Corvette Grand Sport

Corvette Grand Sport at Bahamas Speed Week, 1963

Corvette Grand Sport at Bahamas Speed Week, 1963.

In June of 1957, several months after the Corvette Super Sport raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring, growing safety concerns led the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association (AMA) to ban car manufacturer sponsored racing. This ban affected the production and support for racing at Chevrolet. Even with the AMA ban on racing, there were still those at Chevrolet who defied the ban and helped privateers with their racing endeavors.

Two Corvette Grand Sport at Bahamas Speed Week, 1963<br />

Two Corvette Grand Sport at Bahamas Speed Week, 1963.

In secret, as General Motors was adhering to the racing ban, Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bunkie Knudsen, general manager at Chevrolet, decided to create a Corvette that could claim victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1963. Duntov, Knudsen, and other engineers used the stock Corvette Stingray as inspiration and modified it, building an all-out racing car, the Grand Sport, that was designed to directly counter Carroll Shelby’s new Cobra. It featured an aluminum block 377 cubic inch V8 engine that developed 485 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Weighing in at only 2,150 pounds, the car was 1,000 pounds less than the production Stingray.

Nassau Speed Week, 1963

Nassau Speed Week, 1963.

In order to race at Le Mans, Chevrolet had to adhere to Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) rules stating that 100 cars had to be built to approved specifications in one year. Chevrolet’s plan was to build at least 125 of the ultra-light, high-powered cars to satisfy these requirements, so they could race in the Grand Touring production class. After only five Grand Sports were built, General Motors executives increased the enforcement of the AMA racing ban, seemingly putting an end to Duntov’s project.

Corvette Thunder

Corvette Grand Sports at Mecom's garage in Nassau, Bahamas.

The Grand Sports slipped into the hands of private owners and racers, one of which is chassis number 004, now part of the Collier Collection. At the December 1963 Nassau Speed Week, the Grand Sports were able to compete directly with the Cobras. Two of the cars, including chassis number 004, were entered by “owner” John Mecom and, conveniently, several Chevrolet engineers chose this week to vacation in Nassau.

Corvette Grand Sport on Nassau Pier

Corvette Grand Sport on Nassau Pier.

Driven during the week by Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Dick Thompson, John Cannon, and Augie Pabst, the Corvette Grand Sports demolished their Cobra rivals. “The Chevrolet equipment won so easily, there was even some embarrassment on the part of the factory personnel, who had hoped the journey south would escape unnoticed. But at the same time, they were smirking,” wrote Leo Levine, a noted automotive historian.