- Top-of-the-line fuel-injected Corvette with factory 4-speed manual gearbox
- Expertly restored by Glenn Vaughn with receipts totaling over $160,000
- Striking Onyx Black over Venetian Red livery
- The ultimate 1950s American sports car
|1957 Chevrolet Corvette 283/283 Fuelie
|Original List Price:
|$97,000 (283/283 FI)
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Driver’s side door jamb
|Engine Number Location:
|Driver’s side of block at bellhousing, stamped in pad ahead of passenger’s side cylinder head
|National Corvette Restorers Society
|1957 Ford Thunderbird E-code, 1966 Shelby GT350 fastback, 1965 Chevrolet Corvette 396/425 convertible
|A (283/283 FI)
This car, Lot 48, sold for $106,400, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge auction in Carmel, CA, on August 24, 2018.
As Richard M. Langworth documented in 1987’s The Complete Book of Corvette, the autumn of 1951 found Harley Earl in a bit of a creative malaise. Earl was vice president of General Motors and former head of GM Styling Section. After the 1950 LeSabre concept and 1952 Buick XP-300 concept, Earl needed a creative outlet. His new vision was that of a small, sporty roadster, something that would compete with the sporty, compact offerings filtering in from post-war Europe.
Earl gathered a team including Chevrolet Chief Engineer and future GM head Ed Cole, and recent Cal Tech graduate Robert F. McLean. Together they formed a plan: They would design the car with as many parts from the General Motors bin as possible, so as to control costs.
Suspension and drivetrain components would all be from existing designs. This would also stem the cost of research and development. The car would be skinned in Glass Reinforced Plastic (fiberglass), a first for any GM car. This provided significant weight savings.
The Corvette is born
The concept debuted to much excitement at the 1953 General Motors Motorama. The project already had approval, but the warm reception reinforced the idea.
Total production for 1953 was just 300 hand-built units. The 1954 model year saw production relocated to a new refurbished St. Louis assembly plant. However, thanks to the inline 6 and the automatic transmission, none of these cars offered performance to match their looks.
In 1955, Corvette finally gained the edge it needed, thanks to Chevy’s new small-block V8, a manual transmission, and the market threat of the more-luxurious 1955 Ford Thunderbird breathing down GM’s neck.
As such, 1956 saw a total redesign for the Corvette, featuring bold, fresh styling. Gone were the side curtains, replaced by glass roll-up windows, with a power-window option. Exterior door handles were now standard. The rock grilles were gone from the headlights, which were now banded by chrome bezels. The sides of the car featured a dramatic cove, many of which were painted in a two-tone scheme. The 265 V8 continued as the sole engine offering but could be had with dual 4-barrel carbs and a 225-hp rating.
A performance car
For 1957, the exterior body styling was carried over, but there was an increase in displacement to 283 cubic inches. Also available for the first time was Rochester Ramjet mechanical fuel injection.
The injection option could be had in either 250-hp or 283-hp trims. Only 1,040 copies left the factory with the injection unit. The other major performance option available for the first time in ’57 was a 4-speed transmission.
Paired with the 283/283 Fuelie offering, the Corvette was finally a serious performance car. Zero -to-60 came in a blazing 5.7 seconds, with the quarter whizzing by in just 14.3. If you left your foot in it, the Corvette would reach a blistering 132-mph terminal velocity. Pretty heady stuff for 1957.
All about the codes
The very best carbureted solid-axle Corvettes can be had in the five-figure range, but the Fuelies have always commanded a premium.
The example seen here was restored by Glenn Vaughn Restorations in Idaho, and it came with a bag of receipts totaling over $160k. It’s finished in a solid Onyx Black that is likely far nicer than any paint job that ever left St. Louis, and is well complemented by the Venetian Red vinyl interior. Nicely done, to say the least. This car looks fantastic.
But it’s interesting to note that the car’s early history is said to be unknown, and the color is described as “period correct,” but not absolutely correct to the car. For a driver-quality car, that’s no big deal, but for a Corvette at the upper end of the desirability spectrum, that can be a problem.
Other notes are the “EN” code stamped in the block, which is correct for an ultra-rare RPO 579E 283/283 airbox car, according to the numbers. But the NCRS hasn’t verified that any were actually delivered with that code. RPO 579E cars may have had the “EL” block instead, which is what the standard 283/283 Fuelie cars used.
Closer examination of the stamping shows some inconsistencies with the “N,” too, which some might see as an “H.” “EH” would indicate a 2×4-bbl-equipped 245-hp 4-speed Corvette. Still desirable, but not injected.
Of course, we don’t have definitive proof either way — factory injected or not — and Bonhams did not state the engine to be original. But if it were a proven original, you can bet it would have been marketed as such, as 283-hp cars are worth a pretty penny. All of this could have held back some bidding while the car was on the block, as there’s a big value difference between the two options. Were they bidding on an original Fuelie? Was it changed over from a carbed car at some point in the past? This is a case where it pays to know for sure, with a marque expert’s on-site opinion or past NCRS or Bloomington Gold awards for peace of mind. We didn’t have any of that here.
What we did have was a nice-looking ’57 — the final year of a very clean, desirable styling revamp. The 1958 model year saw more changes in the form of two headlights per side, the 13-bar chrome-tooth grille being replaced by a nine-tooth version, a hood festooned with non-functional dummy vents, and chrome trunk irons down the back end. Overall, the ’57 design is generally considered cleaner and more elegant.
What’s it worth?
If the standard 12% bidders’ fee is subtracted, the sale is just slightly below the ACC Pocket Price Guide 283-hp median value of $97,000 for a car that is well beyond median condition, minus, of course, any verification issues.
Was it well bought? That depends. The current median for a 245-hp car is $79,000, and this car was certainly in much-better-than-average condition, so it could be considered a market price for condition and colors. It really all comes down to those numbers. If they can be verified — and it can be proven that the injection system was in fact installed by GM in April of 1957 — then this was a much better deal.
Either way, for an end-user who is going to drive the car, this example had all the eyeball and performance that Earl and his team could have hoped for up on the 11th floor, even if it was well sold today.
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)