Frame-off, state-of-the-art, correct restoration of Chevrolet Black Widow car #47 driven by Jack Smith. This is one of the original six factory-backed cars. SEDCO of Atlanta NASCAR race-prepared vehicle. No GM documentation. 283/283 fuel-injected engine and correct components, including six-lug wheels, Fenton headers and exhaust, high-performance Hydrovac brake system, 20-gallon gas tank and special HD 3.90 rear end. This vehicle scored 997 at Classic Chevy Nationals and recently won First Place—Racing Class at the 2012 Ault Park Concours d’Elegance.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1957 Chevrolet 150 “Black Widow”
Years Produced:1957
Number Produced:Eight to 20 (estimate)
Original List Price:Unknown
SCM Valuation:Median to date, $65,000; high sale, $205,700 (this car)
Tune Up Cost:$275
Distributor Caps:$31
Chassis Number Location:Plate on the left front door hinge pillar
Engine Number Location:Pad on front of block below right cylinder head
Club Info:Tri Chevy Association
Alternatives:1957 Ford Fairlane F-code, 1957 Dodge D-500, 1957 Plymouth Fury
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 1357, sold for $205,700, including buyer’s premium, at Barrett-Jackson’s auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on January 30, 2016.

Chevrolet’s Black Widow was a real cloak-and-dagger operation. SEDCO, the clandestine company that built the cars, was not what it seemed to be, and right out of “Mission Impossible,” headquarters disavowed any knowledge of their activities. Due to all that, the cars, and how they came to be, quickly became the stuff of legend.

Race on Sunday, sell all week

Although NASCAR wasn’t yet 10 years old, its influence in the automotive market was already vast. Four consecutive championships in the fledging NASCAR series couldn’t save Hudson, but the success of their “Fabulous” Hudson Hornets had to have helped the company stay afloat.

Then Chrysler’s powerful 300 series sedan, powered by the first-generation Hemi engines, dominated in 1955–56, but Ford made major inroads and won the Manufacturer’s Championship both of those years due to their consistent performance. Both companies were able to use their success to increase showroom sales.

The one manufacturer noticeably absent was Chevrolet. Prior to 1955, Chevy’s 6-cylinder sedans didn’t have a prayer on the NASCAR circuit, but their brilliant “Hot One” in 1955 and 1956 had some success — two of 45 races in 1955, three of 56 races in 1956 — just not enough to make a real impact.

NASCAR’s premier Grand National series included 40 races on dirt, 13 on pavement, and three on road courses in 1956, taking racers as far as New York, Wisconsin and California. That’s a wide range of marketing GM was missing, so for 1957, Chevrolet’s head of racing, Vince Piggins, decided to go all in.

SEDCO and the Black Widow

Vince Piggins knew how to win in NASCAR — he managed Hudson Hornet operations during their glory years. With the backing of GM management, Piggins created the Southern Engineering and Development Company (SEDCO) in Atlanta, which was ostensibly an extension of local dealer Nalley Chevrolet. Of course, SEDCO was a fully factory-backed racing enterprise, modeled after Ford’s similar operation in Charlotte, NC, but with Congress threatening to shut down all auto racing in the wake of a number of high-publicity fatalities, it was essential to make it look anything but “factory.”

Ford’s supercharged 312-ci F-code Fairlanes were the target, and out of SEDCO came the most advanced stock-car racers developed to that point. Back then, except for a simple roll bar and seat belts, every piece of that “stock car” had to be issued from the manufacturer. So every one of the special components that made the Black Widows so fast had a factory-issue part number. Some of those components included a fuel-injected 283-ci V8 making close to 315 hp, Fenton cast-iron headers, a close-ratio 3-speed manual transmission, beefy six-lug hubs and heavy-duty suspension, and a 3.90 rear gear set, all mounted in Chevrolet’s lightest 150 model — the one without a rear seat and with fixed rear side glass.

Five SEDCO racers were ready for the famous Daytona Speed Weeks in February 1957, while a sixth was sent to Iowa to race in the IMCA series. Buck Baker dominated the Grand National race on the Daytona beach-and-road course, and on the beach in Class 5 (259- to 305-ci), Chevys took 33 out of 37 places in the Flying Mile. At the next race, two weeks later at Concord, NC, they swept the field, with Jack Smith winning, Buck Baker 2nd and Speedy Thompson 3rd. Then on March 17 at Wilson, NC, Baker and Thompson ran 2nd and 3rd.

It was a stunning performance, so much so that NASCAR set down new rules in April, mandating just one 4-barrel carburetor. It was the end of fuel-injected, supercharged, and multi-carb stock cars. Even without the Fuelie engines, and after the June 9 pullout of all factory support and the closing of SEDCO, the Black Widows continued their winning ways.

SEDCO also published a book called 1957 Stock Car Competition Guide, filled with the list of factory racing components and detailed instructions on how they created the Black Widows. The Competition Guide was sent to 411 dealerships on April 19, 1957, in an effort to get racers to build their own Black Widow copies — with all parts available from their local Chevrolet dealer.

NASCAR legend in a scrap heap

No one knows where the Black Widow racers got their name, but their black-and-white paint scheme and deadly performance must have been an influence. The total number of SEDCO-built racers is also unknown, since Chevrolet has no record of these cars, but experts claim eight to 20. The lower number seems realistic.

The additional cars were necessary, as some of the six original team cars were totaled. Jack Smith crashed twice that year, and one of his famous #47 Black Widows ended up in a pile of about 20 scrapped race cars in a backyard in Georgia. The elderly owner had the towing contract for the old Atlanta Speedway, and always vowed to eventually restore the racers in his yard. He never did, but he wouldn’t sell any of the cars, either.

Chevy collector and restorer George Swartz, in conversation with Jack Smith, asked if he knew offhand where any of his Black Widows were located. Smith pointed Swartz to the Georgia scrap heap. Swartz patiently waited, and after the owner passed away, bought the Chevy from the estate before the cars were crushed. The #47 was nothing more than a wrecked shell, but George Swartz brought it back to its former glory, including parts supplied by Jack Smith. That was in 1998. But now with retirement imminent, it was time for Swartz to let the Black Widow go.

Provenance pays off

There seem to be three true SEDCO-built Black Widows in existence, including cars in Florida and California, although any Chevy claiming to be a genuine SEDCO car sparks controversy.

Proof of originality beyond a reasonable doubt is nearly impossible with these cars, but at least Swartz’s Jack Smith #47 has a strong provenance.

Because they are so rare, many re-creations have been built, faithfully following the 1957 Stock Car Competition Guide. These “tributes” tend to sell in the $50,000–$100,000 range. But what about the real thing? The sale of the Jack Smith #47 may be the only documented exchange of a true Black Widow seen so far, and at $205,700, the sale sets the bar for these cars. All things considered, I’d call that very well sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of Barrett-Jackson.

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