1969 "Rebel" L88 Racer - "A Once-Forgotten Champion"

The Illustrated Corvette Designer Series No. 196

K. Scott Teeters Oct 1, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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Race cars tend to live hard lives, getting used up on track then sold for pennies on the dollar when they're no longer competitive. Their new owners apply fresh livery and make modifications that further distance the cars from their original configuration. A few accidents later, these once-proud racers are scrap. But not always.

RPO L88 was arguably the most aggressive option ever offered by Detroit. Although not the lightweight Duntov envisioned, the L88 Corvette was still an extreme car. Launched in 1967, the package was a collection of all-out racing parts and deletes, but the sex appeal came in the form of a set of aluminum heads that shaved 70 pounds up front. Only 216 L88 Corvettes were built during the model's three-year production run. These race-bred machines were very stealthy, resembling any other big-block Corvette (though L88 Vettes did get a unique hood treatment for '68).

Four extra-special "lightweight" L88s were built in December 1968 and January 1969. These cars had no carpeting and sported magnesium racing wheels. The unofficial "trunk option," meanwhile, was a collection of parts stored in the trunk for owner installation; these included an oil cooler, headers, and headlight covers. A new open-chamber head design provided a 10 percent power increase on all '69 L88 Vettes.

69 Rebel L88 Racer Passenger Side Front View 02 2/3

One of the lightweight L88s—a Daytona Yellow example—was sold to Orlando Costanzo. The car competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1969, taking Third in class. The following year, it ran at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. In mid 1971, Costanzo sold the car to Toye English, who applied the now-famous Confederate flag-livery. Michigan-based rival John Greenwood was racing Corvettes branded with the Stars and Stripes, so English, a southerner, selected a competing motif. Another important distinction: Greenwood was using BFGoodrich TA Radials, while English ran on Goodyears.

At the 1971 12 Hours of Sebring, the Rebel finished Sixth overall and Second in class. Overall, the Rebel would win four of five IMSA races that year, plus the first IMSA Championship. The L88 engine, along with English's preparation and the driving of Bob Johnson and Don Yenko, delivered the gold.

The Rebel's breakout season came in 1972. At the 24 Hours of Daytona, Johnson and Dave Heinz drove the car to Eighth overall and First in the GT class. Goodyear was so happy, the company took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. Soon after, a remarkable 12 Hours of Sebring performance put the Rebel into the record books. After qualifying an unimpressive 13th, Heinz took the lead on the first lap and never let up. It would be 31 years before another Corvette won class honors at both Daytona and Sebring in one season.

Given its racing success, you might expect that the Rebel would have been off to the show-car circuit. Instead, English sold the car to Alex Davison, who in turn sold it to Dr. Charles West. The car eventually ended up parked in West's junkyard under a tarp, all but forgotten.

That is, until restorer Kevin Mackay read Walt Thurn's 1991 VETTE magazine story about the lightweight L88s. Mackay is a master researcher, and he quickly located the forgotten Rebel. Although the L88 engine and transmission were gone, and different stripes and a '73-model nose had been installed, the car was remarkably complete.

Mackay bought the hulk from West for $7,000 and took it back to his Corvette Repair shop, where he and his team carefully returned the car to its 1972 racing configuration. Mackay then sold the restored Rebel to Californian Larry Bowman, who later sold it to Corvette collector extraordinaire Ed Foss for more than $750,000. The lesson? If you're ever in a junkyard and you see an old Corvette racecar, look closely-very closely.

69 Rebel L88 Racer Passenger Side Profile 03 3/3

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