Donation Spotlight: 1957 Chevrolet 150 "Black Widow"
The Chevrolet “Black Widow” performed so well that it got fuel injection banned in NASCAR for over 50 years— and one of the few surviving factory-backed cars has been donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum.
This Chevrolet “Black Widow” is one of six 150s built for racing by a skunkworks team known as SEDCO (Southern Engineer Development Company), a company that wasn’t much more than a front for General Motors to experiment with racecars off the books. Due to a tragic accident at Le Mans in 1955, most manufacturers were not racing cars-at least not officially- but that didn’t stop them from supporting teams behind closed doors. SEDCO was one of those teams officially independent but heavily supported by GM. The car was delivered to SEDCO in 1957 for use in the NASCAR Grand National Championship. It was the perfect candidate for the series owing to its light weight and new 283/283 fuel-injected engine. With light modification it would outrun just about anything else on the track. At the time race cars weren’t all that different from their production car siblings, benefitting only from minor modifications. Six-lug wheels, a new exhaust and a larger gas tank are a few of the modifications that set the Black Widow apart from other 150s, but that’s all it took to win.
When the cars began competing that year the advantage of their fuel-injected engines was made immediately clear. The Black Widows dominated the series, sweeping the podium on several occasions. Jack Smith took the checkered flag in this car a number of times as well, as the little Chevrolet 150s won race after race. It seemed like nothing would stop them—until May of 1957 when a Mercury crashed at the Virginia 500, injuring several spectators. The already-skittish executives pulled the plug on the SEDCO team, fearing a repeat of the disaster at Le Mans a few years earlier. The team disbanded and divided up the cars and parts amongst themselves, but their impact on NASCAR would remain. Smith’s car finished 5th in the series that year despite the missed races, while another of the Black Widows took the overall win. After the season was over NASCAR would ban fuel injected engines, a move attributed to the dominance of the SEDCO Chevrolet 150s. Carbureted engines would become the norm in the series until 2012, when fuel injection was again allowed.
Just two or three of the original six factory-backed Black Widows are still around. The cars are a rare and important part of American racing history and NASCAR in particular. Today’s racecars live on the cutting edge of technology with near-unlimited resources, but the Black Widow will forever be the everyman’s racecar. Jack Smith’s #47 car is now on display in the Petersen’s vault, having been generously donated by Scott Hawley. Visit the museum and tour the vault for a glimpse into this priceless piece of automotive history among many other jewels in the vault.
By: Jeremy Malcolm