Unobtainium. That's what the Corvette Grand Sport is really made of. With only five in existence, even if one of these ultra-rare racers ever did come on the market, Bill Gates would quickly outbid you. But he'd still have to sell a jillion shares of Microsoft to pay for it.
But Grand Sports weren't always so pricey. For Corvette racer Dick Guldstrand, sharing one of those painful "If I only knew" anecdotes, had a tired-out GS back in 1967 that he'd left in the alley behind his shop. He ended up selling it for-get this-$5,000.
Of course, back then you could buy a small house for about that, so it might as well have been a multimillion-dollar car. At least that's how Larry Weiner, a minimum-wage, 17-year-old felt about it back in 1967. He had a lust for everything automotive, which would eventually lead him to found Performance West Group, a prominent builder of show cars for the major auto manufacturers. But he never forgot the Grand Sport he could never afford, and finally decided to create one himself. The good news is that this sort of project is still possible for a lot of Corvette owners today.
First, though, a bit more background. Corvette folks already know the story of the Grand Sport, but it's worth retelling. The Shelby Cobra was just beginning to kick ass on the road-course racing circuit. In retaliation, Zora Arkus-Duntov took the then-new Corvette Sting Ray and whacked off 1,000 pounds, throwing everything that didn't contribute to speed into the dumpster. He employed a tubular chassis with aluminum reinforcements, and was rewarded with the Grand Sport, a Corvette that ate everything else on the track alive, and weighed in at a svelte 1,950 pounds. Even though there were plans to build another 100 GS's, GM management scrapped the program, and the five original Grand Sports disappeared from the track, melting into private hands.
That work stoppage didn't keep Weiner from following through on his desire for a Grand Sport. If he couldn't buy one, then why not build one from scratch? Here's where the folks at Mid America Industries entered the picture with a Grand Sport conversion called the GS-2.
Based on original blueprints for the chassis, Mid America's Jeff Leech produced a jig, along with molds to create the fiberglass body parts unique to the vehicle. It uses the center tub from the '63-'67 model years, so the finished vehicle is actually a modified Corvette with the original title. Prices for the GS-2 start at $5,500 for the components. A rolling chassis goes for $35,000, and turnkeys start at $80,000, but Leech says $100,000 is a more typical figure. Still, that's only a fraction of the price of what an original Grand Sport would sell for today.
In 1989, Weiner sold his 308 Ferrari, bought a Mid America chassis, and his ship set sail. He knew the project wouldn't be a precise reproduction, however. "My goal was not to end up with an exact clone," explains Weiner, "but a vehicle that took advantage of technology by integrating newer Corvette components. And it also had to be street-legal."
After obtaining a tube chassis from Mid America, it took Weiner two years to find an unmolested Corvette body tub which he discovered at the Bloomington Gold Corvette show. He shipped the central structure to the factory in Milan, Illinois, and Leech began constructing the body.
"Mid America had almost all the parts to build the Grand Sport body," Weiner recalls, "and the rest I secured from Corvette suppliers. I'd sit up at night making lists of all the parts I'd need. This was my hobby, my relaxation," he laughs, realizing his Grand Sport project took on the dimensions of an obsession.
While Leech built the body, Weiner labored over the drivetrain and chassis. The engine he installed is a 427ci built to L88 specs by Racing Head Service, cranked up to 550 hp. To that he added a Richmond five-speed with a Centerforce clutch. Most of the suspension parts were '84-'85 vintage, taking advantage of newer technology. By a stroke of luck, Weiner found a complete Corvette suspension in an advertising throw-away. "Some guy was rebuilding an Opel GT and figured out the Corvette's suspension was too big for the car. I gave him $400 and spent a lot of evenings cleaning up the aluminum so it looked like brand new."
In 1992, Weiner trailered the now-complete rolling chassis to Milan for the body drop. He found the springs for the coilovers to be a bit too soft, which the manufacturer Aldan corrected with a new set. There were other much larger hurdles to overcome, however.
A close friend of Weiner's had been working on the wiring harness, but he "fell off the face of the earth," Weiner remembers. "A year later I got a phone call. The guy needed me to help him prepare several years' worth of uncompleted tax returns. I told him I'd start his returns as soon as the wiring harness was finished." A few weeks later, Weiner gets a call from the wiring wizard, instructing him to go out to his garage and turn the ignition. The Grand Sport kicked over and Weiner turned his attention to the tax forms.
Weiner's Grand Sport re-creation made its debut at the '94 Joliet, Illinois, Corvettes Unlimited Show. In addition to car shows, he and the Grand Sport did some vintage racing at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. "I didn't do it to win," Weiner says. "It was for me. I just wanted to see what it was like to drive on one of the great road courses in a Grand Sport."
That glorious experience almost ended abruptly in a moment of inattention. "I lost concentration at that sharp, first right-hander and came in way too hot," he says with a wince. "But the car drove itself right around the corner-it's way more capable than I. It's the most rewarding car I've ever driven. Lean on the throttle in Second gear, and you can feel the front end lift just like a dragster, unlike a road-course racer. The originals always ran light on the front end."
On the street, Weiner is not above baiting other cars. "At 80 or 90 mph, the car is just starting to wake up. I drop a gear and drive right away from them," he smiles. "It's a wolf in wolf's clothing."