A half century ago Chevrolet's Corvette was just beginning to assert itself as a serious, competitive sports car. As it achieved success in road racing its potential seemed nearly limitless.
Road racing was singularly important at the time and it, too, had wonderful prospects. It offered the only opportunity to campaign production-related automobiles in closed circuit national competition and grew by leaps and bounds, adding circuits, drivers, series and competitive marques.
Among the marques that were competitive in road racing, however, only Corvette was home-grown. Tied to GM's bins of existing parts and reined in by upper management's adherence to the 1957 AMA racing ban, a few competitive Corvettes nonetheless kept the model's competition record going. Singular successes – like Briggs Cunningham's team of three Corvettes at Le Mans in 1960 and the eighth place finish of one of them – encouraged rumors of factory-backed racing Corvettes, helped by occasional sightings of the real thing.
The culmination of Corvette's early development were the Corvette Grand Sports. They were the emblem of its potential and their combination of technical accomplishment, competitive performance and the brilliant design of Bill Mitchell and his staff at GM have perpetuated their image, reputation and legend. They also were the culmination of factory backing for Corvette racing at the highest levels, a much anticipated but sadly lost opportunity.
The excitement the Grand Sports generated was more than just about Chevrolet or General Motors, it was the possibility that a production-based American sports car could beat the legendary sports car marques from Britain, Italy and Germany in the mythical endurance racing battles at Le Mans, Daytona, Targa Florio, Sebring, Spa Francorchamps and Monza as well as holding up the home teams' honor at America's road racing circuits.
In the end Chevrolet built only five Grand Sports, the leading edge of a planned run of 125 cars that was stillborn when the suits on the Fourteenth Floor of the GM Building reaffirmed its decision that there would be no overt support for racing.
Most cars assume legendary status after their active racing lives are over, but the Grand Sports were already legends when they appeared on the track for the first time, chimeras that emerged from the mists of myth in metal, rubber and fiberglass to take part in storied competition. They titillated and teased their competitors and their followers wîth their promise.
Today they remain five of the most exciting, fabled, wondrous competition cars ever built, designed and built for competition at the highest international levels. Their design by Bill Mitchell and his colleagues is instantly recognizable. Bedecked wîth scoops and vents, dramatically sculpted and formed, their visual features achieve functional goals wîth grace, creativity and intuition that is rarely seen on racing cars. They are aggressive, functional, balanced and sleek all at once.
The Grand Sports' EvolutionCorvette's engineering evolution was guided by Zora Arkus-Duntov, but he was encouraged and given running room by Ed Cole, a brilliant engineer and a dynamic leader doing his turn running Chevrolet while on a fast track through General Motors.
The first hint of Corvette's ambitions in the top rank of international racing events was the Corvette SS. It appeared at Sebring in 1957, a state of the art front-engined race car using the Chevy V8 and a lightweight space frame chassis. It immediately fell afoul of the Fourteenth Floor's adherence to the Automobile Manufacturers Association's racing ban. GM design chief Bill Mitchell purchased the testing mule from the SS program, installed a dramatic streamlined body which foreshadowed the 1963 Sting Ray and supported Dr. Dick Thompson who raced it in SCCA in the 1959 and 1960 seasons.
In April 1962 Zora Arkus-Duntov created a memo justifying a 'Light Corvette' which would be competitive at the highest levels of sports car racing yet would skirt the Fourteenth Floor's adherence to the AMA ban by being sold to and raced by private entrants. With the backing of Ed Cole's successor, Bunkie Knudsen, a team led by Duntov embarked upon the design and construction of the Grand Sports, all-out racing cars designed to meet the strictures of the FIA's newly created Grand Touring class.
The Grand Sports looked like Corvettes. They would go like something entirely different.
Five prototype Grand Sports were begun. Based on a large diameter twin tube frame wîth beefy tubular crossmembers they had fully independent suspension fabricated from lightweight components, coil front springs, a featherweight fiberglass body reinforced by a lightweight fabricated and welded aluminum 'birdcage' rollover structure. Its engine would be an all aluminum 377 cubic inch masterpiece wîth hemispherical combustion chambers, dual ignition and dry sump lubrication breathing through a set of four 58mm Weber side draft carburetors. Three piston caliper, 11 1/4' vented disc brakes were developed by Chevrolet and Girling.
