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*Please note that this car is sold on a Bill of Sale
From the Collection of Thomas Mittler
Some of the most successful sports racers of the 1950s and ’60s were actually one-offs powered by Corvette engines, which were utilized by some of racing’s biggest names. Carroll Shelby experimented with the Chevrolet powerplant before moving ahead with Ford; England’s Brian Lister produced several Chevypowered cars; and even Sergio Scaglietti bodied three so-called Corvette Italias.
But few big-name cars can compare to the Campbell Corvette Special for sheer ingenuity. By the late 1950s, Bill Campbell had almost 20 years of experience in dry-lake racing, and as co-founder of his own boat company, had easy access to fiberglass construction. By 1960, Campbell had developed his own purpose-built sports racer, a lightweight car with a small-displacement motor positioned behind the driver.
Indy car builder Wayne Ewing fabricated a steel-tube chassis that was equipped with a 1,100 cc J.A.P. motorcycle engine fitted to a three-speed Chevy transmission, with Fiat independent suspension up front, and a rear swing axle. Campbell mounted an aerodynamically sleek fiberglass body evoking European sports car sensibilities.
Dissatisfied with the car’s punch, in early 1961 Campbell installed a Corvette 283 cid motor fitted with a Weiand intake manifold topped by three Stromberg carburetors. To accommodate the extra power, a Corvair-based front independent suspension was fitted, while the rear swing axle was exchanged for a De Dion tube with a Watts linkage. Other significant components included a Corvette clutch and aluminum radiator, Halibrand wheels, disc brakes, and a quick change rear differential.
Entered in the Santa Barbara SCCA race on September 3, 1961, Campbell’s Corvette Special ran as high as 3rd with Bob Harris at the wheel before overheating. A month later, at the Times-Mirror Grand Prix at Riverside, Harris finished 13th overall and was photographed leading famed drivers Olivier Gendebien (in a Lotus 19 Climax) and Ken Miles (in a Porsche 718 RS 61). The image was printed in a feature story on the Special that ran in the January 1962 issue of Hot Rod magazine, which stated that the car clocked 160 mph on the straights. Two weeks later, the Special finished 2nd overall at Las Vegas, its best finish yet. Campbell’s car was obviously catching the eye of many people, as it was the subject of another feature that ran in the December 1961 issue of Sports Car Graphic magazine.
In 1962, the Campbell Corvette enjoyed notable celebrity sponsorship from two of the actors on the television show Bonanza, Dan Blocker (better known as the character Hoss) and Pernell Roberts. Blocker, who also worked the pits, was the car’s official entrant at the Riverside race on June 24, 1962, where the car achieved its first victory. That September, the Special experienced a setback with an airborne crash at Santa Barbara and Campbell spent the off-season rebuilding the car.
The 1963 season was the Corvette Special’s most successful one, with Jim Parkinson placing 1st overall at Del Mar on April 28th, a dominating performance (the Special lowered the course’s lap record by approximately two seconds) covered by Sports Car Graphic. On the weekend of May 12th, the car finished first again during the Saturday component of the Cotati race in Sonoma County, California, but retired early on Sunday, offsetting the potential win. Two weeks later, Parkinson drove the car to another win at Santa Barbara. Later in 1963, Bill Campbell traded his Corvette Special to Joshua Saslove for a Mistral-bodied Kurtis that he rebuilt into the well-known Alligator Special. Saslove subsequently entered the Special in two races in October 1963, but never officially arrived at either event.
When acquired by Mr. Mittler in November 1993, the Campbell Corvette Special was in need of refurbishment, and he commissioned a full restoration conducted by Surrey Motorsports between 2002 and 2005. Returning the car to its proper 1961 Riverside livery, including an all-new fiberglass body, the photo-documented restoration cost almost $144,000 and debuted to great approval at the 2005 Monterey Historics. Ideally prepared for additional campaigns, the Campbell Corvette Special is a fantastic testament to the ingenuity of Bill Campbell, and a unique example of the period’s legendary Chevy-powered specials.