A Le Mans-Winning 1960 Corvette Finds Fame in a Sequel
By Larry Edsall on January 17, 2012, 3:20 PM
The No. 3 car that won its class at the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans, on the lawn of the Arizona Biltmore resort on Jan. 15. The car was on hand at a screening of "The Quest."
PHOENIX - In June 1960, four Chevrolet Corvettes were entered in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. One of them eventually became the first American vehicle to win its class in the endurance test, held annually on the famed circuit in France.
The fates of that vehicle and of one of its drivers, John Fitch, are one narrative strand of "The Quest," a documentary by Michael Brown that was screened on Sunday at the Arizona Biltmore resort, on the eve of the collector car auctions that start here this week.
At the time of the Le Mans race, Chip Miller was a high school student in Pennsylvania fascinated by Chevrolet's fiberglass-body sports car. He eventually turned that fascination into a career, pairing up with Bill Miller Jr. (no relation) in 1973 to establish Carlisle Events, a company that stages automotive gatherings at the fairgrounds of Carlisle, Penn.
But Corvettes were Mr. Miller's passion, and he made it his quest to find the car that won its class, as well as to restore it and reunite it with Mr. Fitch for a 50th anniversary lap around the French track. Not-so-surprising spoiler alert: as the above photo shows, the Corvette was indeed found and restored to concours condition.
"The Quest" is ultimately more nuanced than its passion-project premise would suggest, given the death of Mr. Miller after locating the car and his son's subsequent completion of his father's objective. The film has been screened around the country, and a DVD is available from the film's official Web site.
The documentary begins with the story of the four Corvettes, the challenges of competition and the ingenuity that enabled car No. 3 to finish the race, win its class and seize the hearts of French race fans who originally viewed the cars as nothing more than, as Mr. Fitch puts it, "American plastic pigs."
Then there is the story of Mr. Miller, who, after finding the car, dies of amyloidosis – a rare disease that causes proteins to attack and destroy a body's organs – and of the completion of his father's mission by Lance Miller, Mr. Miller's son. It was the younger Miller who secured a commemorative lap for Mr. Fitch, at age 92, in the car at Le Mans in 2010.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is the sleuthing required to find the winning car. After the race, the Corvettes were converted from their racing liveries to regular road cars. Car No. 3 car also lost its telltale blue racing stripes and white paint, which was replaced with bright red.
Kevin Mackey, a Corvette restoration specialist on Long Island, and several other Corvette enthusiasts were enlisted to find and ultimately track down that the No. 3 car. Two of the other Le Mans racers were also rediscovered and their identities verified.
Though three of the four cars have been found, the fate of the fourth car is unknown.
The SCA's very own Bob Cromwell & Joanne pose alongside the famous No. 3.