When you figure out just how many were built, the L88 option should have been a small footnote in Corvette history. In 1967, only 20 cars were equipped with this landmark option, most ending up in racing environments, never seeing local cruise nights or pleasure driving of any kind. Rarity, however, breeds interest; and, today, the more rare the musclecar, the more public excitement it generates.
The Bill Tower '67 L88 is unique among L88s. It was the General Motors Proving Grounds test car in 1967, and saw plenty of track time before it was shipped to Florida for resale at Rathman Chevrolet in Melbourne. It is an L88 with perhaps the most colorful history short of the L88 race cars that competed at Le Mans and Daytona that famous year. It is a true delivered-to-the-public L88, complete with all the original artifacts including some prototype side pipes, unique L88 sticker placements, and functional L88 stinger hood.
Frankly, we're quite proud to bring this L88 Corvette to the pages of Corvette Fever for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this rare Goodwood Green L88 hasn't been out of Bill's garage in five years, and he was kind enough to break it out and clean it up for our photo shoot. This is an amazing 500-plus-horsepower production car that represents a significant piece of Corvette history.
But Bill's stories were the best part of our encounter with the '67 L88. While he hadn't forgotten about the great mid-year stashed in his garage, seeing the car in the light of day brought back memories of when it was new and he worked at the GM Proving Grounds. At that time, for the most part, Bill was focused on solving the 435hp big-block's overheating problems. According to Bill, those cars wouldn't even idle for three minutes without going over 230 degrees and overheating. Bill helped fix many of those problems with a stiffer fan clutch, but they were always difficult to keep cool.
At a different location on the grounds, the L88 development team was hard at work building up this thinly disguised race car. Through the work of Marty Sullivan at Holley Performance Products, they developed the 850-cfm carburetor that was standard equipment on the engine and in future street machines around the world. During that time, Bill had a chance to witness the uncorked raw power of the L88 at speed. As Bill tells it, "When that L88 hit the high bank, everyone stopped what they were doing to watch."
Don't you wish you were there?
The '67 L88 shown here went through some interesting hands before ending up in Bill Tower's garage. After its days of Proving Grounds tests, it was shipped to Indy 500 winner Jim Rathman at Rathman Chevrolet in Melbourne, Florida. The car was a present from General Motors to Bill for handling the delivery of the Corvettes Chevrolet gave to the NASA astronauts that year. In fact, the L88 and all of the new Corvettes for NASA were shipped on the same car carrier.
At the time, the L88 was damaged, having dropped a valve in the last of its Proving Grounds tests. The non-running L88 was on the top row of cars on the carrier, which made the unloading process interesting.
"I spoke with the guy who unloaded the car from the carrier that day," says Bill. "He said it was quite a 'ride,' as the car had the J56 metallic brakes and no engine power. As a result, the unheated brakes didn't hold; but, luckily, it stayed in the ramps when it literally bounced from the top row to the bottom. It could have been a complete disaster."
While the car was supposed to go directly to Rathman's home, it ended up going to the dealership for engine repairs. The head was removed and repaired, and no other internal engine damage was seen. Shortly thereafter, Rathman and his team took the car to nearby Daytona for some testing of their own.
At Daytona, they got the car up to 180 mph.