There are few Corvettes that really hold the nation's attention. Even fewer of these vehicles cross international boarders and amaze the world. This ultra-rare '68 convertible became such an icon. We wanted owners Tom Falconer and Fred Mullauer to tell us the legacy of this pond-crossing hero. Tom, having written Original Corvette 1968-1982, is no stranger to storytelling, and we wanted him to tell the tale of this Corvette in his own words.
"On May 15, 1972, in Culver City, California, Corvette racing legend Dick Guldstrand brokered the sale of a '68 L89 Corvette to an Englishman, Alec Harvey-Bailey. He was buying the car for his son, Rhoddy Harvey-Bailey, to drive in the prestigious FIA-approved British Modified Sports Car series. 'Mod Sports,' as it was popularly known, allowed almost unrestricted modification, with drastic weight reduction, wider wheels, and engine tuning for increased power. Although Ford Galaxies had performed well in the Production Saloon Class since 1964, no one else was entering a Corvette in the Sports Car Class in 1972, and it was clear this car would make quite an impact.
"On June 3, 1972, after some frantic race preparation on the engine and brakes, the newly acquired car was flown on a Pan American flight to London Heathrow Airport. It was destined to race for just one glorious season in 1972, which was featured in GM's own Corvette News in June 1973, then it was lost to view for more than 30 years.
"According to Dick Guldstrand, a Mexican TV director in California raced the L89 during 1969 when it was painted in its original Rally Red with the hardtop installed. It then languished at his garage for 18 months, when it was spotted by Alec Harvey-Bailey.
"Once in England, the car was put to work immediately and won its first race at Croft in Yorkshire on July 16, 1972, and took the lap record as well. During the rest of the season, Rhoddy recorded five wins and three Second places, adding additional lap records at Mallory Park and Castle Combe. The car was constantly lightened, first by removing trim, and later the headlight assemblies. Under Guldstrand's advice, additional bracing was introduced around the front suspension and steering box, while the hardtop was removed to save even more weight. The wheels were a mixture of American Racing and British Minilites for different races.
"Rhoddy was a spectacular driver. The sight and sound of the 500hp Corvette with open side exhausts carving through the field left an indelible impression on British fans, who had not seen a big-block Corvette race before. This year, photographers and libraries were contacted for contemporary race pictures, and they all immediately remembered the car and asked where it had been hiding. As so often happens in motor racing, the ambitious Harvey-Bailey, having previously driven Alfa Romeo sports racers for the Auto Delta team on the Continent, set his heart on driving open-wheel cars as the next career step, and the Corvette was parked for 10 years in the garage at his Derbyshire cottage. His open-wheel ambitions did not materialise; but, utilizing his vast experience of setting up and racing different cars, he founded Harvey Bailey Engineering, now a world-renowned consultant for vehicle suspension and handling. It's also revered for its handling kits for Rolls Royce, Bentley, and Range Rover.
"I went to see it with a view to purchase in 1981, but it was little more than a pile of parts-too new to be historic and too far gone to be a road car again. Rhoddy sold the car in the mid-'80s to northern Corvette enthusiast Doug Bennett, who started a careful restoration, but did not finish the car before selling it to the present owners on November 28, 2003. The car was immediately containerised and shipped to Baltimore, arriving on Christmas Day 2003.
"The car then had an extensive mechanical overhaul and race preparation and is now running and ready for final preparation for Vintage racing in the United States, or FIA-approved Historic racing in Europe. It runs the same 1967 942 427 engine block that was air-freighted to England by Dick Guldstrand on January 19, 1973 to replace the original that Rhoddy blew up, and is topped with the 074 aluminium heads. The airway bill and documentation are still in the file.
"The motor was rebuilt by Racing Parts & Machine in Baltimore and was dynamometer tested on February 23, 2004. Peak power output is 543 hp at 6,100 rpm and maximum torque is 510 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. The original matching-numbers Muncie M21 close-ratio four-speed transmission also has been rebuilt. New Minilite wheels were specially imported from the original manufacturer in Devon, England, since the originals were considered unsafe due to their age.
"A four-page illustrated article about the car, its purchase, trans-Atlantic flight, and subsequent race success appeared in the June-July 1973 issue of Corvette News. Mailed by GM to tens of thousands of owners, this magazine put the car firmly into the national Corvette conscience. In the text of that article, the car is spiced up to be an L88, but it always was an L89; the tank sticker is with the car as proof.
"The car is complete with its original gas-tank buildsheet, showing L89 ALUM CYL HEAD EQUIP on the second line, F41 SPEC-PUR SUSPENSION on the 10th, and L71 435hp TURBO-JET V8 on the 12th. The L89 was, of course, an L71 with aluminium heads. The recorded mileage is 4,541, which is believed to be correct, though it cannot be certified because of the racing history.
"Hopefully this unique race car, off the track for more than 30 years, will now find a new owner and be racing again on American circuits this year."