The fascinating and complex history of the Scaglietti Corvette began 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 the Chevrolet Corvette. European-style alloy coachwork could help the chassis finally realize its potential. 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 the 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.
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 France 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 hybridized 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 United 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 nearly 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 Italianbodied 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.
This is perhaps the Cobra that should have been, but the Texas racers eventually turned their attention to other cars including Carroll Shelby's successful AC Cobra.
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