Carroll Shelby. Richie Ginther. Phil Remington. These were American icons and innovators who laid the building blocks for motorsports in this country and across the world. John Fitch, who passed away shortly after we profiled him in October 2012, was a founding member of that special class. Besides serving as a WWII fighter pilot, kick-starting Corvette Racing, and driving at Le Mans, he also built this spectacular 1966 Fitch Phoenix prototype.
Soon after Chevy released the 140-hp Corsa engine option on its Corvair in 1965, Fitch began tinkering with it in his four-bay Connecticut garage. The resulting special-order fastback Sprint model became a favorite among those in the know, but it was actually his second Corvair-based project. As early as 1963, Fitch and his neighbor—legendary cartoonist Coby Whitmore—worked on a unique rear-engine prototype, intended as a super-exclusive grand touring coupe.
Using a quadruple Webber carb setup, Fitch coaxed an impressive 170 hp from the base model car’s air-cooled flat-six lump. He then attached a targa-top body designed by Whitmore (and cast by a carrozzeriain Turin, Italy) to a shortened ’65 Corvair chassis, hooked up Girling disc brakes, and added a staggered 6- and 7-inch front-rear wheel setup. With a curb weight of just 2150 lbs, the Fitch Phoenix could get to 60 mph in 7.5 ticks en route to a 130-mph top speed—some seriously impressive numbers for its era. Oh, it had fender-mounted spare tires, too. Fast and classy.
More from Road & Track
Fitch debuted his Phoenix in June 1966; not long afterward, Congress established the Highway Safety Bureau to dole out automotive safety standards. By the time these measures were enacted two years later, the Unsafe at Any Speed debacle had effectively axed the Corvair and, in the same swing, Fitch-Whitmore’s GT prototype.
Of the 500 units slated for production, only one Fitch Phoenix was ever made, and it’s going to auction.
This car isn’t just a (gorgeous) vestige to one of America’s pioneering motorsports figures—it’s a tiny glimpse into a strange, alternate timeline where high-horsepower, rear-engine, special-edition GM grand touring cars are, well, things that actually exist.
And if you know anything about John Fitch, chances are the Phoenix is one hell of a drive.
Look for John Fitch’s one-off 1966 Fitch Phoenix at Bonhams this Sunday, June 1.