SoCal Custom

The GS90 was Dick Guldstrand’s way of giving the C4 ZR-1 the extroverted looks its supercar-grade engine deserved.

July 28, 2014

Also from Issue 92

  • Nowicki C7 Coupe
  • Buyer's Guide: C6
  • 1981 Coupe
  • History: Fifth Generation
  • McLellan Drives a C7
  • 1992 Coupe
  • History: 1972 Le Mans
  • Racing: 2014 Le Mans
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It is a quiet afternoon in the desert. We arrive a little early at the meeting point, a private automotive museum near Riverside, California. We are standing in the parking lot enjoying cups of coffee after the drive out from the hectic, noisy Los Angeles basin. And then we hear it: that unmistakable low, rumble of a powerful V8 engine

A second later a sleek, blue-and-white sports car hoves into view. I sense it is a late-model Corvette, but it’s rounder and more sensuous-looking. It looks European, with the long hood and short tail of a ’60s-era Italian berlinetta. The styling is clean and beautiful, and the car appears ageless. Only the shape and tilt of the windshield suggest that it started out life as a C4 ZR-1. What we’re looking at is a rare Guldstrand GS90.

Dick Guldstrand is known to to car buffs as Mr. Corvette. Originally this was because of his success road racing Chevy’s sports car. He won three consecutive Pacific Coast Championships (1963-65) in Corvettes. He also won the GT-class at the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona, set a GT-class track record at Le Mans in 1967 and drove Corvette Grand Sports for Roger Penske.

After hanging up his helmet, Guldstrand founded Dick Guldstrand Engineering, which built high-end, custom-tuned Corvettes for discerning customers. But Guldstrand kept close ties with the Corvette team at GM, often consulting for it in various areas, especially suspension setup. Guldstrand is now in his eighties and recently semi-retired, but his shop, now under new ownership, endures in Burbank, California; he still comes in regularly to help out.

Though most of Dick Guldstrand Engineering’s Corvettes were built on an individual basis according to the whims of each owner, the company did develop distinct models, which it sold in small batches. The first was the Grand Sport 80, of which roughly 20 were built. Introduced in 1986, the GS80 was a $15,500 package for the C4. The standard 350-cubic-inch L98 engine was swapped for a Traco-built big-bore 372-cid V8 cranking out 375 horsepower—a 145-hp increase. The car was then fitted with a comprehensive suspension upgrade. Other than the fitment of aftermarket wheels and small “Grand Sport 80” stickers, the exterior remained unchanged. This would not be the case with Guldstrand’s next limited-edition Corvette model.

The idea for the GS90 began with the debut of the ZR-1 in 1989. Guldstrand was impressed with this Corvette’s 375-hp engine but not its appearance. “The four-cam engine in the ZR-1 really grabbed my attention,” he says. “It was just an incredible thing to drop in a Corvette. Trouble was, the body looked just like all other Corvettes. So, here’s this $30,000 engine option in a $25,000 car. It just didn’t work.”

The GS90 was Guldstrand’s remedy for this situation—a ZR-1 with knockout looks, as well as even more performance.