Never one to mince words, ex-chicken farmer and race driver Carroll Shelby describes a telephone call he received in the middle of the night in 1959 from his friend and then Chevrolet Division General Manager Ed Cole about a project to fit Italian-made bodies to Corvette chassis that they were working on. Says Shelby, “I was living in Italy at the time, and the cars at Scaglietti were just about done. Ed Cole woke me up with a phone call at two in the morning and told me to forget the whole thing. He got his ass chewed out by GM management and was told to drop the project.”
Three Texas Amigos
Shelby and two Texas cohorts came up with a plan to combine the reliability and power of a Corvette with voluptuous styling of a hand-made Italian body. His partners in this venture were Jim Hall, later to achieve fame as the Chaparral creator/driver and Gary Laughlin, a Texas oilman with a couple of Chevrolet dealerships in his portfolio.
All three were skilled racers and after seeing American V8-engined cars run with and often beat their Italian beauties, and paying for a few too many expensive repairs, they put their heads together and decided the solution to their problems was an Italian car with an American V8 engine. They already had connections with Chevrolet and journalist friend Pete Coltrin put them in touch with Italian coachbuilder Sergio Scaglietti.
The Big Adventure Takes Off
The three amigos big adventure took flight when the aforementioned Ed Cole agreed to ship three Corvette chassis to Italy and Sergio Scaglietti said his Carrozzeria would build bodies for the cars. Carrozzeria Scaglietti at the time was Enzo Ferrari’s top choice to clothe his racing and road cars and kept the Scaglietti craftsmen pretty busy. Work on the Corvettes would have to be done kind of out of the way, so the Ferrari folks wouldn’t ask too many questions when they came to visit.
Craftsmen at Carrozzeria Scaglietti were of the old school, hand forming the aluminum bodies over wooden bucks and dollies, and with their somewhat restricted work schedule, it took 18 months before the first Scaglietti Corvette was completed. It was delivered to Texas in the fall of 1960, shortly before Ed Cole’s phone call took the steam out of the project.
The Ax Falls
The General Motors hierarchy at the time was against all forms of motor racing competition and to them this project smelled of racing. When they found out about Mr. Cole’s part in all of this, they informed him in no uncertain terms that the project was to be terminated immediately.
The remaining two unassembled cars were packed up and sent back to the U.S. where they were completed.
The Scaglietti Triplets
In the best tradition of hand-built Italian cars, none of the Scaglietti Corvettes are identical to the other two—they are fraternal triplets at best. Car number one is the only one to bear the classic ’59 Corvette grille, showing some pride in its American underpinnings. This is also the only car that was built with a fuel-injected Corvette engine and a four-speed manual transmission. The other two chassis sent to Italy had dual-carb V8s and automatic transmissions, but there are some rumblings that they were retrofitted with fuel-injected engines and manual transmissions when they were completed in the U.S.
The Italian bodies were some 400 pounds lighter than a Corvette body, but none of the Corvette chassis were ever developed to compensate for the lightweight bodies. Handling became a moot point, since all three cars soon passed into the hands of collectors and made their marks on the concours field, not the racetrack.
All three cars are still in existence. So keep your eyes peeled at the next concours or morning coffee get together. Should you see a red or blue, dramatic-looking GT that resembles a Ferrari and sounds like a Corvette, you’ll know what it is.