The L88 is among the winningest models in Corvette history, and our featured car, a ’68 example, won more races than any other. With a 427-cubic-inch big-block V8 putting out upwards of 600 horsepower, sleek aerodynamics and solid mechanicals, this third-generation L88 was a GT-class terror in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Drivers Tony DeLorenzo and Jerry Thompson formed the backbone of the team that raced it. Starting first with a second-generation L88 in 1967, the pair moved up to the C3 L88 the following year, building it up from parts themselves. With the backing of Owens/Corning Fiberglas, the team fielded a second L88 in 1969. Thompson drove the ’68 to an SCCA A-production national championship that year. Over the next few seasons, if Thompson didn’t win, DeLorenzo did. The pair scored 22 straight victories, and their red-and-white Corvettes became legendary.
Recently, DeLorenzo and Thompson were inducted into the National Corvette Museum Hall of Fame. Before the ceremony, we sat down with them for a lunchtime interview. The pair recalled the L88 years and shared insights into driving one of the most powerful production-based race cars of all time.
What were your respective experiences in Corvettes prior to piloting the L88 cars?
Thompson: In 1960, after engineering school and going to work for Chevrolet, I bought a 1956 Corvette. I went through driver school with it and raced it for two years, mostly locally and in some races in Canada.
DeLorenzo: My father worked for GM, and I drove a couple of different Corvettes on the street when I was young. I went to driving school at Watkins Glen in 1964 with a ’64 fuel-injected Corvette coupe. It, uh, was my father’s company car, so we probably don’t want to get into that [laughs]. After that, I raced a ’65 Corvair for a couple of years, and that’s how I met Jerry. In 1966, I qualified for the SCCA Runoffs at Riverside, but with no money, I couldn’t make the trip.
How did you get started with the L88s?
DeLorenzo: Hanley Dawson of Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit accepted my proposal [for sponsorship], and he purchased a 1967 L88 roadster and a trailer, and gave us a budget to run SCCA national races. That’s how I got started racing Corvettes.
What were the origins of the 1968 L88 you took to the 24 Hours of Daytona?
DeLorenzo: At the end of ’67, Hanley Dawson agreed to do a 1968 L88, but the decision wasn’t made until after the 1967 Runoffs, which was in November. By that time, the ’68 cars were spoken for and we couldn’t get one, so the decision was made to build one from parts. We built it in Jerry’s garage and wore a path between it and GM’s parts warehouse in Swartz Creek, Michigan.
Describe the preparation for Daytona.
DeLorenzo: Like I said, we built the car in Jerry’s garage. We had a shop that was attached to a big farmhouse, but it wasn’t well-heated, so that’s why we did it in your garage [points to Thompson]. I’m a little hazy on who all contributed, but we had a bottomless supply of engineering students, people who worked for GM Engineering and GM Design who helped us. Of course, it wasn’t called Design back then; it was Styling.
Thompson: They were all gearheads. They’d do whatever you needed.
How did that ’68 Daytona race go?
DeLorenzo: Jerry was a friend of Don Yenko’s. So, we were invited to be part of the Sunray DX Corvette team. That meant if we showed up with our car painted like theirs, they’d cover expenses. I don’t remember the specifics, but it wasn’t a lot.
Thompson: I think it covered fuel and maybe tires.
DeLorenzo: Yes, maybe the tires. Anyhow, the team consisted of a ’67 L88 coupe and the two new ’68 L88s. We were running wheels that had I don’t know what for an offset, but it wasn’t good. There were other issues and we started having chassis problems immediately during practice. We bent the steering relay rod; when you stepped on the brakes, the two front wheels splayed outward. That was fixed with some angle iron welded by the blacksmith shop in the pits.