One of five Corvettes produced by Zora Arkus-Duntov’s Grand Sport program, one of two roadsters, ex-Roger Penske, George Wintersteen, 1966 USRRC.
Here’s a video walkaround from the auction preview.
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport Roadster
Chassis no. 002
616hp, 377 cu. in. pushrod overhead valve aluminum block V-8 engine, four-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension with coil springs, independent rear suspension with transverse leaf spring, four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 98″
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 GM Design staff 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 at the GM Building reaffirmed its determination 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 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 with their promise.
They remain today 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 the masters at GM Design is instantly recognizable. Bedecked with scoops and vents, dramatically sculpted and formed, their visual features achieve functional goals with grace, creativity and intuition that is rarely seen on racing cars. They are aggressive, functional, balanced and sleek all at once.
The Grand Sports’ Evolution
Corvette’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 with 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 with 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 with 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 with 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 with all the changes and revisions incorporated in the three coupes before being sold to Roger Penske. Penske entered 001 at Sebring in 1966 with 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 University 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 with a 427 big block. After running it in the 1966 USRRC series Wintersteen sold it to John Thorne. It was later acquired by Ed Mueller but it remained in these years in essentially exactly the same condition in which Wintersteen drove it.
It was acquired by Jim Jaeger in 1990 and he began to plan an exhaustive restoration. Grand Sport 002 had 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 situation for Jaeger and his restoration team, particularly in light of the competing goals of the project: not only to preserve the Grand Sport in as much detail and accuracy as possible but also to create a fast, loud, reliable, competitive car for historic racing.
Although it had been raced by Wintersteen in white with a broad blue stripe, the restoration’s braintrust also realized that it was historically significant in the configuration and color scheme in which it was first released by Chevrolet, including the driver’s head fairing and silver-blue metallic color. In order to capture the full scope of the history of Corvette Grand Sport 002 without detracting from its remarkable originality the decision was taken to construct a completely new, absolutely correct and identical body for the restored car so that the original body could continue to be preserved intact.
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 with 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.
In order authentically reproduce the Grand Sport in its 1965 configuration a newly built 377 cubic inch aluminum block Chevrolet V8 was created. In addition to duplicating the original 4″ bore, 3 3/4″ stroke dimensions, correct intake systems were constructed with aluminum, angled carb, adapters and long velocity stacks for the 58mm dual choke Weber carburetors that brought the individual intake runners to 23″ long for maximum torque as were seen on Grand Sport 002 during its Notre Dame appearance. 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.
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.
The 427 cubic inch engine with 4-barrel carburetor as raced by Wintersteen and Thorne that was in the Grand Sport was inappropriate to the 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 inappropriate 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, 3 3/4″ stroke intake systems were constructed with aluminum, angled carb, adapters and long velocity stacks for the 58mm dual choke Weber carburetors that brought the individual intake runners to 23″ long for maximum torque. 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.
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 University – 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 retrofit with 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.
Intricate details not only of appearance but also of function, fabrication and construction like the masterfully styled and designed vented hood – a characteristic visual cue instantly associated only with the Grand Sports – built specifically for the cross-ram Weber carbureted 377 small block were carefully studied, planned and duplicated using correct original parts and manufacturing techniques to the extent physically possible.
Now completed and displayed with pride at historic, racing and Corvette events, the care, concern, sympathy, research and skill applied to its preservation and restoration set new standards. 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 with its magnificent appearance and thundering performance.
It is a complete historically intact package including modern vintage race prepared aluminum block 377 cubic inch engine, driveline, suspension, brakes, wheels and tires. It comes with its period-build 377 aluminum engine on an engine stand and complete with cross ram Weber intake system, the historic 427 four-barrel carbureted engine as raced following preparation for George Wintersteen at the Penske shops and the original GM-built Grand Sport body in Wintersteen-era colors. It is titled as a 1963 Chevrolet and is accompanied by a comprehensive documentation package 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 with 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 LeMans. It took even longer for Corvette Grand Sport Roadster 002 to be comprehensively restored and 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.
The sale was fumbled on the block at RM’s 2009 Arizona auction when RM’s auctioneer Peter Bainbridge recognized a $5 million bid that didn’t exist then called it loose and selling but quickly backed up when the error was realized.
It’s reasonable to assume from this that $5.5 million [with commission] would have bought it, one of only five built, extremely important and two cars in one. I got to drive the old one (i.e., old body and big block motor) in the week before the auction, on its ancient and rock-hard slicks with way too much power and torque. It was an experience.
It was reported sold in collector car circles in early 2010 for $4.5 million.
RM’s Gord Duff handled the video camera when I drove it out of the Biltmore grounds onto the Phoenix streets behind the auction site. When I got it sideways on its old, hard tires Gord gained a few grey hairs. Times like this don’t come along very often.
Watch the videos:
How did I get so lucky to find this “job”?