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Automobile manufacturers have raced since the very begining. Racing serves a couple of important
purposes. First, it shows off the product to racing fans who will hopefully become customers. Secondly, it’s a
great way to test vehicle technology under extreem conditions.
When the Automobile Manufacturer’s
Association banned manufacturers from racing
in the late 1950’s, Chevrolet did what any
group of ‘car guys’ would do…they built a race
Developed in 1959 as a race car disguised as
an “engineering research vehicle,” General
Motors CERV I (Chevrolet Engineering
Research Vehicle #One) remained part of the
automaker’s collection until 1972, when it was
donated to the Briggs Cunningham Museum.
Since then it’s passed through a number of
high profile automobile collections. This year
at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction, the CERV I sold for a fee-inclusive price of $1.32 million, and, as first
reported by Corvette Blogger, General Motors has been confirmed as the buyer.
The CERV I was engineered by Zora Arkus-
Duntov and wrapped in a fiberglass body
designed by Larry Shinoda (who also designed
the car’s current second-generation
bodywork). From 1959 through 1964, the
open-wheel car was officially used for
component testing and development, which
delivered real-world benefits in the form of the
1963 Corvette’s independent rear suspension.
A variety of engines powered CERV I over the
years, including an aluminum small block V-8,
a twin-turbo V-8, and a fuel-injected 377
cu.in. V-8 used to set a 206 MPH lap at GM’s
Milford Proving Ground.
By design or by chance, the car appeared at key motorsport events in-period, such as the Pikes Peak Hill
Climb and the Riverside Grand Prix, though thanks to the AMA (Automobile Manufacturer’s Association) ban
on racing, any laps or runs were “officially” for demonstration purposes only.
Had the AMA ban been lifted, the CERV I’s 96-inch wheelbase would have met the rules to compete in the
Indianapolis 500, but its rear-engine design would have been considered controversial in 1960. Even though
the 1959 Formula One season was dominated by the rear-engine cars, a rear-engine car didn’t appear at the
Brickyard until 1961. It wasn’t until 1965 that a rear-engine car won at Indianapolis.
By 1964, the CERV I had served its purpose
and had been replaced by a second Chevrolet
Engineering Research Vehicle, also built for
competition it would never see. After eight
years in GM’s collection, the CERV I was gifted
to Cunningham’s new Costa Mesa museum,
where it remained until 1986, the year the
facility shut its doors and sold its collection to
Later, the CERV I found its way into Yager’s
MY Garage Museum, where it remained a
popular exhibit when not on display at
concourses across the country. A 2015 attempt to sell the car at auction ended with the reserve not met, but
last weekend’s Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale sale proved to be the right venue. Greg Wallace, manager of GM’s
Heritage Center, confirmed the sale adding, “GM is proud to have the CERV I back.”
Plans for the car’s future are unclear. Legitimate arguments could be made for preservation or restoration
back to its original form. Early photos show the car wearing a simpler fiberglass body, narrow “kidney bean”
magnesium wheels, and sporting a 283-cu.in. V-8 instead of the 377-cu.in. fuel-injected V-8 that powers it
Having just reacquired the car however, GM
has yet to decide what (if any) work will be
carried out. Terry Rhadigan, GM’s executive
director of product and technology
communications, said the car’s acquisition was
“an opportunity, not a strategy,” meaning that
the automaker isn’t actively shopping for
other such vehicles. CERV II, the successor
and likely bookend to CERV I, sold at auction
to an unnamed private buyer for a hammer
price of $1 million in 2013.
The CERV I will become part of GM’s North American Heritage Collection, housed in an 81,000 square foot
complex in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Generally off-limits to the public (group tours are accepted), the
facility displays roughly 165 vehicles at any given time, though the entire collection includes nearly 600
automobiles and trucks from GM’s past. Production, concept and engineering vehicles are all represented, and
the collection is home to such notable lots as the 1938 Buick Y Job; the Firebird I, Firebird II and Firebird III
concepts; the 1961 Corvette Mako Shark concept; the 1969 Manta Ray concept; and a mid-engine 1972
Corvette concept bodied by Reynolds Aluminum.
CERV I returns home to GM’s Heritage Collection
Posted January 26, 2017