Tests were made at Sebring in late 1962 but once again the Fourteenth Floor heard about Chevrolet's attempt to circumvent the AMA ban and killed the program in early January 1963. Duntov's only possible response was to sneak two of the already-built Grand Sports out to Illinois Chevy dealer Dick Doane and Gulf Oil's Grady Davis. Davis, particularly, achieved some success in 1963 running his Grand Sport driven by Dr. Dick Thompson in SCCA C/Modified including a win at Watkins Glen in August wîth a modified production fuel-injected engine.
Duntov now took his greatest risk, entrusting three Grand Sports to Texas oilman John Mecom's team to be driven by Jim Hall, Dick Thompson, Roger Penske and Augie Pabst in the December 1963 Nassau Speed Week. They proved their point by finishing third (Penske), fourth (Pabst) and sixth (Thompson) in the feature Governor's Cup race for sports-racing cars. Penske's Grand Sport was headed only by the Scarab of A.J. Foyt and the Ferrari 250P of Pedro Rodriguez.
Emboldened by the Grand Sports' success in Nassau and the absence of any reaction from management, Duntov began to lay plans for Daytona and Le Mans in 1964. Two of the Grand Sports, chassis number 001 and 002, were transformed into roadsters wîth low windshields to reduce frontal area in hopes of higher terminal velocities on these high speed tracks. The effort, however, was futile. Once again GM management pulled the plug, informing Bunkie Knudsen in no uncertain terms that Chevrolet's support of racing was to end.
Chevrolet parceled the three coupes out to established teams: Dick Doane, Jim Hall who entrusted it to Roger Penske, and Grady Davis who in turn passed it on to Delmo Johnson. The two roadsters remained within GM until 1966 when they were updated wîth all the changes and revisions incorporated in the three coupes before being sold to Roger Penske. Penske entered 001 at Sebring in 1966 wîth power from a 427 cubic inch Mark IV big block. Driven by Dick Guldstrand and Dick Thompson it was forced off the course, damaging its frame and suspension and holing the oil pan to end its run in the early afternoon.
Corvette Grand Sport Chassis 002
Other than display appearances at Notre Dame Úniversity and Elkhart Lake in 1965 Grand Sport 002 had never been outside a GM facility until it was sold to Roger Penske. After Sebring he sold it to George Wintersteen for whom it was prepared in the Penske shop wîth a 427 big block. After running it in the 1966 ÚSRRC series Wintersteen sold it to John Thorne. It was later acquired by Ed Mueller and it remained in exactly the same condition in which Wintersteen drove it.
It was acquired by Jim Jaeger in 1990 at which time Grand Sport 002 had still never been restored nor even extensively modified, and was by far the best preserved and most original of all the Grand Sports. Many of the notations and reference points marked on it during its construction at GM were still visible, a direct link to its extraordinary history. Its condition and originality presented a special opportunity for Jaeger as he felt an obvious obligation to preserve the car's impeccable originality. He did so without regard to expense and to maintain its purity in every respect.
The original body was so historically significant that it was essential to preserve the unique historic record it represented. When Jaeger decided he wanted to prepare the Grand Sport for vintage racing the decision was made to construct a completely new, absolutely correct body for the original chassis so that the original body could continue to be preserved intact as the time warp piece of historical record that it truly is.
Dozens of intricate molds and forming dies were required to duplicate the body's constituent parts and the complex aluminum birdcage structure that surrounds the driver's compartment. The original color was precisely identified from the Chevrolet Engineering Center data plate and the head fairing which had been taken off in 1966, never repainted and kept wîth the car for twenty-four years. The new body precisely duplicates the paper-thin original, a wafer of fiberglass so ethereal it is translucent, and even reproduces minute details like the weave and orientation of the original's fiberglass cloth.
