For the past eight years the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, has played host to the Muscle Car & Corvette Nationals. This annual event takes place the weekend prior to Thanksgiving and serves as a showcase for hundreds of the rarest high-performance automobiles on the planet. Showgoers can expect the unexpected. Such was the case in November 2016, when I navigated my course during the customary Friday morning setup and discovered the special vintage Corvette display appropriately called the Corvette Legends Invitational.
Dr. Pete Gimenez, a respected Corvette collector, reached out to a select group of Corvette owners and with their support brought together 10 of the finest examples in the world.
As I made my way around the display, a silver 1966 Corvette coupe caught my eye with its pearl like paint finish and No. 67 decals. I slowly walked around the Corvette and took it all in. This Corvette screamed, “race car” with its Commander Aviation, Ring-Free Racing Formula Motor Oil and Goodyear decals. A straight-on look revealed a set of authentic Marchal driving lights attached to the underside of the factory front bumper. Each Goodyear racing tire had specific hand-applied markings on the outer sidewall specifying air pressure and where to locate it. The rear tires exhibited quarter-panel wheel lip scuff marks, apparently from body lean going into a corner on the racetrack.
After taking in the rest of the display I made my way back to the No. 67 Corvette and met owner Bill Skinner. Without hesitation Skinner began the process of filling me in on the history of his 1966 Corvette, then opened the passenger-side door, pulled out a large binder and walked me through the material. As suspected, this Corvette spent quality time on the racetrack and made its mark at the Daytona Speedway in February 1966.
Here’s the rest of the story!
In the fall of 1965, George Cornelius ordered a 1966 Corvette from George McKean Chevrolet in Philadelphia, thinking General Motors would have it built and delivered to the dealership in plenty of time for the 1966 racing season. Cornelius planned to have the Corvette ready for the inaugural Daytona 24-hour Continental race in February 1966 at the Daytona Speedway. He’d previously ordered a 1963 Corvette from the same dealership and General Manager Roger Penske handled the entire process to perfection.
During the visit to McKean Chevrolet in 1965 Cornelius sought out Penske, informed him of his plans to race a Corvette during the 1966 season. With help from Roger Penske, Cornelius went about filling out the order form for a 1966 Corvette coupe.
The completed order form included a check mark in each box for the following options: 425hp L72 V-8, high-performance cam with mechanical lifters, Holley four-barrel carb, 11.0:1 compression, electronic ignition, M22 four-speed “Rock Crusher” and 3.36:1 rearend gear. Referred to as an “economy” ratio, Cornelius thought the 3.36:1 axle would be ideal for running the high speeds on the Daytona Speedway banking without over-spinning the engine. Cornelius also checked off the following optional items: N03 (36-gallon fuel tank), N14 (side-mount exhaust), C48 (heater/defroster delete), F41 (heavy-duty suspension), and J56 (heavy-duty brakes).
Not long after placing his order for the 1966 Corvette things started to get sketchy as General Motors resisted to build such a well thought out version of a non-sponsored Corvette race car. In fact, Chevrolet flat out refused to install the J56 heavy-duty race ready brake setup. Perplexed at the time, Cornelius stayed the course and pushed on. The build of his 1966 Corvette continued to experience delays from General Motors and after some wrangling with the factory the car was built on January 6, 1966. It was the second one of the year to get the M22 transmission.
Cornelius caught wind of a special Daytona Corvette build, making it the third (of 15) equipped with the M22 transmission. Ironically, it was built on January 7, for Roger Penske. The Penske Corvette was picked up at the St. Louis assembly plant by Dick Guldstrand the same day it rolled off the assembly line. Meanwhile, the Corvette built for Cornelius went through the normal channels of delivery and didn’t make it to Gordon Thompson Chevrolet in Daytona, Florida, until Friday, January 28, a week before the Daytona 24-hour Continental race.
Once the Cornelius 1966 Corvette hit the dealership pavement co-driver/mechanic Dick Boo was there to pick it up and start the transformation from factory stock to race ready. With no time to waste, Boo worked around the clock for seven days at a private garage in Daytona. He installed a rollbar, fire extinguisher, racing wheels and tires, extra fuel pump, oil-pressure gauge and 10,000-candlepower Marchal driving lamps to meet the mandated racing requirements. Then it was off to the Daytona Speedway and time to race. It qualified 38th in the Gran Touring class. Drivers Cornelius, Boo and Bob Brown used the qualifying runs to formally break in No. 67.
The No. 67 Corvette captured its own kind of victory of sorts by turning the fastest lap in the GT class during the race. When the checkered flag was flown at the end of the race one glaring fact stood at the forefront about this 1966 Corvette coupe. The trio of Cornelius, Boo and Brown had done the unthinkable. Each driver stuck to the strategy while piloted the No. 67 Corvette to near perfection on its original factory installed brakes, engine and drivetrain. It completed the race without any significant mechanical issues and placed 4th in the GT class.
A special trophy is awarded to the American production car that proved the most durable and reliable. The No. 67 Corvette won hands down. It was presented on behalf of the International Association of Police Chiefs. It had beaten out the other Corvettes, a Corvair, Mustangs, a Barracuda and a Marlin for the prestigious award based on the least repairs made during pit stops.
Bill Skinner purchased the No. 67 Corvette in 2005. When asked why he purchased No. 67 Skinner replied, “I knew of its historic past and the significance of being one-of-two Corvettes to race the Daytona 24-hour Continental in 1966. When it became, available I sold three top-quality Corvettes to buy it.”
Skinner is no stranger to racing. He’s a retired kart racer who drove the racetracks in the United States and Canada. He had a successful 35-year run, racing sprint cars from 1965-1969, then moved into Enduro in 1969. His last race was in 1999.
Skinner purchased his first Corvette in 1995 (a 1987 coupe) and has owned 10 of them to date. Once “Corvette fever” struck, Skinner sought out information, knowledge and facts for each Corvette purchase and maintains a handful of top-shelf examples in his collection.
Bill Skinner has done extensive research and traced back the history of No. 67. Per his records, the 1966 Corvette has been owned by 15 other people with Skinner being owner No. 16. He’s owned it the longest and relishes the car’s history and storied past.
In 2006, nearly 40 years after the No. 67 Corvette made its mark at the Daytona 24-hour Continental owner Bill Skinner and the late George Cornelius took a drive down memory lane when they visited the Daytona Speedway. Cornelius rode shotgun in the passenger seat while Skinner navigated his pickup truck with an enclosed trailer attached and heading toward pit road. Anchored down in the trailer was the 1966 Corvette. Original owner George Cornelius and No. 67 shared a little track time together on pit road nearly four decades after they’d had a successful run at the Daytona Speedway.
“Not a lot was said as I unloaded the car from the trailer.” When it started to make its way out George stated, “The last time it arrived here for the race I drove it from my place in Florida and you should have seen the looks we received when we rolled up to the racers entrant gate.”
When asked about how it felt to be there with the original owner and No. 67 Corvette Skinner replied, “It was definitely a sentimental and emotional experience for the two of us.”
“Did I mention we drove it home after the race and my wife used it as her daily driver?” said George. “After we got it home, I removed the decals and racing equipment.”