Long time Vette contributor Dave Walters (Q&A) has owned, repaired, restored, raced, driven, and judged countless Corvettes since his love affair with Chevy's flagship sports car began more than 30 years ago. Like most Corvette enthusiasts he has developed a particular passion for rare, high-performance models and for unrestored, original specimens. He calls especially sweet examples of either-cars that have not been butchered, cobbled together from cast away junk, or misrepresented as something they never were-"The Truth."
Dave's collection includes a number of super-nice Corvettes, each of which is, of course, the truth. While each of those cars has a story to tell, and is special in its own way, this Ermine White '67 coupe is undoubtedly the most special, hence the most truthful of all. That's because it was originally built with option L88, which found its way into only 20 '67 Corvettes. The surviving members of that elite group, including Dave's documented coupe, are in effect the holy grails of Corvette collecting.
What exactly is the L88 option and why is it so desirable to collectors? In short, RPO L88 is the option code Chevrolet chose to designate a package of ultra high-performance components that transformed an otherwise ordinary Corvette into an absolutely ferocious production class road race machine.
The heart of the package was the engine, a potent 427 that produced well in excess of 500 horsepower. It was built around the same four bolt main cast iron block used with the L71 427/435, but that's where the similarities ended. For starters, L88s got a special forged crankshaft that was cross-drilled for better oiling and Tuftrided to improve surface hardening.
Forged aluminum pistons topped with massive power domes were linked to the crank via forged steel connecting rods. At their small ends the rods wore full floating piston pins, while at the big ends more durable Moraine 400 bearings took advantage of the harder crank surface.
The camshaft used solid lifters to eliminate valve float at very high rpm. The cam's specifications more closely resembled a race unit than anything Chevy had ever sold for street.
The valves were as large as possible given combustion chamber design; the intakes measured 2.19 inches and 1.88 inches on the exhaust side. The valves were made from steel, but the cylinder heads they rode in were cast at Winters Foundry from aluminum alloy. This dramatically reduced weight, slicing more than 60 pounds off the normally too heavy nose of a big-block car.
An aluminum intake manifold with rectangular shaped ports matched the identically shaped induction ports in the heads. The intake was essentially the same as was found on '66 L72 427/425-horse engines with one notable exception-when destined for an L88 the intake plenum was cut out. By removing this divider beneath where the carburetor sat engineers gave up some low speed driveability but gained slightly better high rpm performance.
The carb was a Holley unit, set up to move 830 cfm of air. Again, it was very similar to the one utilized on the previous year's L72 engine with one major difference-on L88s the carb did not include a choke mechanism. Though this made cold starts something of a chore, it was entirely in keeping with the fact that the L88 was never intended for daily driving chores.
Crowning the magnificent powerplant was a totally unique air cleaner arrangement. The air filter itself was actually retained in a fiberglass housing bonded to the underside of the hood. It mated with a steel base fastened to the carburetor. Relatively cool, clean air was ingested by the hood through openings cut into its rear at the high pressure area beneath the windshield cowl. The outside air was then channeled through a fiberglass tunnel integral to the hood, passed through the air cleaner element, and sent into the carb.
Ignition was via Delco's reliable and effective transistor system, an option on other engines, but mandatory with the L88. The L88's distributor was tailored for high rpm usage and, unlike other transistor units, did not use a functional vacuum advance. Also unique to the L88 were its ignition wires, which were molded with a special heat resistant rubber compound.
In addition to transistor ignition, a number of other high performance options were mandatory with the L88. These included an M22 "rock crusher" transmission, so nicknamed because its more upright gear tooth angle made it especially noisy, while at the same time making it stronger. Completing the drivetrain was a G81 Positraction limited slip differential, available in ratios ranging from 3.08:1 to 4.56:1. Even lower and higher ratios were also available as special order items. In keeping with the L88's nature another mandated option was the F41 heavy-duty suspension. Included in the suspension package was a thicker front antiroll bar, stiffer front and rear springs, and specially valved shock absorbers all around.
