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GOING THE DISTANCE
"CORVETTE GRAND SPORT KABLOOEY"
FIVE EASY PIECES?: More like hundreds of engine fragments on the ground.
EXCERPT FROM "FROM THE ARCHIVES: BATTLE IN THE BAHAMAS" FROM VETTE MAGAZINE:
"A year after Zora Arkus-Duntov brought the brand-new Grand Sport Corvettes to the Nassau Speed Week, two of the Grand Sport racers returned to race in the Bahamas in 1964. John Christy covered the 1964 race for Sports Car Graphic magazine, and noted in his coverage that the Corvette's main rivals, the Shelby team, arrived in the Bahamas loaded for bear, with Shelby driver Ken Miles piloting a 'Super Snake' Cobra---a prototype with a big-block under the hood.
Back then, Speedweek consisted of two weekends of racing, with the week in between used for repairs. Grand Sport number 003 was repaired and stored in a hangar, but when Saunders' crew returned to fetch the Vette, they found '....carnage. Bits and pieces of the aluminum block, the crank and rods were scattered all over the floor in a manner more familiar to habitués of Bonneville than a road course. So strong was the force of the blow-up that chips had gouged in the hangar floor.
After some sleuthing, it was discovered that a local, hired by a Cobra team to watch over the cars, wanted to hear 'what kind of noise the machinery made,' said Christy. So he got in the Grand Sport (and the Cobra), started them and 'buried his foot in the throttle with the engines dead cold. He became most indignant when his request for payment for his guarding services was refused as he was led off to sample the hospitality of Her Majesty's Prison.'......"
ONLY FIVE LIGHTWEIGHT VETTES WERE BUILT:
Surviving lightweight Grand Sports sell for $8 million now.
In 1963, Chevrolet developed and constructed five race-purpose-built cars based on the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. These Corvette racecars---which appeared at a casual glance to be merely modified versions of street Sting Rays---were badged as "Corvette Grand Sports." During the campaigning of these amazing racecars on road race circuits around the world, more often than not, they were referred to by car journalists and Chevy fans alike---as the Lightweight Corvettes. I was an avid fan of these racing Vettes, and I distinctly recall referring to them as the "lightweight Vettes" in conversations with my friends. The reason for this nomenclature, was simple. While street Sting Rays weighed in the vicinity of 3,100 pounds, these fantastic cars weighed less than 2,000 pounds---a mere two-thirds of what a street Vette weighed. Armed with a lightweight tubular-space frame, and a 377 cubic inch aluminum-block motor, these Grand Sports had unreal acceleration and top speed. Amazingly, all five of the lightweight Vettes survive today. Surviving Corvette Grand Sports have been known to sell at auctions for up to eight million dollars, each. That is how revered these rare breed of Corvettes are.
It wasn't only the rolling chassis of the lightweight Vettes that were rare. So were the 377 cube aluminum race motors, which were also purpose-built for racing conditions. These super-Chevy small blocks were fed from four 58mm side draft Weber carbs, funneling gas through an aluminum cross-ram intake manifold. These race-only, special mills put out 550 horses, enough---combined with the super-light weight of the Vettes---to make them victorious over the Shelby Cobras in many races. Think of these motors as prototype super-performance, Shovelhead motors, and you'll get an idea of how prized these 377 inch Chevy motors were.
When I read the excerpt from Vette magazine, recalling how a miminum-wage, hired-off-the-street security guard, took it upon himself to start up racecar number 003---I was flabbergasted. This was a story that I didn't remember reading, or hearing about in the '60s. This was a belatedly shocking story to me. The idea that someone---a slug who apparently was too ignorant about the dangers of redlining a dead-cold engine---could stupidly plant his foot on the gas pedal of this lightweight Vette, I find infuriating. Perhaps that isn't even the point. The fact that he had no right to even touch that Vette, let alone sit in her and start her---is what makes me feel so angry, even though it is now a half-century after the deed. It would be like someone starting up my Shovelhead Mabel, and racking back her throttle all the way to its stop, and running her motor at full RPMs until she exploded like a grenade, "just to hear what it sounded like." That infuriates me. What about you? If you love and revere motors like I do, then it's got to affect you, man.
Reading the Vette magazine excerpt also brought back to me, the excitement and enthusiasm with which I followed the development and racing exploits of the Corvette Grand Sports. I feel that it's hard for me now---fifty years later---to adequately convey how excited I was then, about these righteous cars. The factory research and development of the lightweight Corvettes, were a lightly-held secret at Chevrolet in the 1960s. The very existence of the Grand Sports violated General Motors' anti-racing edict that existed at the time (a far cry from today's full support of the factory Corvette racing team, from GM). The development of the lightweight Corvettes took place clandestinely by a group of very dedicated engineers, led by Zora Arkus-Duntov. Can you say "skunk works?" This occurred even after the GM suits found out about these racing Vettes. The GM execs discovered this from prolific magazine reports of the lightweight Vettes winning races in America and abroad. It's very difficult to suppress this type of information. After the news hit the fan, GM told Arkus-Duntov and his cohorts at Chevy to destroy the Grand Sports. Rather than demolish them, these dedicated Chevrolet race engineers, gave the lightweight Corvettes to private racing teams to race.
The Chevy engineers then surreptitiously gave backdoor assistance to the privateers. During this period, Chevrolet engineers would just happen to show up at races to lend the privateers technical assistance and parts. Famously, the engineers told everyone that they were "on vacation" near these race venues, a ruse rhey adopted, so that they could claim plausible deniability if they were interrogated by their GM supervisors: "Why, uh, I was just sunning myself in their pit lane....what's the problem, boss?" Just realize, that if I as a magazine reader, knew of the existence of these cars and their race victories---so too, did the high-up suits at GM become aware of what was going on. All they had to do at the time, was to open an issue of Road & Track magazine. The end result was that Arkus-Duntov was told to cease and desist all assistance to the privateers--and that was that. The adventures of the Super Vettes came to an end. The party was over.
Originally, the plan was to build 125 examples of the Corvette Grand Sport for homologation, allowing these cars to run as production cars at races like the famed 24 hours of Le Mans. The plan never got that far, for only five examples were born into this world, engines bellowing and screaming from their straight-through pipes, like super-powered, lightweight babies. The orders from GM execs, wrecked this long-term plan. Imagine if you will, if Zora Arkus-Duntov had been allowed to follow-through with his dream of building 125 Corvette Grand Sports, which would've ultimately led up to the Grand Sport as a true production car for the streets: A 1900 pound Vette, with 550 horses. Man, wouldn't that have been something? Later.