The heyday of "big-bore" production-based sports car racing was a period between the late '50s and the early '70s. These glorious cars were loud, obnoxious, and incredibly fast. Nearly every weekend, fans in some part of the country went wild over the intense competition between Corvettes and Cobras, and a few high-priced European cars like the E-type Jaguar. The various manufacturers battled, sometimes openly and sometimes surreptitiously, over who owned the track.
But what happened to these old racers over the years? Many cars didn't survive the intense competition, being destroyed in multi-car pile-ups or an unfortunate solo encounter with a wall. A few may have been converted for street duty, others were handed down and modified to meet ever-changing class rules until they were too obsolete to be competitive in any venue, and a fortunate handful ended up forgotten in a barn or garage, only to be rediscovered years later.
This 1966 Chevy Corvette roadster, which is now on its eighth owner, has been raced since it was brand new. It was originally ordered in November 1965 by one Lynn Butler, through Gordon Wilson Chevrolet in Salt Lake City. The order sheet specified an L72 427/425 big-block, a M22 "Rock Crusher" four-speed, heavy-duty ignition, heavy-duty suspension, heavy-duty power disc brakes, and Silver Pearl paint.
Immediately upon delivery, it was shipped to Bruno's Corvette Repair in Studio City, California, where all street equipment was removed and replaced with racing gear like a rollbar, 3-inch lap belts and SCCA-approved safety harnesses, and racing shocks. The original front clip was cut off in the center of the front wheelwells, and a lightweight replacement was grafted on. A scattershield replaced the stock bellhousing, and the engine was sent to famed racing engine builder Traco for a full blueprinting. The finished racer, nicknamed "Leonard," was returned to Gordon Wilson Chevrolet, joining two other Sting Rays as the "In Team" under the dealer's sponsorship. Shortly thereafter, all three were painted white with matching paint schemes, and "Leonard" was assigned #14 to compete in SCCA's A-Production class.
Lynn Butler only competed in regional events, but was considered a threat to the national competitors as he made his mark in A-Production competition. Butler was a 25-year-old rookie race driver, but possessed an innate, natural skill at manhandling the potent Sting Ray around road courses in the region. "Butler...guided the sleek Corvette around the blacktop like a tested veteran," a Salt Lake City Tribune sports writer wrote at that time. Butler campaigned the Vette until 1970, when he sold it in favor of a newer and more competitive Corvette.
The car changed hands three times over the next 10 years, but its racing record during that period is a little foggy. In 1980, "Leonard" was purchased by Mark Kiesel, who extensively reworked it to compete in SOLO II events by adding huge fender flares to accommodate 10-inch-wide rubber in front and 11-inchers in the rear. The stripped, stock interior was replaced by polished aluminum panels and a fiberglass racing seat. The obsolete single-hoop rollbar was replaced with a full cage and five-point harness. At some point in the prior decade, the original big-block had disappeared, so Kiesel fitted a 500-plus-hp 355ci small-block in its place. The car was finished off with a silver and blue paint scheme and a ridiculous (though appropriate for the era) set of shark teeth in the grill opening, apparently to go with the car's bad attitude. Mark successfully competed in SOLO II events until 1987, when he passed it along to its sixth owner.