Nineteen ninety-six Corvette Grand Sport #0019 has led a charmed life, from the day it was shipped to Victory Chevy in Amherst OH to the moment it settled into a heated garage in suburban New Jersey. Nor is that likely to change—not as long as Sam Rivera has his name on the title.
Rivera’s story is a familiar one. A longtime fan with an ’89 coupe daily driver, he started lusting after the born-again Grand Sport the very first time he saw one. Then, just as he began to get serious about taking the plunge, marriage and a home purchase derailed his ambitions. At a minimum, the car would have cost about $43,000 sans dealer markup—well beyond the range of a regular guy with family priorities to consider.
Instead of becoming discouraged, Rivera decided to wait. And wait. And wait. About ten years passed before Rivera finally got his shot at GS ownership—and considering what he wound up with, the delay seems worth it.
You need to be specific when using the term “Corvette Grand Sport,” of course. History served up two very different versions, the abortive early-’60s homologation special (five units complete, price inestimable) and the ’96 low-volume commemorative that honored its name and its color scheme (1000 built, prices rising). The former was a racer designed to fight Ferrari and Porsche on track. The latter was intended to fight those same rivals for bragging rights on the street and to commemorate the last year of the all-conquering, game-changing C4 Corvette.
Indeed, Chevrolet cooked up two special packages for the fourth-gen’s swansong season. The first was the subtle and elegant Collector Edition, featuring Sebring Silver paint, special five-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, and unique emblems and trim. This option, RPO Z15, added $1250 to the window sticker and was offered to all comers, resulting in 5400+ total sales.
Right below Z15 on the RPO list one saw Z16, the Grand Sport Package. Priced at $3250 for coupes and $2880 for roadsters, Z16 took a six-speed/LT4 Corvette and gave it its own unique VIN sequencing, a brash blue/white/red paint scheme, wide ZR1-style wheels, and rear flares on coupes. Also adding to the appeal was its (relative) rarity—a limit of 1000 units total would be built, split in the end between 810 coupes and 190 roadsters.
Depending on personal taste, the distinctive Z16 exterior was thrilling or garish. Either way, few other Corvettes have ever come from the factory in such striking original livery. Every car received Admiral Blue paint under a wide Arctic White stripe flanked with parallel Admiral Blue pinstripes. (The stripes were decals, not painted.) Bright-red front-fender hash marks—derived from ’60s racing practice—were then added, honoring the memory of the original Grand Sport.
Power for all C4 Grand Sports came from a pumped-up version of the original pushrod smallblock, now in its final season of Corvette duty. All six-speeds were matched to LT4 and vice-versa for ’96. Buyers of any model could order this powertrain combo, but Grand Sports got nothing else. Further confusing the issue, all ’96 LT4s carried red “Grand Sport” lettering on their throttle bodies, a red-powdercoated intake manifold, and red plug-wire covers—whether or not the Corvette itself was a Z16 model.
Based on the Corvette’s by-then-familiar LT1 architecture, LT4 got a full spectrum of hotrodding tricks to improve breathing and high-rpm capabilities. The two engines shared basic short blocks, but the LT4’s crank was upgraded with undercut/rolled journal fillets, nodular-iron main bearing caps, a more radical roller cam, and a steel roller timing chain (in place of the LT1’s powdered-metal, butt-link unit). Improved piston rings made for better sealing at high revs.
Chevy’s engineers applied more magic to the top end. The LT4’s heads got reshaped chambers (compression went up to 10.8:1, from 10.5:1 for the LT1); bigger, redesigned ports; higher-flow injectors; larger, lighter hollow-stem valves; and stronger valve springs. It all added up to 330 bhp at 5800 rpm, compared to the LT1’s 300 at 5000. Peak torque for both mills was 340 lbs-ft, arriving at 4500 rpm for the LT4, 4000 for the LT1. The LT4 redline was extended to 6300 rpm, 600 over the LT1’s.