The 427 cubic inch engine wîth four-barrel carburetor as raced by Wintersteen and Thorne that was in the Grand Sport was not as well-suited to the newly desired configuration and had to be replaced by an aluminum block 377 cubic inch dry sump engine as originally built and prepared by Chevrolet. A correct, period-origin example was acquired but deemed insufficient for historic racing so work was begun to duplicate it, hewing as closely as possible to the original configuration.
In addition to duplicating the original 4' bore and 3 3/4' stroke dimensions, correct intake systems were constructed wîth aluminum. Additional details including the dry sump system and the 4-tube headers which passed over the righthand frame tube, unique to the two Grand Sport roadsters, were duplicated for both the period-origin and new 377 engines. When completed the modern engine was tested and tuned on the dynamometer, eventually delivering 616 brake horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 516 lb-ft torque at 5,750 rpm.
Additional details were painstakingly restored, duplicated or re-created using the same materials and methods that were employed by the GM technicians during Grand Sport 002's build and subsequent modification to its roadster configuration. A set of correct Halibrand 5-spoke centerlock wheels – as seen on Grand Sport 002 during its 1965 display at Notre Dame Úniversity – was found and restored for display while a new set was built for racing, both carefully matched to re-created centerlock stub axles and tri-lobe nuts. The early M-22 'Rock Crusher' 4-speed transmission was rebuilt and retrofitted wîth a roller bearing first gear for reliability. A modern 3-disc 7 1/4' clutch was installed giving greater reliability, lower rotating mass and, most important, much greater safety.
When 002 was completed in its newly presented form it was displayed wîth pride at historic racing and Corvette events around the country. The care, concern, sympathy, research and skill applied to its preservation and unique restoration set new standards. ( posted on conceptcarz.com) In the process Corvette Grand Sport Roadster 002 was not only preserved for appreciation by new generations of collectors and automotive historians but also rendered as a safe, competitive vintage race car capable of thrilling onlookers wîth its magnificent appearance and thundering performance. The next owner has this opportunity as well, as both the 377 cubic inch engine and new body, along wîth a host of other important items accompany the car in its sale and will be available onsite for inspection by those interested parties at the auction.
Today, the Grand Sport has been returned to its 1966 ÚSRRC racing configuration, wearing its pristine time warp original bodywork wîth 427 power and accordingly remains just as it might have been seen over 40 years ago on the track or in the pits. It is the very definition of a 'time warp example', especially considering that most race cars cannot make it through a season without new bodywork. Simply put, this aspect of the 002's magnificence cannot be duplicated and its unquestionable purity is ample evidence of its exceptional ownership, provenance and long life cherished by all its previous owners.
In addition to the original body and 427 cubic inch engine installed in it, the Grand Sport is accompanied by the modern vintage race-prepared aluminum block 377 cubic inch engine wîth Weber carburetor intake system, transmission, pipes, §teering wheel, wheels and tires and of course the all new body. It is titled as a 1963 Chevrolet and has a comprehensive documentation package nearly six inches thick appropriate to its history, restoration and importance.
Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport 002 is one of the most important historic sports-racing cars of all time. Its restoration, history and condition are, however, only a small part of the halo that surrounds it and suffuses the memories of those who see it wîth the bright glow of history.
Brock Yates observed, 'Ever since the spring of 1963 … the Corvette Grand Sport has established itself as one of the most fascinating enigmas in motor racing annals…. Periodically one of the five Grand Sports appeared … raced around at shocking speeds, and then plunged back into mysterious seclusion.' Jerry Burton in his biography of Zora Arkus-Duntov put it this way, 'The Grand Sport may not have earned Duntov any political gold stars on the Fourteenth Floor, but what he did achieve constituted an indelible contribution to Corvette's racing pedigree,' and to the dreams and aspirations of American road racing fans.
It took a further forty years before Corvette Racing achieved Zora Arkus-Duntov's goals for the Grand Sport: success at Daytona, Sebring and, most of all, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 002 remains today beautifully preserved as it was when first released from GM, an unprecedented opportunity for serious collectors and vintage racers to acquire one of the most important, legendary, individual sports-racing cars in road racing history.