Think back several decades to 1966. It was a time of breathtaking contrasts: Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. made us laugh; Vietnam made us wince; the Monkees toured with Jimi Hendrix as their opening act; the Summer of Love was in full swing while race riots erupted in Atlanta, Chicago, Lansing, and Omaha. Through it all, we took to heart the Beatles No.1 hit, "We can work it out."
During this time period in a quiet, little town deep in the Florida interior, racers gathered next to Hendricks Field-a WW II-era airfield for training B-17 bomber crews, just outside of a town called Sebring-to continue one of the most respected racing traditions in America: the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Those attending the '66 Sebring event were witness to another contrast: the passing of the torch from the magnificent Grand Sport small-blocks to a new generation of big-cube superpower that would become known as the L88. The L88 was not quite ready for showrooms, but because of outings like this, it was race-proven before the public got its hands on it, which would ensure the L88 was ready to hit the ground running.
At Carlisle 2006, two thunder-and-lightning legends-the No. 001 Grand Sport and the '66 L88 development car-were reunited again, just like Sebring 1966.
'63 Grand Sport, Chassis No. 001
As the solid axle years were wrapping up and the Sting Ray era was dawning, Corvette intended to take things to a new level, but first it had to prove its new mettle in the showroom, on the street, and at the racetracks.
Talk about a tough neighborhood. Places like Sebring, Daytona, Nassau, and Watkins Glen were snake pits infested with venomous competitors such as Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati, and archrival Ford Cobra. It was a strong field full of accomplished athletes, and just about the worst possible place to be the new kid. It's said that to be the best, you have to beat the best. Corvette had its work cut out for it.
When the '63 Z06 cars proved too heavy and hard on their brakes to knock off the front-runners, Chevrolet's inner sanctum had Plan B already in progress. It was the most radical Corvette to date. The new car, known as the Grand Sport, went on a crash diet-nearly every part normally constructed of steel or iron was built of aluminum: door hinges, door mechanisms, body brackets and members, windshield washer/wiper systems, steering box, differential housing, brake calipers, and the list goes on.
Bodies were built in the basic shape of the Corvette coupe, but the fiberglass process was changed to greatly reduce weight. The Grand Sport fiberglass had a different texture because normal production layers were omitted, and its thickness was also reduced, making the body basically a thin shell. Headlights were fixed to reduce the bracketry and covered by clear plastic covers.
Because the rest of the car now weighed far less, normal steel parts could also be lightened for the reduced load. The frame (which was tubular instead of conventional steel), suspension control arms, spindles, and rear suspension were all lightened through revised castings or by drilling holes in the regular parts.
Originally, the Grand Sport ran with a modified fuel-injected 327, though a much more aggressive 377ci engine with Weber side-draft carbs was in the works.