The story of the Corvette Grand Sport
Hello, everybody! Welcome back to C&S Corvettes in sunny Sarasota, Florida. I'm your Corvette buddy Lyle, and I'm here with more interesting, fun, and exciting Corvette news and topics. Before we dive into today's video, I'd like to remind you to hit the subscribe button if you find my videos useful, entertaining, or in any way enjoyable. Your subscription helps us reach more Corvette owners and allows us to continue creating great content. It's quick, easy, and costs you nothing. You can also click the bell icon below the screen to receive notifications whenever we upload new content. However, even if you choose not to be notified, please consider subscribing as a silent thank you for the information we provide. Alright, let's get started!
Today, we're going to dive into a review and a history lesson on one of my favorite Corvette stories, the original Corvette Grand Sport. There are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding this program, the cars themselves, and the origin of those iconic hash marks on the fenders of the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport tribute car. I'll be presenting this information in a slightly different format, incorporating more images and videos to enhance the storytelling. So, let's begin!
The story of the Grand Sport takes us back to the late '50s and early '60s, when Carroll Shelby's aluminum-bodied Cobras were dominating Corvettes on the racetracks. Zora Arkus-Duntov, the father of the Corvette and a passionate racing enthusiast, realized that the upcoming 1963 Corvette Stingray would still be too heavy to compete with the Cobras. However, a ban on factory participation in racing events imposed by General Motors President Red Curtis in 1957 presented a challenge.
To overcome this obstacle, Duntov conceived the idea of building 125 lightweight Corvettes as production cars. This would allow them to meet the FIA homologation rules and compete in the production car class at Le Mans. The plan was to sell these cars to privateers like Roger Penske and John Mecom, who could race them without explicit factory support. This strategy would enable Duntov to sidestep GM's ban on racing.
Unfortunately, GM Chairman Frederick Donner eventually discovered Duntov's plan and unequivocally canceled the program. However, five of the lightweight cars were already nearing completion. Despite the directive to cease and desist, Duntov completed those five cars, which became the original and only true Grand Sports.
These Grand Sports featured a wafer-thin fiberglass skin, a tube-frame chassis, tubular suspensions, Girling disc brakes, and an all-aluminum 377 cubic inch GM specialty engine producing around 550 horsepower. They were also painted a color called light Cadillac metallic blue and equipped with 427 cubic inch engines at some point.
Although the plan to race the Grand Sports at Le Mans fell through due to not meeting the minimum production car requirements, three of the cars were loaned to John Mecom, a 21-year-old Texas oil tycoon and race car driver. Mecom agreed to care for and update the cars as needed, allowing GM to maintain plausible deniability.
The Grand Sports made their debut at Nassau in the Bahamas during the annual Speed Week. Carroll Shelby, who happened to be at the docks at the time, immediately expressed his concerns about the Grand Sports' presence. Furthermore, prominent drivers such as Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Dr. Dick Thompson, Auggie Pabst, and John Cannon were brought in to race the cars.
During the warm-ups, a problem became apparent. All three Grand Sports were painted the same metallic blue color, making it challenging to distinguish them on the track. To address this, stripes made of tape were placed on the noses of the cars—one black, one red, and one white. These temporary markings became a defining moment in Corvette history and are often referred to as the hash marks on the fenders.
The Grand Sports competed against the Cobras, finishing third and fourth behind two prototypes at Nassau. The following year, Roger Penske returned with another Grand Sport and secured the overall win. Subsequently, the Grand Sports continued to compete in various events worldwide but struggled to keep up with constantly improving factory-backed Cobras. They were eventually retired and placed in private hands or collections.
Today, all five original Grand Sports have been fully restored and are still in existence. Two of them, chassis number two and chassis number four, are located within a couple of hours of our shop here in Sarasota, Florida. Chassis number two is owned by Bill Tower, a notable GM luminary, and chassis number four is owned by the Collier Foundation and displayed at the Revs Institute in Naples, Florida.
That concludes the story of the Grand Sport and today's episode of my show. I hope you found it informative, educational, and enjoyable. Thank you for watching, and I look forward to seeing you again next week. Have a great weekend!