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Sweet Sixteen

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by Steve Temple  More from Author

An Admiring Tribute To Duntov’s Daytona Beach Record-Breaker

Before the legendary SR-2 models ever raced at Sebring in 1956 and ushered in all the later high-performance Corvettes, there was an even earlier pioneer of GM performance. Known simply as EX87/5951 or #16, this streamlined prototype driven by Zora Arkus-Duntov set a new Flying Mile record of 150.583 mph on the sands of Daytona Beach.

More important than this astonishing speed for 1956, however, was the fact that based on the car’s success at Daytona, Edward Cole subsequently announced that Chevrolet would give factory support to a private team entering Corvettes at the Sebring 12-hour race. From here on the SR-2 took the spotlight. After a rocky start at Sebring, those finned racers eventually went on to win the 1958 SCCA B-Production Championship, and prompted the development of other great Corvettes such as the SS, Grand Sport and Z06.

Despite the significance of EX87/5951 in Corvette history, #16 suffered the indignities typical for prototypes, with both its body and engine transplanted over time. Today, the car is now believed to be painted red and no longer exists in its original configuration.

Even though #16 may be gone, it’s certainly not forgotten. What you see here on these pages is an effort to recreate this Corvette Milestone. Noel Park of J&D Corvette in Bellflower, California has long admired the groundbreaking achievement of EX87/5951, and as a tribute to an important milestone in Corvette racing, he duplicated the look, feel and performance of the car right down to the nuts and bolts.

The project began almost by chance. Park had acquired a basket-case ’55 that had been disassembled following an accident, and never put back together. It had no engine or transmission, and the smaller parts were stored in a numerous cardboard boxes.

“Actually, I didn’t set out to build the #16 Corvette,” he recalls. “I just wanted another vintage racer.” He already owned a 1958 model, and had been competing in it at vintage racing events. Two casual conversations with Corvette enthusiasts inspired him to take on this history assignment, despite his concerns about fellow collectors accusing him of sacrilege.

One race organizer reassured Park, indicating that he wouldn’t have a problem with having the car on the track at his vintage competitions. Park was still apprehensive, though, until NCRS member Corey Peterson, who owns a 1955 model, made a similar comment. “After he told me, ‘You gotta make it look like that #16 that ran at Daytona’, I felt there’s a message here.”

So Park began an unusual historical “restification,” one that would require considerable digging to get his car to look as close as possible to the original item. Since he restores Corvettes for a living, the mechanical work was a cakewalk compared to other aspects.

“The hardest part was recreating the decals,” he laughs, commenting on the emblems on the low-cut windshield. Fortunately, after scouring the country for several months, he found two helpful sources: Buzz McKim at the Daytona International Speedway, who faxed him some copies found in the archives, and Bill Tower, who owned a ’56 with some very similar decals.

Even with these helping hands, one of the many difficulties was the fact that the #16 prototype changed often during its early days, and photos from the era provide scant information. Nevertheless, Park forged ahead, taking nearly two years to do the car correctly.

“We went to great pains to make it look the same, using the correct 265 block with cast-iron intake and headers. That was a gesture toward the original,” he says. “The only thing we changed were some up-rated hard parts inside. We have at least as much horsepower as Zora had back then.”

Instead of the original-spec Duntov cam, he went with a more aggressive bumpstick so he could be more competitive on the vintage circuit. Otherwise, the drivetrain is period correct, with a Carter three-barrel atop the 265ci block that’s mated to a three-speed tranny.

Since Park planned to run the car on roadcourses, he didn’t take things to the extent of building a belly pan that was fitted to the original #16 to minimize drag for speed runs. However, he did have a passenger-side tonneau cover fabricated out of foam and fiberglass, shaped by hand after close examination of historical photos. The car’s paint, although not a lacquer type, does have the same hue used back in 1956.

The rearend ratio is lower, a 4.56 geared for the track, but Park has a 3.08 he slips in for road trips. Yes, he occasionally drives the car on the street—it’s no trailer queen. In fact, one year he completed the 386-mile drive to Monterey from his home in Southern California, eight gallons at a time, because the car carries a fuel tank sized for competition. He never ran out of gas, and averaged 15 mpg on the trip.

How has Park’s #16 performed on the track? Over the years, he has consistently placed high in various vintage competitions. Since 2002, #16 has competed in 19 race weekends, including several at Laguna Seca Raceway, Infineon Raceway (formerly known as Sears Point), Portland International Raceway, and North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego.

For those not familiar with vintage racing rules, cars from 1948 to 1955 are grouped together, including both production cars and purpose-built racing cars, or “sports racing cars.” Within the race groups are separate classes for production cars and purpose-built racing cars.

Park’s #16 has been a consistent top-five finisher overall, and has many class wins to its credit. It has repeatedly shown its ability to run wheel-to-wheel with purpose-built racing cars, including C-Type Jaguars, Porsche Spyders, Ferrari Testa Rossas, and many West Coast “specials” built during the 1950s. These have included the famous Parkinson, Baldwin, Manning, and Tatum Specials, and many others. It races against Jaguars, Allards, Mercedes 300SLs and the occasional Ferrari Tour de France in the production class, with excellent success.

Some of Park’s proudest moments include a “True Spirit” trophy from Automobile magazine, and after taking a first at Sears Point, he received an award from for “Best Overall Performance and Presentation.”

During all these many events, there have been no mechanical failures to finish, although there have been a few due to serious driver error, Park admits in all humility. “This must be a testament to the inherent ruggedness of the Corvette, and a credit to the careful preparation of our mechanics,” he points out.

Park acknowledges the car’s limitations, noting that while the ‘55 Corvette cannot hope to finish ahead of a fully race-prepared and aggressively driven C-Type, it will give most of them all the race they want. Instead, he keeps things in historical perspective: “I have often wished that Zora Arkus Duntov could have lived to see his brainchild battling it out with these famous and exotic full-blown racing cars,” he muses. “I believe that he would be smiling from ear to ear.”

SOURCE:
J&D Corvette
9833 Alondra Blvd.
Bellflower, CA 90706
800/838-8353
www.jdcorvette.com

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