"At Daytona, they got the car up to 180 mph," says Bill. "She was really running hard and it must have been a pretty impressive time. But, somewhere along the line, they didn't let the tires cool down enough between runs or something, and the car blew the left rear tire. A chunk of the tire hung from the rim and tore up the fenderwell, including tearing off the fuel lines. The car caught fire and, while the damage wasn't extensive, it was hurt."
The car once again headed back to Rathman Chevrolet and the repairs were completed, returning it to original specs. Not long after, the car was sold to a local man who ran a dairy. He purchased it for his son and they drove it locally for a while. While they had the car, the engine spun a rod bearing and they replaced it with a different engine. When Bill purchased the car through another party, he wasn't certain of its history; he simply liked what he saw.
"I really didn't know if this was the car from the Proving Grounds until I spoke with Jim Rathman, who confirmed the background on the car," says Bill. "It was around 1971 or '72 when I bought the car, and back then no one cared about big-blocks. For most, they were a joke. I did locate the original engine in the hay barn where it had been left. The dairy farmer gave me the broken engine for free, and I returned it to original specs after a while. For a long time, the car just sat until I had time to work on it."
The '67 L88 was a unique car for a number of reasons, not the least of which included the special headers that came inside the car when delivered. According to Bill, they were similar to the Grand Sport Corvette side pipes with a flattened underside to achieve better ground clearance. As the owner of Grand Sport No. 5 driven by Roger Penske, he should know. The water neck in the intake is a special design for the L88, which also had special 7-inch-wide wheels from Kelsey Hayes for better handling at high speed.
Says Bill, "The 7-inch wheels and Goodyear Wide Oval redline tires made a big difference in the handling of the car. The improvement from 6 to 7 inches is huge in terms of stability and overall handling. This, I believe, was the first year for the Wide Oval tires."
The radio- and heater-delete are specialty options that few Corvette owners ordered, for obvious reasons. A one-year mandate, the heater/defroster equipment returned in 1968 for L88 drivers as a matter of safety (the defroster option made them safer to drive in cold climates). Regardless, if you owned an L88 and needed a radio, you were in the wrong car.
Bill Tower's '67 figures to be one of the very first L88s ever created, due to its Proving Grounds lineage. While Bill never claims it is the first one, the experimental doorsill plate and history certainly give it that feel.
But what may be the best part of this story is that Bill is not afraid to drive the car today, although it has been in storage for so long. When challenged by a C5, he gladly accepts. After all, he has a legend to protect.
0.0.XP - PROVA - 0001
194377 - 00 - IT - EX.702
0.0. = experimental Corvette
XP = experimental
PROVA = Proving Grounds
0001 = first prototype
19437 = coupe
7 = Year 1967
00 = Experimental Corvette
IT = Heavy-duty
EX.702 = last number in the ID plate