12 Hours Of Sebring - Grand Designs

Part 2: "Sticking It To The Cobras"

Walt Thurn Nov 1, 2009 0 Comment(s)
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Morton-shown here during a low-speed ride-along-has won many vintage races at Sebring, Daytona, Le Mans, and Laguna Seca. He reported that the car handled predictably and was easy to drive fast.

After Sebring, Johnson campaigned the car in various events in the southwestern U.S. He also participated in the revival of the Carrera Pan America race, which had been renamed the Carrera de Costa a Costa. To improve the Grand Sport's range during the event (which ran across Mexico from Veracruz to Acapulco), Johnson's crew mounted a 55-gallon steel drum in place of the factory 36-gallon gas tank. The conditions were so bad during the race that the car's tube frame received several holes from hitting rocks at high speeds. When Johnson returned to Texas he was quoted as saying, simply, "The car needs some work."

After the Mexican race, Johnson used the Grand Sport as a tow car to pull his small formula racer. Incredibly, he was once ticketed for speeding through a small town at 130 mph with the trailer in tow. The car was eventually sold to Canadian David Greenblatt for $8,000. Johnson says he "laughed for a year" at what seemed like an outrageously high price at the time. Little did he know what No. 004 would eventually be worth.

Greenblatt campaigned the car in Canada for a time before selling it to Jim White Chevrolet. White raced No. 004 at the 1977 24 Hours of Daytona but didn't finish. The car was then sold to collector Robert Adams, who retired it from racing and displayed it in his showroom. Jamie Mazotta bought the car from Adams in the early '80s, restored it, and vintage raced it on the West Coast. The Collier Collection purchased the car from Mazotta in 1991, and it underwent a meticulous three-year restoration at Robert Ash's FAV shop in Norcross, Georgia. To its credit, Collier had the car restored to the condition in which it raced at the 1964 12 Hours of Sebring, and only original period components were used for the job.

Veteran engine builder Jim Jones from Traco Engineering built the Grand Sport powerplant complete with Weber carburetors. Jones also restored an original 377-cube aluminum small-block for display next to the car. The car was even fitted with Johnson's CB radio and antenna. (Details of the restoration can be found at www.racingicons.com/gs/004/index.html.) The finished car was unveiled at the 2003 Amelia Island Concours Grand Sport Reunion. This event marked the first time all five Grand Sports were gathered together in one place.

No. 004 now spends most of its time in Collier's private collection, but it is exercised regularly and even raced at vintage events on occasion. We were fortunate enough to be invited to Roebling Road racetrack, near Savannah, Georgia, to photograph the car while it was put through it paces by veteran race driver John Morton. It was a thrill to see this legendary racing Corvette at speed once again.

The thrill got bigger when Morton gave us a ride in the old warrior. As a true race car, the Grand Sport is very different from a normal '63 Sting Ray. It's noisy, harsh, fast, and relentlessly exciting. This writer saw this same Grand Sport race at the 1964 12 Hours of Sebring, so it was great to see it running on a track again after all these years. Our thanks go to John Morton for the thrilling ride, and to Scott George and his Collier Collection crew for reuniting us with one of our favorite Corvettes.




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