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1988 Chevrolet Corvette GTO Body Kit

Illustrated Corvette Series No. 229: Chevy’s GTO body kit turns any 1984-’90 Corvette into a Café Racer!

K. Scott Teeters Feb 25, 2016
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No, this is not an IMSA GTO racing Corvette. Yes, it’s a stock ’88 Corvette wearing a body kit, but not just any body kit. This was the official Chevrolet body kit (PN 10051200) that was required by IMSA, the International Motor Sports Association, for the GTO Series. The lightweight fiberglass body used on the actual Protofab/Morrison Corvette race car was only required to “mimic” the production car. Interesting use of words, meaning that the styling of the race car was “based on” a 1988 Corvette with the GTO body kit. So, don’t confuse the body kit shown here with the body used on the race car.

The kit wasn’t available off the Chevy salesman’s order form, that’s why it doesn’t show up on the list of options in the Corvette Black Book, as the kit was not a Regular Production Option. To get the kit you had to go back to the Service/Parts Department to place your order. However, it’s an interesting thing to speculate what a “Corvette GTO” model might have been. But I’m sure that notion never even came up because the ZR-1 was, in 1998, just a year away from its release date, although the ZR-1 debut indeed slipped to a 1990 model. The ZR-1 was to be THE performance Corvette and there would be no interim step “GTO” performance model.

But in hindsight, Chevrolet “could” have done this, really. I know, easy for me to say, 28 years later, but hear me out on this one. Subsequent Corvettes after the C4 were so good in terms of out-of-the-box performance and on-the-track victories; it’s easy to forget that Corvettes OWNED SCCA’s Showroom Stock series from 1985 to 1987. Corvette engineers literally used the series as their test lab for the racing parts program. The late Dick Guldstrand commented that in those days Chevy would send him a box of some new suspension parts they’d just made with a note that said, “Try this and let us know what you think.” From 1984 to 1987, Corvette engineers worked their tails off honing and refining the C4.

1988 Corvette Gto Illustrated Side View 2/3

Just using the 1988 RPO “performance” options available for the Corvette, a GTO model could have included the following: RPO B4P Radiator Boost Fan, RPO FG3 Delco-Bilstein Shocks, G92 Performance Axle 3.07:1, RPO KC4 Engine Oil Cooler, MM4 4-Speed Manual transmission, RPO V01 Heavy-Duty Radiator and RPO Z51 performance Handling Package. The Z51 included larger 17x9.5 aluminum wheels shod with Goodyear Eagle P275/40ZR17 tires, higher spring rates, a finned power steering cooler and larger front rotors and calipers. The body kit could have been factory-assembled and the completed car festooned with a few GTO badges. Dymag or BBS Wheels would have completed the look.

If the GTO had been a “special edition” (similar to the ’96 Grand Sport) all of the cars could have been white with an over the hood, roof and rear deck blue stripe, as an homage to past racing Corvettes. Then Chevrolet would have had themselves an honest-to-goodness Café Racer Corvette. And how much might this have cost? All of the above RPO options total $1,736. The 1988 35th Anniversary option that consisted of unique trim, badges, and options cost $4,795. With the additional cost of racing wheels and the factory-installed body kit, the price of a Corvette GTO could have been less than the 35th Anniversary Special Edition Corvette.

Let’s take a look at the body kit. Remember, the body kit was necessary so that the race car could take advantage of the latest ground effects, venting and big spoilers for maximum downforce. The kit was designed by Corvette and Camaro Chief Designer John Cafaro and Senior Designer for Corvette and Camaro Randy Wittine. Fourteen years before, Zora Arkus-Duntov had Randy design the widebody kit made famous by John Greenwood’s “Batmobile” racing Corvettes. The kit consisted of nine parts, including a wraparound lower front spoiler/valance, two vents for the tops of the front fenders, two four-vent front fenders, two side rockers, one wraparound lower rear valance and one wraparound rear spoiler. How many C4 GTO Corvette body kits were sold? I’m sure that on a spreadsheet “somewhere” that number is known, but it appears inaccessible. Plus, the kits seem to have been knocked off and are still available through a few of the Corvette parts companies.

1988 Corvette Gto Rear View 3/3

Looking at performance figures for the 1988 Corvette requires the context of the day. The C4 Corvette was produced for 13 model years and started with a whopping 205 horsepower. For the first few years the C4 was hailed as “The Best Vette Yet!” and indeed it was. For several years it was the “fastest car in America” capable of 150 mph! The seriously ironic thing about C4 Corvettes from 1984 to 1989 is that today (2016) they are at the absolute bottom of the Corvette feeding chain of desirability. Chevy sold so many and the cars that came along later were so improved, you can get into the Corvette hobby with an early C4 for around $8,000, or less. No one wants them! Which is a shame because there’s a lot of red meat left in those cars. The 1988 L98 engine, even though it was rated at only 245 horsepower, has electronic fuel injection, aluminum heads and can be easily hot rodded. With a little suspension work, the right tires, some extra grunt under the hood and a GTO body kit, you can have yourself a formidable street Vette. Out of the box, Chevrolet claimed that the 1988 Corvette could hit 0-to-60 in 5.3-seconds, the quarter-mile in 14.21 at 97.3 mph and had a top speed of 155.4 mph with the four-speed model. I warned you, those aren’t exciting numbers, but again, some context is needed.

In 1969, Car Life magazine tested eight Corvettes; three small-blocks and five big-blocks. The best 0-60 was 6.4 by the L46 350/350. The best quarter-mile was a 13.94 by the L71 427/435. And the fastest car was the L88 with a top speed of 151 mph. Then in the September 1969 issue of Car and Driver, an L71 427/435 was tested and ran 0-60 in 5.3 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.8 at 106.8 mph. Now, 0-60 and quarter-mile times have many variables including gearing, four-speed or manual, temperature, track condition, and driver’s skill at speed shifting. Regardless, it is clear that by 1988 the stock Corvette was back to late ’60s-early ’70s muscle car era performance. That’s mighty impressive for cars that are today, largely unwanted.

Looking back on the early days of the C4 era, it looks to me like a “lost generation” thanks to the extraordinary success of the newer cars and GM-supported Corvette Racing team. However, back in 1988, aside from Reeves Callaway, John Lingenfelter and a few others, no one was thinking much about a 200-plus-mph production Corvette, capable of 0-60 in less than 3 seconds. Today, you can just go buy one at your local Chevy dealer; things have improved that much.

However, let’s not forget that in those now lost years, Corvettes totally dominated the Showroom Stock series, thanks to Chevrolet Engineering’s help. They were also involved with the Corvette GTP cars, and the Protofab/Morrison IMSA GTO Corvettes. Dave McLellan and his team were working hard to deliver the ZR-1, plus the field of “active suspensions” was beginning. Callaway was in full production of the RPO B2K Callaway Twin Turbo, as well as building his L98-based, twin-turbocharged, 254.76-mph Sledgehammer. Them’s were some exciting times, really. Maybe you should scoop up an early C4, before the secret gets out.

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