Battle In the Bahamas - Grand Sport Corvettes in 1964

From the Archives - November 2013

Drew Hardin Nov 1, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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A year after Zora Arkus-Duntov brought his brand-new Grand Sport Corvettes to the Nassau Speed Week, two of the GS racers returned to race in the Bahamas in 1964. Roger Penske drove GS 005, now painted white with blue headlight covers. The car had received a thorough going-over by Traco Engineering, which included the elimination of some 300 pounds of weight. Stock-car racer Jack Saunders drove the blue and white GS 003 for John Mecom.

John Christy covered the 1964 race for Sports Car Graphic magazine, and noted in his coverage that the Corvette's main rivals, the Shelby team, arrived in the Bahamas loaded for bear, with Shelby driver Ken Miles piloting a "Super Snake" Cobra—a prototype with a big-block under the hood.

At the start of the Tourist Trophy race, "the Cobra jumped out ahead of the pack and by the end of the first lap had a lead of nearly half a straightaway over Penske, who was marginally ahead of Saunders and [Phil] Hill [who was driving a Ford GT]," wrote Christy. "Miles, who obviously had much more poke than the opposition, pulled out another three seconds lead and then held steady…"

Steady, that is, until something started "being squirrely in the rearend of the 'Super Snake,'" Christy wrote. Penske was able to reel in the ailing Miles, whose engine eventually gave up, and "Penske breezed home free and clear."

At about the same time Miles' Cobra was biting the dust, Saunders and Hill "wore each other out and retired," said Christy.

Back then, Speedweek consisted of two weekends of racing, with the week in between used for repairs, "swimming, shopping, drinking and other pursuits," said Christy. GS 003 was repaired and stored in a hangar, but when Saunders' crew returned to fetch the Vette, they found "…carnage. Bits and pieces of the aluminum block, the crank and rods were scattered all over the floor in a manner more familiar to habitués of Bonneville than of a road course. So strong was the force of the blow-up that chips had been gouged in the hangar floor."

What the heck? After some sleuthing, it was discovered that a local, hired by a Cobra team to watch over the cars, wanted to hear "what kind of noise the machinery made," said Christy. So he got in the GS (and the Cobra), started them and "buried his foot in the throttle with the engines dead cold. He became most indignant when his request for payment for his guarding services was refused as he was led off to sample the hospitality of Her Majesty's Prison."

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