Three years ago car restorers Bill Connell and Joel Lauman got a lead on a rare 1957 Corvette that was parked inside a barn on a pig farm outside of Trenton, Ohio. The two were familiar with the history of the car and its original owner Bill Howe, a local car dealer who raced the car in 1957. While Connell was convinced that this car was a true airbox Corvette, it wasn’t until they were able to make the deal and bring the partially disassembled car back to the shop where upon further inspection it turned out to be the first airbox Corvette produced by Chevrolet.
Before we get into the details of what makes an airbox Corvette so rare, let’s go back to 1957 when small town Chevy dealer Bill Howe first got the Corvette. The story goes that Bill and a friend flew from Ohio to the Corvette factory in St. Louis where they picked it up on May 16, 1957. They then drove the car straight though back to Middletown, Ohio. They stopped for a couple of hours of sleep and then they drove through the night to Cumberland, Maryland where they arrived just in time to compete in an amateur SCCA event against some of the best known racers of the day. In the end, Bill Howe and his number “4007” Corvette came in third place.
Fast forward to present time. As Bill and Joel began work on the Corvette, they brought in noted Corvette historian and Chevy V8 fuel-injection expert Ken Kayser who spent two days researching the Corvette, upon which he proclaimed that the 1957 Corvette was indeed an original airbox Corvette and more importantly, was the pilot car from which only 43 were produced.
So what is an airbox Corvette? I had never heard the term before so I posed my question to the Corvette Forum’s C1-C2 section where the resident expert on airbox Corvettes “DZAUTO” schooled me on the following:
ALL fuel injected 57 Vettes have an air cleaner attached directly to the air meter. Fuel injection units do not like heat, and all of the 57 FI engines (except 43) drew in hot air coming directly from the HOT engine compartment. The 43 Fuel Injected cars which were built with an “Airbox” in 1957 had a somewhat crude, practically hand laid up, fiberglass duct work attached to the left inner fender and a hole was cut into the left side of the radiator support to allow air into the duct work. All of these 43 cars were built with heavy duty everything (translate factory built race car), brakes, suspension, special steering, NO radio, NO heater, wide wheels, tachometer mounted (clamped) on the steering column, fuel injection, HD shocks and that about covers it. Somewhere along the line, the term “Airbox” was tagged to these 43 cars, and it stuck.
Restoring the 1957 Corvette to its original glory took over two years and more than 1,500 hours. Fifty years and five months after Bill Howe took delivery of number “4007”, the Corvette was completed. As with most freshly restored classic Corvettes, the 4007 1957 Corvette will make an appearance at an NCRS show to be judged and Corvette Forum member “66rag427” mentioned in the airbox post that the 1957 Corvette is expected to be judged next month in Dayton, Ohio. He’s promised photos so we’ll see how well it scores when he reports back.
Finally, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding the airbox option. For many years the option was know as RPO 579E and in fact The Corvette Black Book shows that 43 Corvettes had the 283 ci FI engine option at an additonal cost of $726.30. However in Ken Kayser’s book entitled The History of GM’s Ramjet Fuel Injection on the Chevrolet V-8 and its Corvette Racing Pedigree he states that the real airbox option was actually 579D, an RPO not listed in the Black Book. Corvette Forum’s DZAUTO has read Kayser’s book and says the author seems to have a pretty convincing argument based on the research of GM’s archives on the subject.
Regardless of the airbox option’s RPO codes and how many may have been produced, what’s worth remembering about this story is the fact that an ultra rare Corvette with a unique racing history was found partially disassembled in a barn and was brought back to life by two guys with a passion for both Corvettes and local automotive history. For more on this fantastic barn find, click here to view a video complete with historical footage of that SCCA race on May 19, 1957.