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Corvette Grand Sport Behind the Scene Meeting

Corvette Team Meeting: We explore the history of the original Grand Sport with the Corvette Team

Walt Thurn Sep 22, 2016
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Recently, a phone call came to our office that caught us by surprise. It was Tadge Juechter, Chief Engineer for Corvette. He had just finished reading our Grand Sport lifestyle story featured in the November 2016 issue. He wanted Vette to provide his Corvette Team with a historical perspective about the five original Grand Sports featured in our story. He invited us to speak at his Corvette Team Meeting at the GM Warren Technical Center. They are held quarterly and anyone who is involved in the development of the Corvette is invited. They meet inside the Vehicle Engineering Center, at the Technical Center campus in Warren, Michigan. The 2-hour event took place on September 12, 2016. We prepared our presentation, booked our flights and headed to Warren.

The Technical Center is an imposing complex and the gate guard directed us to the Vehicle Engineering Center. Shuttle busses take you from the parking lots to the front door. You enter a large lobby where you sign in and wait while the receptionist covers your cell phone camera and registers your laptop. Next, they call your contact (Tadge Juechter) to escort you to the meeting. Juechter was very prompt and we followed him through an electronic rotary door and a hallway that led us to our meeting auditorium. The large, wide hallway has no windows on either side, just doors to various engineering areas. When we arrived we were greeted by Barbara Armbruster (Planning & Program Manager-Corvette). Armbruster added our presentation to the agenda and soon the room was filled with almost 300 Corvette Team members. While Juechter gave the group a program update, we waited outside.

Juechter then introduced us to the group and we began our 30-minute presentation. Our goal was to give an overview of the non-racing GM corporate environment in the late-’50s and ’60s. Zora Arkus-Duntov was a passionate racing advocate who never stopped looking for ways to keep Corvette competitive without violating the AMA (American Manufacturers Association) non-racing agreement GM had signed. The Grand Sport was a secret project approved by Bunkie Knudsen, General Manager of Chevrolet. Zora planned to build 125 “lightweight” (2,000-pound) Grand Sports and sell them to customers to race. They took the first completed Grand Sport (#001) to Sebring for a secret brake test in December 1962. Word of the test got back to GM Chairman Fredrick Donner and he quickly ordered Zora to cancel the program. Zora had enough parts to build five Grand Sports, which he did. We then discussed the racing history of these five cars and where they are now. Juechter asked for questions and it was obvious that the group was very interested in the history of these significant Corvettes. We experienced firsthand how dedicated and enthusiastic these team members are about our beloved Corvette. We are looking forward to seeing what other nice surprises they have in store for us in the near future.

Our presentation was followed by Ron Kiino who is responsible for Corvette and Camaro Media activities. Kiino gave an update on the positive reaction the 2017 Grand Sport option is receiving from the press. Juechter then updated the group on Corvette Racing’s 102nd race win, which drew a big applause. The final speaker was Mike Simcoe, the new VP of GM Global Design. Simcoe gave an overview of his background with his vision for the direction of GM design. He complimented the Corvette Team for their effective design, engineering and customer awareness. The meeting ended and the team dispersed to continue work on our favorite sports car: the Corvette.

Tadge Juechter Corvette Team Meeting 2/12

Tadge Juechter, Corvette Chief Engineer (right) invited us to attend his quarterly Corvette Team Meeting. Our opening presentation photo is in the background.

Corvette Team Meeting 3/12

Almost 300 Corvette Team members attended the meeting. We spent 30 minutes of the 2-hour agenda discussing the 1962-’63 Grand Sport history and answering questions.

1957 Chevrolet Corvette 4/12

We discussed Zora Arkus-Duntov’s passion for improving Corvette performance through racing, including the development of this 1957 Sebring Corvette SS prototype. Three months after this car appeared at the 1957 Sebring race, GM signed the AMA agreement to halt racing.

Zora Arkus Duntov 5/12

Zora (left) submitted paperwork to the FIA in 1962 to build 125 “lightweight” Corvettes to sell as production cars to avoid the AMA racing ban. Chevrolet General Manager Bunkie Knudsen approved the project in hopes of beating the Ford Cobras.

Chassis Number 1 1962 6/12

Chassis #001 was completed in November 1962. It is fitted with a stock 327ci/360hp fuel-injected engine.

Chevrolet Corvette Lightweight Body 1962 7/12

The first “lightweight” body was added to chassis #001 and shipped to Sebring for brake testing in December 1962. In January, GM Chairman Fredrick Donner learned about the test and cancelled the program. Zora had enough parts to build five Grand Sports, which he did.

1963 Corvette Grand Sport Coupe 8/12

In late summer 1963, Zora and his team did a major rebuild on Grand Sports #003, #004 and #005. The work included fender flares, larger wheels and tires and an all-aluminum 377ci/485hp engine. The cars were sold to 21-year-old Texas millionaire John Mecum’s race team and shipped to Nassau Bahamas for the November Trophy Race.

1966 Daytona Corvette 9/12

Zora converted Grand Sports #001 and #002 into roadsters to race at Daytona. They never raced there, but Penske Racing entered #001 in the 1966 12 Hours of Sebring. It had a prototype 600hp L88 engine and qualified 21st, but retired after 65 laps.

Chevrolet Corvette 10/12

Collector Harry Yeaggy purchased #001 in 2002 and had it completely restored. It is still part of his collection in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Chevrolet Corvette 11/12

The Collier Foundation in Naples, Florida, completely restored #004 and occasionally races it historic events.

Chevrolet Corvette 12/12

Bill Tower purchased #005 in 1978 and still owns the car that was driven by Roger Penske and Jim Hall. Bill lives in Plant City, Florida.

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