The 1959 Corvette Scaglietti: The Never-Was Shelby That Could Have Changed It All
There is a story the implications of which would have had a profound effect on the automotive world as we know it. It begins with one of the icons of motorsport, and the creator of one of the single most recognizable sports cars of all time, Carroll Shelby.
Carroll Hall Shelby was born in January of 1923 to working-class couple Warren and Eloise Shelby of Leesburg, Texas. Carroll was a sickly child, spending most of his early years in bed. By the time he was seven years old, Shelby had been diagnosed with a leaky heart valve. His health improved as he grew, and by the time Carroll was in high school, it seemed as if he had “outgrown” his health problems.
Shelby graduated from high school in 1940. He was headed to college in Georgia to study aeronautical engineering, but instead enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Shelby began training at what is now Lackland Air Force Base to become a test pilot and flight instructor. This career would help Shelby hone the skills needed to be one of the world’s finest racing drivers.
In 1952, Carroll Shelby began his professional racing career. In a weekend racing series in Norman, Oklahoma, Shelby had a class win racing an MG-TC against other, similar cars. Later that day, Shelby took the MG out to win against much faster Jaguar XK120s. The die was cast, and Shelby was hooked. He continued to race and win in a number of different cars until capturing the respect and admiration of Aston Martin racing manager John Wyer. Shelby subsequently raced for Wyer through the 1954 season, and raced for Aston through 1960.
Shelby was known to be one of the toughest racers around. He had not outgrown his heart condition, and often raced with nitroglycerin pills under his tongue. He rolled an Austin Healey four times during the Carrera Pan Americana Mexico in November of 1954, shattering both elbows. In March of 1955, with his elbows not yet healed, he had a custom cast made that would allow him to tape his hand to the steering wheel. This allowed him to co-drive with Phil Hill, racing a three-liter Monza Ferrari at Sebring.
Shelby disliked Enzo Ferrari. While racing for the Ferrari racing team, Scuderia Ferrari, Shelby got to see first-hand how poorly Enzo treated his drivers. Ferrari’s first concern was always winning, and seldom about the drivers’ well-being. Ferrari would encourage competition between his own drivers, ‘threatening’ to fire the loser. In 1958, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, several drivers lost their lives. Among them was Ferrari team driver and good friend of Shelby, Luigi Musso. Shelby held Ferrari personally responsible, and made it his mission in life to beat Ferrari anywhere he could.
Shelby had long wanted to take on Ferrari and the other European manufacturers with a limited production American car. He thought he could utilize an American frame, suspension, and drivetrain, coupled with an Italian-styled body. At the time, the only American sports car was the Chevrolet Corvette, so this was Shelby’s natural choice. He had raced Corvettes in the past, and was impressed with the performance of the Chevrolet. Shelby, and fellow racers Jim Hall and Gary Laughlin purchased three 1959 Corvettes, and sent them to Italy. They commissioned design house Scaglietti to build streamlined coupe bodies for the Chevys. They wanted to use the power of the small block V-8, with the economy of the Corvette construction and the light weight of the Italian aluminum bodies to complete with much more expensive European offerings. Specifically, they wanted to hunt Enzo Ferrari on his own turf.
After production was completed on the three Corvette Italias (as they were known at that time), Shelby, Hall, and Laughlin presented the cars to Harley Earl, former vice president of GM, and Ed Cole, then head of GM’s Car and Truck division. Earl and Cole loved the idea; GM brass did not. They did not want a low-production, high-performance, specialty version of the Corvette poaching from t