1967 Chevrolet L88 Corvette - Checkered Past

The Incredible Racing History Of The Tony Delorenzo L88

Alan Colvin Jan 1, 2006 0 Comment(s)
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The '67 L88 Corvette shown here has quite a checkered past. You see, this '67 L88 roadster was first owned by Tony DeLorenzo, the son of Anthony G. (Tony) DeLorenzo, the widely-respected GM vice-president in charge of the General Motors public relations staff from 1957-1979. It also just happens to be the earliest RPO-ordered L88 known to exist.

During the development of the L88 by Zora Duntov and Roger Penske in 1966, Tony was racing Corvairs in fierce SCCA competition. All during that racing season, Tony was closely following the success of the Penske L88 prototype cars.

After a successful season, Tony qualified his '65 A-Sedan Corvair for the '66 SCCA runoffs at Riverside, California, but could not afford to make the trip. His brother, Peter, told him that a sponsorship was necessary if Tony wanted to pursue a racing career, so Tony began sending out proposals for a '67 Corvette racing program. Hanley Dawson Jr., of Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit, Michigan, came to the rescue with a new '67 L88 Corvette roadster, a tow vehicle, trailer, and the expense money to run the season.

After the deal was made, Tony went to the dealership to order the car. While he doesn't remember ordering the much-mentioned power windows that are on the car now, he does remember the car being delivered from the factory with a red stinger hood stripe. It has been noted in several accounts that the blue stinger hood stripe was applied at the factory due to the car being an executive "tag" vehicle, but this is not correct. Tony has photos of the delivery of the car that clearly show the car with the red stinger. When the car was being prepared, Tony made the decision to paint the hood and rear deck of the car with the blue striping, primarily because he liked the blue/black color combination. Another misconception: It was supposedly delivered from the factory with a factory side exhaust, but this claim is also refuted by Tony, who stated that the car had an under-car exhaust system when it was delivered to the dealership.

When the car arrived at Hanley-Dawson, it was unloaded from the truck transport and immediately pulled into the shop, where the car was to be prepared for the SCCA A-Production racing circuit. The car was never driven on the street as a street car. Part of the process in preparing the car was to basically gut the car to save weight, so carpet, bumpers, spare tire carrier, windows, and lift mechanisms were pulled from the car. The windshield was sawed off the convertible (the car was not delivered with a hardtop), and a roll bar, clutch housing shield, competition lap-and-shoulder belt, engine oil cooler, and rear axle cooling scoop were installed to comply with the SCCA Road Race Production guidelines. The exhaust manifolds were also pulled and headers installed, and the carburetor was rejetted. Other than those minor modifications, the original engine was left basically stock. Hanley Dawson Chevrolet provided a '67 Chevy station wagon for towing duties, and the hood of the wagon was also painted to simulate the blue stinger hood on the Corvette.

The car's first race was at Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin. Tony won the race on the tight 0.09-mile circuit course. The second race of the season was at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. For that race, Tony's dad flew to the track with Hanley Dawson, and they arrived at the track during practice. Tony Sr. walked up to the pit counter just as Tony Jr. screamed by at 155 mph. Tony Sr. stepped back and said, "That kid is crazy." It would be two years before he attended another race. He and Tony's mom also watched Tony practice for the '69 Sebring 12 Hour race. By then, Tony's racing career had taken off, so his parents were slightly less nervous as spectators. While the car ran well, unfortunately, they broke the transmission at Elkhart Lake and were unable to finish.

In July, 1967, the car was raced at the Glen 500 in Watkins Glen, New York. During practice, Tony blew the original engine that came in his L88. Thankfully, he had purchased a spare L88 engine from GM and had stashed it in his garage about a month prior to the race. After the initial engine blew, one of the crew, Greg Obloy (Tony's college classmate and best friend) called his uncle Reg back in Detroit to arrange for him and a friend to pick up the badly needed spare engine. Uncle Reg showed up that evening after work, picked up the engine, drove all night to Watkins Glen, and Tony's crew was able to install the engine in time for the start of the race. Tony and his co-driver, Jerry Thompson, finished 10th overall.

Due to his successful season, Tony qualified for the SCCA runoffs in Daytona Beach. During the race year, Tony had moved the car's maintenance from the Hanley-Dawson dealership to his own garage, and then to a garage in Troy, Michigan, which he shared with Jerry Thompson's Corvair and a number of other race cars. There were several race teams in the Detroit area that also qualified for the runoffs, so all the teams rented a standard car carrier together, and all the cars were shipped to Daytona. At the Daytona runoffs, an early race melee eliminated some of the top 427 Cobras, including Ed Lowther and Hal Keck. Luckily, Tony avoided the wreck and finished Second to Dick Smith's 427 Cobra.

After Tony raced the car in 1967, Hanley Dawson agreed to sponsor a '68 L88. The first scheduled race was the '68 Daytona 24 Hour in early February. Jerry Thompson had worked with Don Yenko (racer and Chevrolet dealer from Canonsburg, Pennysylvania) to be part of the three-car Sunray DX Oil racing team. Two '68 L88 Corvettes would be driven by Tony and Jerry Thompson, and Don Yenko/Peter Revson. The third team car was the '67 L88 coupe driven by Dave Morgan and Jerry Grant. There wasn't enough time to order a car, so the decision was made to build one from service parts instead. Tony later said he wouldn't recommend doing that again, but despite the hassle, the team finished the car in time for the race. The '68 team cars broke almost every moving part except the engines. During the course of the 24-hour marathon, they ended up borrowing parts from the Jim Garner three-car Corvette team ran by Corvette ace Dick Guldstrand. The Morgan/Grant Corvette won the GT class and Tony/Jerry and Don/Peter were there for the famous three abreast finish photo.

Jerry Thompson drove Tony's '67 L88 in A-Production for two or three SCCA National races in 1968, and then the team switched the car to B-Production for the remainder of the year. Tony drove the new '68 for the remainder of the '68 season, and ended up winning the SCCA Central Division Championship. The team then traveled to Riverside, California, for the runoffs, sporting new sponsorship from Owens-Corning Fiberglas (Toledo, Ohio). Tony led the A-Production race by as much as 22 seconds before getting caught behind a slow car in a yellow-flag situation. He finished an agonizing Second in A-Production, 0.04 seconds behind Peter Consiglio's 427 Cobra. Jerry Thompson brought the team's '67 L88 home Second in B-Production.

The car continued to be raced throughout the years until basically nothing was left of the original L88 roadster. Over the years, the car has been restored at least three times, with one of the last restorations replicating the car's appearance when it ran in the SCCA Daytona runoff in 1967. This restoration was performed by Larry Bowman's Bowman Motors, LLC for the '03 Monterey Historic Races.

In fact, Larry Bowman asked Tony to drive the car for that race, and he gladly accepted the keys to his old L88 for one last time. Tony remarked on the experience, "I can't remember who won or how well I did ... but it was fun!"

Since the car has been restored, it has received Bloomington Gold honors, received Top Flight NCRS honors at multiple events, and has been featured as part of the Bloomington Gold Special Collection. The car currently belongs to Larry Bowman of Redwood City, California.

Editors Note: Thanks go to Tony DeLorenzo for taking the time to make sure this article on his L88 was correct. Without his help, this article could not have been written.

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