The Bloomington Gold Corvette 2018 L88 Explosion began in 1988 and has been repeated every 10 years since (1998, 2008 and 2018). This year’s gathering was sponsored by Hagerty Insurance and took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was organized by curator Bill Locke and his staff. It was an exhausting process but they did an excellent job of arranging this year’s exhibit. He and his team secured 46 of these rare Corvettes that were on display in Indianapolis. The exhibit hall was spacious, well-lit and it was a magnificent way to inspect these historic Corvettes. Kevin Mackay, owner of Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, New York (www.corvetterepair.com), brought 17 L88s to the event. His company restored all 17 of these cars. Kevin also had several book signing sessions for Corvette Hunter. It was written by Tyler Greenblatt and chronicles the history of Kevin’s greatest Corvette finds. It is published by Car Tech and it is a very enjoyable read for any Corvette enthusiast.
Aficionados of early Corvette racing history usually focus on two significant competition generations: C2 (1963-’67) and C3 (1968-’82). During those years, the General was still adhering to the AMA Racing Ban it signed in 1957 to not support any factory racing activities. Zora Arkus-Duntov was not sympathetic to their position. He worked non-stop behind the scenes to find ways to help private teams racing Corvettes. During 1963, the new racing optioned Z06 Sting Ray was badly outclassed by the Ford-powered Cobra. Zora decided to unleash three of his 2,250-pound lightweight Grand Sport coupes (EX VIN# 003, 004 & 005) to embarrass the Cobras. He convinced John Mecom, owner of the Mecom Racing Team in Houston, to purchase the Grand Sports. He instructed Mecom to use the Grand Sports against the Cobras at the December 1963 Nassau Speed Weeks. Zora’s engineers “took vacation” to Nassau to assist Mecom. Zora’s plan was a total success, the Grand Sports clobbered the Cobras and the lightweight became a Corvette Legend. Today, all five are housed in private collections.
Fast forward to 1965 and GM was still firmly anti-racing as a company. Zora decided to work around this ban by increasing the production Corvette’s performance. In mid-1965, the L78 big-block 396-cid/425hp engine was stuffed into the Corvette and four wheel disc brakes became standard. The improvement was startling, but Zora’s team was not finished. They were testing running prototypes with a 427-cid big-block that was producing well over 550 hp. To test its reliability, the engine was installed into a red 1966 coupe and sold to Roger Penske. That car was entered in the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Corvette finished both races and won the Grand Touring category, beating the Cobras. The engine used by Penske became the L88 option for the 1967 model year.
A total of 87,268 Corvettes were built from 1967-’69 and only 216 RPO L88s were built during that time. The survivors are very rare indeed. In spite of their small numbers, they amassed an amazing competition record. The L88 racers were frequently seen in victory circles at road racing circuits and dragstrips. The most amazing part of their history was they were owned and raced by privateers, not the factory. Their amazing performance is a tribute to the skill of Zora Arkus-Duntov and his team. Somehow they were able to build a world-beating production sports car that could be purchased at a Chevy dealership. They accomplished this in spite of their organization (GM) banning any kind of motor racing.
Zora and his team carefully selected who purchased these cars and found innovative ways to provide backdoor support to ensure their success. Two of these private racing owners were special guests at Bloomington this year. They were driver/owner Tony DeLorenzo and owner Doug Bergen. They both shared their L88 experiences with the large audience that attended. Tony DeLorenzo won multiple SCCA production and endurance races in L88s at tracks like Daytona and Sebring. He told some amazing stories about what it was like to drive these beasts at speed. Doug Bergen purchased two L88 convertibles (1968 & 1969). His British Green ’68 convertible that was restored by Corvette Repair was at the event. Doug told the audience that his wife, Jean, was the first driver for their ’68 L88 because she drove it home from the dealership. Both of Doug’s L88s were multiple race winners, and after he sold his last L88, he joined John Greenwood Racing as team manager. Doug retired from the team in 1976. Both Tony and Doug have had a huge impact on creating the L88 racing legend and we were thrilled they attended and shared their amazing stories.
On the last day of the Bloomington Gold event, all 46 L88 were driven out of the exhibit area and parked in six rows for a photo opportunity. To put the icing on the cake, the owners were invited to take two laps around the famous Indy “Brickyard” in their rare Corvettes. A total of 26 owners took the Brickyard challenge, including Tony DeLorenzo and Doug Bergen, and lapped the speedway to the roar of the crowd. It was a great way to end a memorable event.
Photography by Walt Thurn