We tend to think of history as fixed and absolute, when in fact, it is dynamic. You may have learned about a piece of history at the surface level only to find out later, this is a simplified version that leaves the details. Such is the case with one of automotive history’s biggest “what-ifs”, the Corvette Italia.
Gary Laughlin was a oil-drilling contractor who earned enough to fund his participation in sports car racing. Throughout the ‘50s, Laughlin raced a numerous sports cars, but the cost of servicing the stable was causing him to hemorrhage money. In one instance, the crankshaft of a Ferrari broke, and although the price was $350, the final cost of the part from Italy was $1200 (roughly $11,000 today).
Laughlin admired the style of Italian cars but wanted reliability. With a vision of his dream GT car, Laughlin called his connections at Chevrolet for the engine and reached out to a friend, Pete Coltrin, in Modena to introduce him to Sergio Scaglietti.
As the project took shape, Laughlin approached Jim Hall and Carroll Shelby for investment. Shelby had his sights set on being a constructor and was interested in “hot rodding” existing engines in order to produce more horsepower. Both Laughlin and Shelby tried to persuade Chevrolet to make the “Italia” a Corvette option. Although their pleas did not convince management, Ed Cole, the general manager of Chevrolet, agreed to sell them 3 chassis from the factory.
Despite being born of humble means, Sergio Scaglietti was obsessed with cars. Scaglietti entered the workforce as an apprentice to a local coachbuilder. Two decades later, Sergio built a modified Ferrari 166, which earned him a contract to design the 500 Mondial. Years later, Pete Coltrin approached Scaglietti with the proposal for an Italian Corvette. Scaglietti accepted the offer, but having just signed a partnership with Ferrari, the Italia was not a priority. After 18 months of waiting, GM wanted to scrap the project. When the cars were delivered, the reception was unenthusiastic. Too much time and money was spent for what was delivered. Carroll Shelby refused delivery of the car and defected to Ford with his idea for a European styled racecar that became the Ford Cobra.
Italias on the Move
The Italia prototype moved around for several years before being bought by a British collector. Jim Hall had held onto his Italia for decades before selling to a French collector. The third chassis was modified with a newer engine and manual transmission before being sold to Mike McCafferty. Mike put the Italia up for auction in 2000, where it was purchased by Robert Petersen.
Behind The Wheel
The million dollar Scaglietti Corvette is a permanent part of the Petersen collection and is brought out periodically for shows. The car looks similar to the Ferrari 250 GT Tour De France and is often mistaken for one. The main giveaways are the wider rear end and the softer curvature of the hood and front fenders. The seating is intended for a “Texas-sized” driver and the interior is minimalistic, despite being ostentatiously Italian. Steering can be difficult at low speeds, yet surprisingly nimble when accelerating through chicanes. The bipolar handling is due to a combination of the low weight, ride height, and rock hard tires. Issues could be addressed with modifications, but Laughlin was disillusioned with the delivery and had moved to other ventures.
Had any number of factors changed during the conception of the Italia, the history of the Corvette could have been drastically different. If GM had lent its support, Scaglietti had not procrastinated, or Laughlin had not been so persistent, the Corvette as we know it would have been entirely different, and we would not have the Ford Cobra.
The 2017 ValleyCon Show at the Petersen
2017 marks the second time that the annual ValleyCon scale modeling convention has been hosted at the Petersen. This show brings some of Southern California’s best model makers and their work to one location so the public can enjoy it. This year there were 639 models for visitors to admire as they walked through the museum. The theme was Sci-Fi Armor leading to a focus on space ships and mech suits to check out in addition to a truly epic 6’x6’ flying city which was built by hand to be used in a film to raise money to fight childhood cancer. With the influence of Hollywood so abundant, the model makers of Southern California are truly a cut above.
This year’s ValleyCon expanded beyond the confines of the Mullin Family Grand Salon space on the first floor and also took over the 2nd floor Bruce Meyer Family Gallery with a small modeling marketplace which offered older, no longer in production kits as well as supplies for scratch building. Famed Japanese model and R/C vehicle company Tamiya had a presence as well which goes a long way to further the legitimacy of this event.
Among the artwork on display – and it really is art – were a selection of WWII dioramas, one of which featured running water! The big draw this year was an amazing steampunk flying city ship which was built to appear in a film called Operation Sunshine that benefitted children’s cancer research. The owner/builder of said model was on hand dressed in full steampunk regalia and his assistant wore a rather fetching jet pack.
The build which took home Best of Show was a fully 3D printed replica of the USS Cygnus from Disney’s 1979 space epic, “The Black Hole.” This model was printed in several separate sections and then assembled. The delicacy of the printing was incredible and the lighting of the model makes it one of the coolest pieces at the show.
While the theme for the show was Sci-Fi Armor, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of cars on display including a sizable turnout of scale lowriders and gorgeously finished replicas of Le Mans cars. The Richie Ginther Honda F1 car was among our favorites as well but it was a red Porsche Carrera GT that won Best Automobile and which will have the honor of being displayed at the Petersen for the next year.
Once again George Creed of the Pasadena Modelers Society and our very own Leticia Porche have come together to create one of the coolest modeling shows in California and we can’t wait to see what they do to top themselves next year.