Once in a great while, an automobile manufacturer produces a car that is so fast, so powerful, so "bad" looking, that it very nature could be described in one word: evil. The 1963 Corvette Grand Sport is such a car.
The '63 Grand Sport was born of Zora Arkus-Duntov's yearning to beat Europe's endurance racing elite, at the ultimate endurance race-LeMans-with an all-American race car. With inferred approval from Chevrolet Division's then-chief, "Bunkie" Knudsen, work was begun on an ultra-lightweight version of the '63 Sting Ray, complete with its four-wheel independent suspension. The result was a tubular-framed racer with a 377 cubic-inch, all-aluminum small-block and an almost paper-thin but OE-appearing Sting Ray body shell that weighed in, race-ready, at a svelte 2,000 pounds.
The original plan was to unleash 125 of these monsters (the number necessary to "homologate" them) on the unsuspecting hordes of Cobras and Ferraris, vanquishing them in the name of a Manufacturer's Championship. Only five examples had been constructed when orders came down from the GM executive suites killing the program, and with it, all direct GM participation in racing. All five original Grand Sports survive to this day, are the highly coveted centerpieces of collections, and are each worth well in excess of a million dollars.
If your last name isn't Gates or Trump, and you're not a professional athlete or entertainer earning multi-millions per year, you're more likely to be struck by lightning-twice-than to own a '63 Grand Sport. For the rest of us, at least those with the desire but not the dineros, the only alternative is to build a replica GS. There are some Grand Sports "kit cars" on the market, but in the end, you still have a kit car, and some of them don't capture the correct lines and character of the original-making for a cheesy kit car at that.
Bill Guentzler of San Diego has quite a bit of experience with building cars, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Guentzler is in a professor of engineering at San Diego State University and also has a business, Motorsports International, which he operates with his wife, Marge, building aluminum-bodied replica Cobras from scratch for customers, using frames and bodies made to his specifications. While the faux Cobra business is great, Bill wanted another challenge. A project car was needed, but what? He found his answer one day in the late '80s at the Palm Springs Grand Prix, a vintage race event. There, he spotted one of the five original Grand Sports, chassis #3, which was then owned by Bob Patterson. With permission from the owner, he whipped out his camera and snapped off a ton of detail pictures. After the race, Bill researched the Grand Sports, and wanted to build one of his own. He wasn't satisfied with the looks or workmanship of the kits available, and decided that if he was going to do it, he was going to do it right. "The only way to capture the true spirit of the Grand Sport is to start off with a real Corvette," Bill said. So, he and Marge began to search for a suitable project car. Since this car wasn't going to be built for a customer, and he had plenty of business, they took their time.
The following year, Bill once again saw GS #3 at the Palm Springs Grand Prix, now owned by a gentleman named Tom Armstrong. They talked, and again, Bill snapped a few photographs. Shortly thereafter, Bill came across a '64 that had been damaged due to an engine fire. The hood was melted, as well as the firewall and a portion of the right front fender. However, the rest of the car was salvageable.
While the five original Grand Sports were '63s, Bill chose a '64 to avoid the arduous task of converting the split window into a single rear window. Working on the Vette in his spare time, Bill removed the body and traded the engine, trans, fuel tank, frame, and suspension to a friend, Gene Townsend, owner of Gene Townsend Autobody in exchange for parts, paint, and bodywork. He then found a totaled '87 Corvette and grafted the suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, and brakes (including all the ABS componentry) to a custom frame he'd made for the '64 body. The C4 suspension was modified with a set of Alden coilover shocks in lieu of the front and rear composite transverse leaf springs.
While the original Grand Sports were small-block powered, Bill wanted to add a little "excitement" (as if a GS isn't exciting enough!) to his car, so he built a vintage, date-coded L88. The rambunctious 12.5:1 Rat motor is fitted with genuine L88, parts including cylinder heads, intake manifold, and a 780-cfm Holley, plus a set of Comp Cams roller rockers, and a MSD 6AL ignition. They all work in harmony to produce an estimated 630 horsepower. The headers and exhaust system were custom fabricated by Bob Butler and ceramic-coated by Olympic Coatings. Power is routed through a Richmond Gear five-speed that was rebuilt by Bill and taken from a '78 Corvette he'd owned. The transfer of power travels through the '87 Corvette differential equipped with 3.55:1 gears before it finally hits the ground via a set of PS Engineering wheels made up like the original Halibrands. They measure 15x71/2 in the front and 15x91/2 at the rear, rolling on Goodyear Eagle ST tires measuring 235/60-15 in front and 275/60-15 in rear.
Bill had mixed feelings when it was time to move to the interior. While he wanted to keep it looking original, he didn't care much for the original style "marine vinyl" upholstery. "It looked too plain," Bill explains. So he employed the services of upholsterer Howard McKee. Armed with a bolt of vintage 1961 Jewel Blue Vinyl and matching fabric, Howard created a set of custom race seats, based on modified, aftermarket Cobra seats. The carpeting was supplied by AutoMat in OEM-like medium blue, while the gauges and dash kept the vintage Grand Sport look, right down to a '63 steering column and teak steering wheel. To add to the custom touches, Bill mounted a custom air conditioning unit in the trunk, and directs cold air through a vent that's disguised as an aluminum panel under the dash. The system is operated by hidden switches located under the dash. A Fuel Safe fuel cell also resides in the trunk, where the original tank used to be.
When the time came to get the body together, Bill put his engineering skill to use. Using the photographs, he painstakingly and faithfully reproduced every aspect of Grand Sport #3, right down to the roof lights and fuel tank vent. If it wasn't available, Bill fabricated it. He handled all of the "fab" work, while Doug Pratte of Gene Townsend Autobody (who else?) handled the rest of the bodywork. Each body panel was faithfully reproduced to look like a Grand Sport. The finished product was sprayed with a gorgeous shade of Bonzai Blue.
The project took 10 years to complete, since Guentzler and crew worked on it in their spare time. However, the finished product is so good looking, and faithful to the original-except for the big-block-that it could easily be mistaken for the genuine article. Would he build another one? Maybe, maybe not. With all of the one-of-a-kind, custom-fabricated parts, the cost of time and labor almost rival that of an original GS. Anyway, Bill didn't build the car to fool anyone, or to sell as a kit-he built it purely to show that he could. Point well taken.