Scientific American

Corvette Grand Sport number 002 has found a new home at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum.

July 27, 2010

Also from Issue 60

  • 2010 Grand Sport Convertible
  • Market Report: C5
  • Performance-car value C5 Z06
  • How To: C6 Coil-over install
  • Hertz Corvette ZHZ
  • 1972 restomod
  • His-and-her 1957 roadsters
  • Tech: Crash testing
  • Racing: 24 Hours of Le Mans
  • 2002 C5 Z06
Buy Corvette_magazine-60-cover
Scientific American 1
Scientific American 2
Scientific American 3
Scientific American 4
Scientific American 5
Scientific American 6
Scientific American 7
Scientific American 8

While a love for Corvettes may be one of America’s strongest automotive passions, the model’s true faithful really lose their bearings when it comes to the ’63 Grand Sports, the five race cars built in secret by Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov in 1962. To the uninitiated it may be difficult to explain this crazy attraction for machines that never really won anything important. Even Dr. Frederick Simeone, the new owner of serial number 002—the most original of the Grand Sports—struggled with his decision to buy a car that lacks a serious competition history. But the past is prologue, and before us in the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia sits Corvette Grand Sport 002, resplendent in white and blue.

As with its four siblings, this car started out life as a coupe and shared the same basic mechanicals, including an all-aluminum 377-cubic-inch V8 pumping out well over 500 horsepower. This small block boasted dry-sump lubrication, twin ignition and four Weber 58-mm side-draft carbs. It was mated to a four-speed manual transmission.

Suspension was fully independent, with coil springs in front and a transverse leaf spring in the rear. These bits were connected to a lightweight tubular steel frame that weighed 94 pounds less than a standard-issue one. Since road racing was the ultimate goal of the project—Duntov envisioned building a fleet of 125 cars for the FIA’s Grand Touring class—good brakes were fitted: 11.8-inch vented discs with three-piston calipers. With a curb weight hovering around 2,000 pounds—over 1,000 pounds less than a stock Sting Ray—the Grand Sport looked to be a real Cobra contender.

Problem was, GM was not supposed to be building racing cars back in 1962. A gentleman’s agreement existed at the time among American auto manufacturers that they would not participate in or sanction racing. So when GM’s top brass found out that testing of the Grand Sport prototypes was being done at Sebring in late 1962, they blew a gasket and pulled the plug on the project.

Either bravely or foolishly, Duntov made the decision to secretly give one of the Grand Sports to Dick Doane (a Chevy dealer) and another to Grady Davis (a famous oil tycoon) so they could be raced privately. Dick Thompson, driving Davis’s Grand Sport, had some success in SCCA’s C Modified class. He even managed to score a class win at Watkins Glen in August 1963. Duntov next lent three Grand Sports to John Mecom’s racing team, which raced them at Nassau Speed Week in 1963, finishing third, fourth and sixth against some pretty heady competition.

These promising results caused Duntov to set his sights on racing his Grand Sports at Daytona and Le Mans. To that end, he had 001 and 002 modified to extract even more speed. Most significant, their roofs were cut off and low-profile windshields were fitted to reduce aerodynamic drag—a large frontal area was one of the Grand Sport’s drawbacks. However, before a wheel could be turned in anger, GM slammed the door once and for all on the clandestine program.

Grand Sport 002 stayed in Chevrolet’s hands until 1965, when it was sold to Roger Penske, who later sold it to George Wintersteen. Wintersteen, who had Penske’s race shop fit a 427 cubic-inch V8, raced it in the 1966 United States Road Racing Championship. However, as we all know, nothing is as dated as last year’s race car, so Grand Sport 002, being a four-year-old racer, was not very competitive—the bigger engine couldn’t compensate for its aging chassis and still-problematic aerodynamics.