Motorsports are hugely important for the modern Chevrolet Corvette. Chevy began seriously campaigning the Corvette in U.S. and European sports car racing with the launch of the C5-R in 1999. That car and its successors, the C6.R and today's , are hugely successful, helping elevate the Corvette's profile worldwide.
The funniest thing about Corvette Racing though, is how long it took GM to seriously invest in racing the Corvette. The second-generation (C2) Corvette Sting Ray was good enough to hang with virtually every other sports car on the market, but GM never threw its might behind it in motorsports. Sure, plenty of Corvettes raced in the 1960s, and Chevrolet developed prototype Corvette racers in the 1950s, but GM never officially fielded a Corvette itself during the C2's production run.
In fact, GM squashed the efforts of legendary Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov's secret Corvette racing project in 1963. Corvettes had some competition success in the early 1960s in privateer hands–with Duntov's help–so, he decided to secretly engineer a race car to get the C2 Corvette in top-level competition, the Grand Sport.
Chevrolet Corvette racers in the 1950s, but the FIA's 1958 limit of a 3.0-liter engine displacement for all sports cars made the project not financially viable for GM. Arkus-Duntov spotted a loophole, though: the FIA didn't set a displacement limits in the GT category, so he set to work developing a purpose-built Corvette racer with a big V8 to homologate for GT. The thinking was much the same as Caroll Shelby's with the Cobra: A lightweight body with powerful V8 mounted up front.
The secret project and the goal was outright victory at Le Mans. Arkus-Duntov and Bunkie Knudsen, general manager at Chevrolet, wanted the Grand Sport to look like the upcoming production Sting Ray, but it was a true purpose-built racer.
The Grand Sport body panels than the road-going Sting Ray, an aluminum tubular space frame and a generous amount of additional aluminum components, which kept weight well under one ton. Its body than a standard Sting Ray's though huge fender flares were added to house wider tires.
Power came from a 377 cubic inch small block V8 that was said to make around 550-hp. Even bearing in mind the fact that 1960s horsepower measurements , the Grand Sport had a prodigious power to weight ratio. , the Grand Sport put even Caroll Shelby on edge.
With Arkus-Duntov's prodigious engineering abilities, the Grand Sport promised great things on the racing circuits of Europe and the US. There was only one problem, though: GM had banned all factory-backed motorsports as part of a 1957 agreement with the Automobile Manufacturers Association, which included all American automakers.
Chevrolet wanted to build 125 Grand Sports to satisfy the FIA's homologation requirements, with a debut at the 1963 Sebring 12 Hours and an entrance at Le Mans later that planned. GM brass decided to honor the 1957 agreement and Arkus-Duntov's pet project was killed after just five Grand Sports were built.
Arkus-Duntov got the five cars in the hands of –including Roger Penske, A.J. Foyt, Jim Hall and Dick Thompson–but the cars never raced with full factory support. That's a shame because the Grand Sport seems like it could have been not only a legitimate competitor to the Cobra, but sports and GT cars from Ferrari, Porsche and Jaguar too.
At the 1963 Nassau speed week, the the Cobras with the help of GM engineers who allegedly took a vacation in Nassau that same week. Without factory support, the Grand Sports grew obsolete and never reached their potential. While, the Grand Sport could beat a 289 Cobra, it didn't stand a chance against GT40s and Cobra 427s.
a privately owned Grand Sport fitted with a highly-tuned 327 V8 for a 1967 issue of Car & Driver. It's safe to say he quite liked it.
"It was well and truly a racer. Thumping down the highway on the tremendous Firestone Indy tires, the familiar odors of oil and hot paint wafted into the cockpit, along with the sound of air rushing around the hand-operated plexiglass windows. This mingled with the whine of the fully-locked differential gears and the slick prototype Muncie gearbox.
The gearbox and brakes were nearly perfect. That means stops like the car had just run into a mud bank, while the transmission was as loose -- and yet precise -- as any we've ever handled. The locked rear end made it an awful chore to negotiate corners under 30 mph, mainly because the inside rear wheel would moan and scuff the pavement, and the rear end sounded as if it was going to explode through its cast aluminum housing, but at high speeds the car was a dream. It had virtually neutral steering characteristics, and we could find nothing in its entire handling range that could be described as treacherous or unstable."
Chassis numbers 001 and 002 , which made them the lightest and fastest Grand Sports. Chevrolet kept the two roadsters until 1966 when they were sold to Roger Penske. 003, 004 and 005 remained coupes and were sold to privateers shortly after the program's cancelation.
The original Grand Sports are now arguably the most valuable Corvettes ever made, thanks to their rarity and pedigree. The Grand Sport name was first revived with the C4 Corvette and used in the C6 and C7 Corvettes as a handling-focused option package.
It's a nice tribute to a car that was killed before it was able to reach its full potential. While we could bemoan the unfortunate demise of the original Grand Sport, we should be thankful for the current Corvette C7.R, which fulfills a similar mission to its forebearer.