Gods of Thunder

The L88 blew in like a hurricane--and vanished soon after. Forty-eight years on, we take a look back at the remarkable run of this race-bred legend

December 18, 2014
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While much has been written about the storied L88 Corvette, one anecdote in particular sums up the thunderous impact this track-bred machine had on the automotive landscape of the late 1960s. The story comes courtesy of noted Corvette racer Dick Guldstrand, who shared it during a Petersen Museum event held a few years back.

According to Guldstrand, in 1967 he and Bob Bondurant flew into Orly Airport in France, to pick up the Dana Chevrolet L88 coupe that was scheduled to compete at that year’s Le Mans 24-hour race. Since no transporter was provided, they had to drive the car to the track. The thinly veiled racer was decked out in patriotic red-white-and-blue livery and not remotely street legal, with open side pipes emitting a blast that cut the tops off of daisies as the pair roared through the countryside. No one had heard or seen such a monstrous Americaine muscle car in these parts up until then, much less felt one.

As the two young guns barreled into a small French town with a rotary intersection, they spotted a gendarme in blue uniform standing atop a podium in the middle, directing traffic. Surely they would be stopped and the car impounded, Guldstrand feared, impeding their efforts to arrive in time for the start of the race.

Rather than flagging them down, however, the hapless officer evidently realized there was simply no point in attempting pursuit in his underpowered Peugeot patrol car. So he snapped a sharp salute and waved them on, and they went about their business. Such was the commanding presence of the L88 Corvette, which went on to become a crowd favorite at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

As for Guldstrand and Bondurant, they would lead the GT class in the Dana Chevrolet car for nearly half of the 24-hour race before retiring due to a broken piston wristpin. Along the way, Guldstrand set a speed record of 171.5 mph on the famed Mulsanne Straight.

That’s exactly what Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov had in mind when he created the L88: to win races in the big leagues. Yet this competition-grade car was ostensibly available for street driving (as required for FIA GT and SCCA A-Production homologation), even if it rarely made it there. Since the L88 was essentially a production race car, and Chevrolet was ambivalent at best about track competition at the time, orders were not merely avoided, but actively discouraged. As a result, prowling the streets in a real-deal L88 was—and remains—a thrill enjoyed by a fortunate few.

Prominent among that elite group are noted car collectors Len and Linda Perham. At various times the Perhams’ arsenal of automotive weaponry has included the very first Shelby GT350, an authentic ’69 Trans-Am Mustang racer, an ultra-rare ZL1 Camaro and a Shelby King Cobra, among several other prized vehicles. Len also owned a gold ’69 L88 coupe with only 2,700 original miles before selling it last spring.

Also from Issue 95

  • Stingrays at Spring Mountain
  • LPE-Modded Z06 Carbon
  • Buyer's Guide: $8K
  • Racing: 2014 Season Recap
  • 1962 C1 Custom
  • 1994 C4 Convertible
  • Tech: C7 Valet Mode
  • Open Road Racing Explained
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