With the passing of John Greenwood on July 7, 2015, many have stopped to look back on his fascinating career. Greenwood’s race cars were outrageous, brash, loud, bright and bloody fast. We all wish John had won more races, but he sure kept things exciting. In the mid-’70s, Greenwood started building specialty performance Corvettes for the street that used suspension and body parts developed for John’s race cars. From 1975 to 1981 Greenwood created five unique, custom-built super-Vettes in limited quantities: the Sebring GT, the Sportwagon, the Turbo GT, the Daytona and the GTO. Of the five cars, the Daytona was absolutely the wildest. Each car was unique and has a story to tell. So over the next four generational cycles of The Illustrated Corvette Designer Series we will be covering the Greenwood specialty Corvettes.
In the 1970s, IMSA racing was the hottest show in road racing, proving that fans love to see race cars that aren’t too far away from performance road cars. But when the European factory race cars got the upper hand, the cars got very complex. Hot Rod magazine visited Greenwood’s shop as the Sebring ’76 Corvette was being built, and noting the all-out tube frame welded to the factory frame, asked, “Is there any Corvette left in this car?” The next step was an all-out, tube-framed Trans-Am car, thus ending the era of the C2/C3 factory-based Corvette race car. Greenwood kept building and racing “Corvettes,” but they were purpose-built racing machines with big-block Corvette power.
Race car builders are clever fellows and always employ the tactic: “If the rules don’t specifically say you can’t do something, then you can.” John noted that the 1980 IMSA rules were not clear as to the size and shape of fenders and spoilers. So John pushed everything to the max. For a variety of reasons, the race car didn’t do much, but five street versions were made. Since 1981, when the last street Daytona Corvette was built, so many stunning specialty and tuner Corvettes have been offered, the Greenwood cars are kind of forgotten.
The lineage of all of the Greenwood specialty Corvettes goes back to the Randy Wittine-designed C3 widebody kit, designed to allow Corvette racers, such as Greenwood, to take advantage of the new super-wide racing slicks. John introduced the new widebody Corvette to the racing world in 1974, wearing stars and stripes all around its new wild, wide flanks. The look forever was branded as the “Greenwood body.” The first three of the Greenwood specialty Corvettes—the Sebring GT, the Sportwagon and the Turbo GT—all wore toned-down, tamer versions of the race car widebody without side pipes. The Daytona was the first of the Greenwood street Corvettes to wear the same body as John was using on his IMSA Corvette. Aside from a few pieces of external racing hardware and the exhaust exit on the side rockers, it’s the same suit worn on Greenwood’s track Corvette.
Five Daytonas were built in 1980 and 1981. Unlike the purpose-built, tube-frame Trans-Am cars, the Daytonas were built on new, production Corvettes. But these weren’t simply reskinned, new Corvettes. But with a body like this, it’s almost easy to not ask, “What’s under the hood?” Turbocharging was all the rage as a way to boost the power of emissions-controlled engines. The Daytona used the stock L48 engine for its low 8.5:1 compression ratio, because the Turbo International turbocharger would be running at 7 psi of boost with a water-injection system to eliminate pre-detonation. All five Daytonas had high-performance automatic transmissions.
Greenwood not only built Corvette race cars, he designed and developed his trademarked five-link suspension for Corvettes that eliminated squat and lift, and then sold Greenwood suspension kits to Corvette racers. The parts were so popular and worked so well, they were simply known as a “Greenwood Suspension.” Nuff said. The five-link, coilover suspension for the production frame and drivetrain was an option that was ordered on two of the five Daytonas built. Even without the optional race car rear suspension, Daytonas had Bilstein gas shocks, needle bearings on the idler arm, larger-diameter antisway bars and a performance version of the steering box. Only two Daytonas (002 and 004) had the racing five-link coilover rear suspension while the other three had enhanced stock suspensions. The BBS three-piece racing wheels with their Kevlar brake fans—15x8 on the front and 15x10 on the rear—were shod with Goodyear Wingfoot tires.
About the outrageous body; it’s all about downforce, airflow, scooping and venting. From the front to the back—the chin spoiler/splitter looks slightly lower than the C7 Z06/Z07 and wraps around nicely to the bottom edge of the flared-out fender pontoons. The back of the front fender pontoon is vented and sloped forward, matching the vent angle of the production fender. The side rocker is out to the outer edges of the front and rear fender pontoons. On the race car, what look like side skirts or running boards, is the cover for the side pipes, but with an oval opening just ahead of the rear wheels for the collector exit. The tops of the front fenders, inboard of the top fender crease, had louvered vents to reduce air pressure. The hood had NACA ducts, was raised for clearance of the turbo setup and vents at the back. On the rear fenders where the pontoons blend with the doors, Greenwood added scoops to help cool the brakes and the back of the rear pontoons were open for venting. Then at the back end of the car, since the rules didn’t say he couldn’t, Greenwood built the most bodacious rear spoiler ever added to a Corvette race car. Lastly, on the rear bumper cover, horizontal vents were added under the taillights. One feature that wouldn’t have been missed, but was a nice addition, was the rear glass hatch kit so that the rear storage area could be easily accessed. Of the five Daytonas, four were red—one with a black interior and three with saddle tan interiors. The fifth Daytona was Sunoco Blue with a dark blue cloth interior. Surprisingly, the interior of all five cars were completely stock.
If you follow John Greenwood’s racing in the mid-to-late ’70s you will see the name Rick Mancuso. John and Rick were friends; Rick owned a Ferrari dealership in Illinois: Lake Forrest Sports Cars. After many hours of bench racing about what they “could” do as a high-performance Greenwood racer for the street, the two men decided to take action and launched the Sebring GT. From 1975 to 1977, 32 Sebring GTs were built. Fast-forward to 1980 when the wild Daytona was conceived, Mancuso commissioned two Daytonas and sold them, while Greenwood set up shop in Altamonte, Florida, built and sold three Daytonas. Prices are always fun to look at decades after the fact. A new 1980 Corvette had a base price of $13,140. A Cadillac Coupe DeVille cost $12,899. A Greenwood Daytona could cost between $37,000 and $53,000. In 2015 dollars that’s between $106,570 and $152,655!
The Greenwood specialty Corvettes were wonderfully overbuilt for street use. But that was the point. From 1975 to 1981 Greenwood only built 43 of the five different cars, with the first car, the Sebring GT totaling the most, with 32 units built. All five Daytona cars were bought and sold many times and are all accounted for. And like the Motion Performance cars, Greenwood and Eckler sold the body parts for do-it-yourselfers. And to fog things up a little more, not all of the Greenwood cars wore plaques to authenticate the builds. Perhaps because the cars were overbuilt and outlandish, owners didn’t drive them much. According to GreenwoodCorvettes.com, the second Daytona built in 1981, the Sunoco Blue car, has under 10,000 miles on the odometer. Owners Lou and Chris Pittack reported that their Daytona has seen 155 mph on an unnamed highway—with plenty of pedal left. Obviously, these are not daily driver type cars and are more race car than street car. Why do people build and buy these kinds of cars? That’s easy—because they’re fun!