For many Corvette owners, their first experience with "America's Only True Sports Car"-or, at least the one that made a lasting impression on them-was an electronic one. In the early '60s, it was via CBS-TV and the drama Route 66 on Friday nights. In the late '90s, it was via a top-selling game for a state-of-the-art video game system.
That's how Andrew Mancuso Jr. first saw the distinctive colors of the '96 Corvette Grand Sport. "When Gran Turismo came out on PlayStation, that was one of the cars on the game," he says from his West Babylon, New York, home. "Then I read up on it and found out how rare they actually are."
As a last hurrah for the fourth-generation Corvette, the Grand Sport package (RPO Z16) was limited to 1,000 '96 Corvettes. Each of the 810 coupes and 190 convertibles had the same Admiral Blue/Arctic White color scheme and distinctive red hash marks on the front fender. All Grand Sports were equipped with black-painted 17-inch five-spoke wheels with Goodyear Eagle tires and special red-with-silver-lettering brake calipers. Rear fender flares were added to the coupes to cover their big (P315/35ZR17) rear tires. Inside, they all got perforated-leather sport seats with "Grand Sport" lettering on the headrests to match the "Grand Sport" badges on the outside.
Under the distinctive color scheme was the all-new 5.7 liter LT4 small-block V-8. It had higher compression (10.8:1) than the preceding LT1, plus upgrades like newly designed aluminum cylinder heads, roller rockers, and a new camshaft profile. All of these improvements worked in concert to bump the LT4's horsepower rating to 330. Also under the hood was a new throttle body with red "Grand Sport" lettering on it, which appeared on every Corvette that year, regardless of model. Even base-level, LT1/automatic cars got it. Plus, all '96 Corvettes (and every other '96 model car and truck) had the new OBD-II onboard diagnostics system.
Making its only appearance on C4 Corvettes in '96 was RPO F45, Selective Real-Time Damping. Replacing the previous RPO FX3 Selective Ride/Handling option, F45 used four shock absorbers that were adjusted continually-via the car's PCM-thanks to information supplied by wheel sensors. The result was a set of shocks that adjusted themselves to changing road conditions about every 10-15 milliseconds, or about every foot the car traveled at 60 mph.
The C4 Grand Sport you see here was built with Z16 black seats and the F45 suspension option (one of just 206 Grand Sport coupes equipped that way), but that wasn't necessarily what Andrew was looking for when he went Corvette shopping in 2001. "I was looking for just any Vette at the time," he recalls. "A friend of mine said that a guy down the block from him had a Corvette Grand Sport that he was looking to sell. When I went to go see it, I fell in love with it, and I knew that I couldn't resist it."
It turned out that guy was the Grand Sport's original owner, and he hadn't put too many miles on it in the six years he owned it. Before long, the deal was made, and Andrew became its second owner. He still has the car today.
The odometer reads just over 18,200 miles, and the car is in original, unmodified condition. Andrew intends to keep it that way. As he puts it, "I left it stock. I have never touched or altered it in any way. I don't want to disturb the perfection." That means, aside from trips to Vette shows and nearby cruise nights, this C4 stays close to home.
Need we ask what it's like to drive? "It's fun!" says Andrew without hesitation. "It's really a fun car to drive. The way it handles is incredible. I've never had a car handle the way that one does." He adds that it's a car to see and be seen in. "Everybody looks at you, and not everybody knows about it," he adds. "A lot of them think that I painted the car that way."
Regardless of whether or not you're looking for a rare Corvette, Andrew lists two things that will come in handy when you go looking for your first-or next-Corvette. "Patience and luck, without a doubt." He says. "I was patient when I was looking. I did see a couple of Corvettes in that year-range ('95-'96) with that coupe body style, and I knew that I liked that body style. I was just in the right place at the right time."