the 500. “It’s truly amazing what opportunities this car brings –– and will bring –– to its fortunate new owner.”
For more information, call Mike Vietro, 714.342-2570, see http://corvettemike.com/ and or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.