The very first 'Airbox' C1 Chevrolet Corvette racer is headed to auction with Mecum, which made its racing debut only 48 hours after being built
Completed on May 15, 1957, this Chevrolet – serial number 4007 – is the earliest known ‘Airbox’ Corvette, one of only 43 produced and 22 known survivors. Inducted into the Bloomington Gold Great Hall as one of the most significant cars in Corvette history, as you can imagine, this is a pretty special slice of automotive Americana. Better yet, it could be yours.
Corvette restorer Joel Lauman oversaw the vehicle’s restoration back in 2007, but had no idea how significant the car was. After a professional renovation, his Chevrolet bagged an Ault Park Concours d’Elegance Award of Distinction before Velocity came knocking to film a one-hour documentary – ‘One of a Kind’.
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The reason for such an outpouring of appreciation? Before commencing the Chevrolet’s refurbishment, Lauman and friend Bill Connell approached former GM engineer and fuel-injection expert Ken Kayser to perform a forensic examination.
With assistance from further Corvette experts, including Joe Trybulec and Jack Knab, they determined that Lauman’s vehicle was the original pilot car for Chevrolet’s Airbox induction system; introduced on 1957 Fuelie Corvettes. A letter of verification was penned by Knab to document the finding.
To those out with the history aspects of 1950s American motoring, the Airbox system was revolutionary. Based on hard-earned lessons taken from the 1957 season-opening Daytona and Sebring races, the Airbox option package – designated RPO 579D – was developed for use with the Duntov-cammed, Rochester fuel-injected 283hp V8 engine.
Incorporating a fibreglass intake plenum on the driver’s side inner fender and fed by an opening in the radiator bulkhead, the system channelled cooler, denser outside air through an internal filter and along a rubber duct to the Rochester fuel-injection unit. For those who find mechanics something of a witchcraft, all this innovation meant that there was extra power. Lots of it.
With maximum output, the racing-purposed system was available exclusively with the new BorgWarner four-speed manual gearbox, coincidentally the first four-speed offed by Chevrolet.
Further development allowed for a cable-driven, steering column mounted AC tachometer (capped at 8000rpm) running from the specific Delco 908-series distributor and radio/heater delete. This eliminated the need for ignition shielding beneath the hood, allowing the ignition wires to bring clout directly to the spark plugs without loss of grunt.
As all 43 Airbox Corvettes were destined for competition racing, the vehicles were built with RPO684 Heavy Duty Racing Suspension, known as the ‘Big Brake’ option. This comprised of almost indestructible front coils and five-leaf rear springs alongside heavy duty shocks, metallic linings within finned brake drums and an internal fan to draw air through screened backing plates.
It was ordered new in January 1957 by Chevrolet dealer and racer Bill Howe during a special SCCA event, where General Motors announced the car’s development. After months of waiting, Howe finally collected his new wheels only two days before the Maryland road races he had entered. Driving through the night to meet the starting grid, Bill then piloted the Corvette to third place behind Dick Thompson and Carroll Shelby, both driving similarly equipped Corvettes.
Howe raced the Airbox Corvette through the remainder of the '57 SCAA season before he sold the Chevrolet on. It passed through various owners before an Ohio farmer with a penchant for drag racing, a friend of Joel Lauman, got his hands on it.
Although the farmer had plans to restore the Corvette, it was Lauman who took the challenge some three decades later. His persistence and dedication ensured that arguably the greatest Corvette in existence didn’t dissolve as a mere asterisk in automoive history. And now, after 61 years of existence, this historically significant Corvette could be yours.
Up for sale during Kissimee auction week (Jaunary 3-13) with Mecum auctions, this is your chance to acquire a drop-dead gorgeous slice of American heritage with racing pedigree and steadfast financial investment potential.
Get a closer look at the Corvette here.