• The first of three Scaglietti bodied Corvettes and the only example with the Corvette grille, fuel injection and 4-speed from new
• Featured in Road&Track and Car Life in 1961
• Fully documented provenance
• Chuck Brahms Restoration with recent mechanical sorting by Paul Russell and Company
• Aluminium body with robust Corvette mechanicals
• 283 cubic inch OHV V8
• Rochester fuel injection
• 315 bhp at 6,200 rpm
• 4 speed manual gearbox with posi-traction differential -Front disc brakes, rear drums
• Independent wishbone suspension with coils, twin wishbones and telescopic dampers
• Live rear axle with leaf spring and telescopic dampers
The fascinating and extraordinarily complex history of the Scaglietti Corvette began simply enough, when Gary Laughlin, a wealthy Texas oil man and gentleman racer, had just broken the crankshaft in his Ferrari Monza. Like most Ferrari repairs, this was not going to be a cheap, simple fix.
At the time, Laughlin was an active participant of the American sports car racing scene and was a close acquaintance of many of the key figures, including fellow Texan Carroll Shelby. The two had witnessed a number of V8 powered home-built specials challenge, and often defeat the best that Europe had to offer. The idea developed that they should build a dual-purpose car based on the solid mechanicals of Chevrolet’s Corvette. European-style alloy coachwork could help the chassis finally realise its potential – after all, a heavy fibreglass body wasn’t doing America’s sports cars any favours. By chance, Laughlin owned a few Chevrolet dealerships and had a particularly valuable friend in Peter Coltrin, an automotive journalist who had gained an “in” with influential Italians.
Laughlin met with Jim Hall and Carroll Shelby to begin discussing what form their new Italian-American hybrid would take. The general consensus was that they should create a car that offered the best of both worlds – a Corvette with the distinction, performance and style of a Ferrari, but with the power and reliability of a Chevrolet. The aim was to create a genuine high performance GT with enough leg and headroom to meet American expectations. Once this was decided, Coltrin put Laughlin in touch with Sergio Scaglietti – the plan was beginning to take shape.
With the help of Chevrolet General Manager Ed Cole, three 1959 Corvette chassis were discreetly acquired from the St. Louis Corvette plant before bodies could be fitted – one was specified with a fuelie and a four-speed, the others came with twin four barrels and automatics. During one of his frequent trips through Europe, Laughlin met with Sergio Scaglietti who agreed to produce a small run of bodies for the Corvette chassis. At the time, Scaglietti was busy turning out Ferrari’s Tour de Frances and purpose-built racing cars. The Scaglietti Corvette would follow the lines of the Tour de France, albeit lines adapted to fit the Corvette’s larger footprint. In an effort to impress, or perhaps, appease GM management, Laughlin specified a proper Corvette grille. The interior would be similarly hybridised with an intriguing combination of Americana – Stewart Warner gauges, T-handle parking brake, Corvette shift knob; and classic Italian GT – a purposeful crackle-finish dashboard, deeply bolstered leather seats and exquisite door hardware.
The completed car arrived in Texas in the fall of 1960, almost 18 months after the chassis had been obtained. It proved to be the only one of the three to be finished in Italy and shipped back to the Untied States as a complete car. When Laughlin received the car, the fit and finish were not quite what he was expecting, especially as the project had taken three years from conception to completion. Enzo Ferrari would have been quite unhappy to hear that his exclusive coachbuilder was working on side projects for a group of Texans, so, to Scaglietti’s credit, the car was largely a prototype and the work was executed in a shroud of secrecy.
Beyond the fit and finish, the dynamics of the car had yet to be resolved. Although nearly 400 pounds had been shaved off the standard weight, the chassis and suspension had not been adjusted to compensate – especially when the car had just been fitted with a brand-new fuel-injected 315 BHP engine that had been made available for the 1961 Corvettes.
Towards the end of the project, Carroll Shelby, who by then was living in Italy, received a late-night phone call from Ed Cole. Cole had been chastised by GM management and was told to drop the project. It was poor timing. American car companies were under pressure to cut down on their high-performance and racing programs. They simply could not deal with the repercussions of a GM-backed Italian-bodied Corvette. The remaining cars were shipped to Houston in a partially completed state. Jim Hall took delivery of one. Shelby, who had helped conceive the project, ended up declining the remaining car and it was promptly sold.
Although the project did not end up as they had planned, this car, the first Scaglietti Corvette, received plenty of adulatory press. It was featured in Road&Track in March 1961 and made it to the cover of Car Life in June. That year, Laughlin sold the car to Fred Gifford of Chicago who had noticed the car in print.
Fortunately, Mr.Gifford treasured the car for over 25 years. He also owned a number of other significant cars, most notably Rust Heinz’ Phantom Corsair. In the mid 1980’s, the Corvette came to the attention of highly regarded restorer Chuck Brahms who tracked down Mr.Gifford and persuaded him to part with the car. By that time, it had been painted silver and had covered 27,000 miles during its 26 years with Mr.Gifford. When Mr.Brahms acquired it, he was amazed to find that the original B.F. Goodrich spare was still included.
Mr.Brahms embarked on an extensive restoration that finally addressed the car’s initial build quality. The restoration process saw the entire car stripped to bare metal, repaired and repainted. The original four-speed transmission was rebuilt, the Borrani wire wheels were re-spoked, and the original engine was overhauled with a Duntov cam, early fuelie heads and stock “rams horn” exhaust manifolds. In typical Brahms standards, the finished car was better than new. It made its debut at the Monterey Historics in 1987 where Corvette was honoured.
The Corvette was purchased by its current owner in 2007 and was taken to Paul Russell and Company to be finely groomed. In addition to tuning the spring rates, damping and ride-height adjustments, and sharpening the response of the fuel injection, the car received front disc brakes along with a safer dual-circuit braking system (reversible modifications).
Today, the car performs as was initially intended back in the late 1950’s. The fuel- injected 283 delivers impressive power and feeds through the sturdy four-speed. It will run with any GT car of the era and is more than a match for the similarly styled Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France. Above all, it makes a glorious V8 roar that only a small block Chevrolet can produce. As a result of the recent suspension tuning, the car is quite fast through corners and is very well balanced. It has since participated successfully in the Colorado Grand and should be a welcome entrant for almost every driving and concours event imaginable. The first Scaglietti Corvette is an utterly unique and irreplaceable piece of history that has always had direct connections to some of the most significant international personalities.