All L88s were built with J50 power assist brakes, a fact that surprises some people. Why put something that adds weight and was only a luxury that racers really didn't need? The answer is simple. L88 Corvettes were also required to have RPO J56, a heavy-duty brake package consisting of special dual-pin front calipers, special heat insulators on all caliper pistons, a proportioning valve mounted beneath the master cylinder, and metallic brake pads. While the metallic lined pads were highly wear resistant, they only functioned properly when quite hot. When cold they hardly were able to stop, and thus made power assist absolutely mandatory.
As important as what was required with the L88 package was the list of equipment that could not be had with it. Luxury items like air conditioning and a radio were forbidden, and normal equipment such as the heater/defroster system and even the engine fan shroud were deleted.
According to an article that appeared in volume 10, number 3 of Corvette News, prohibition of luxury appointments and deletion of certain normally standard components was done to "cut down on weight and discourage the car's use on the street."
To further discourage its use on the street, a warning sticker placed inside the car pointed out that the radically cammed, high-compression engine required fuel with a research octane number of at least 103. Even back in the good old days fuel of this quality was difficult to find and expensive when it could be had.
And for those few who still might be tempted to buy an L88 Corvette for highway use, Chevrolet added a couple more impediments. The first was price. The engine alone added $947.90 to the bottom line in 1967. When other mandatory options were added in the price of the base car was increased by nearly 50 percent! If all else failed, the final deterrent was the L88's advertised power rating. It was quoted at 430 horsepower, five less than the L71 427 that cost less than half as much. Why would any speed-seeking buyer in his right mind pay more than twice as much for an engine that made fewer ponies?
The answer of course is that he wouldn't, but did the L88 really make less power than the L71?
The quoted output of 430 horsepower was measured at 4,600 rpm, well below the engine's peak. Also, L88s were delivered with the same cast iron exhaust manifolds and full exhaust systems as every other big-block. While this configuration was fine for other engines, it utterly strangled the L88. Given its cam profile, port configuration, and other internal design parameters, the L88 craved an unrestricted exhaust path and without it output really did peak in the area of 430 horsepower.
What the advertising literature failed to mention however, was that with the addition of tuned headers and straight through pipes horsepower jumped dramatically. Running on pure racing fuel through open exhausts, and tuned to the razor's edge, the L88 could realize its true potential-nearly 600 horsepower!
Like nearly all of the L88s built in 1967, Dave's coupe saw more than its fair share of action on the race track. A man named David Zeigler bought it new in Washington D.C. from Curtis Chevrolet on October 13, 1967. He occasionally drove it on the street but mostly used it for drag racing.
Nicknamed: "The Flying Dutchman,"
Zeigler's Corvette was well known at numerous tracks in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where it consistently turned low 11-second quarter miles in the 125 mph range.
Late in 1968 Zeigler sold the L88 to a Pittsburgh resident and it remained in the Pittsburgh area until Walters bought it in 1979. At the time Dave acquired it the car had traveled a total of only 4,766 miles, but they were hard miles indeed. The original interior was nearly perfect, but everything else needed restoration.
With help from numerous friends, Dave completed the car's restoration in early 1992. In deference to its early history he decided to return it to its initial drag race configuration rather than its stock appearance. Period modifications include Stahl headers, a Hurst shifter, and American Racing mag wheels.
In consideration of its rarity and value, The Flying Dutchman is very well cared for these days, but that doesn't mean climate controlled storage and a luxurious car trailer. Dave exercises his awesome L88 regularly, and even drove it from Miami to Bloomington, Illinois, in June 1992 for display in the Special Collection. That adventure entailed driving a total of 1,365 miles!
Dave also occasionally nostalgia drag races the old warrior, turning a personal best of 11.856 seconds at 120.64 mph at Moroso Motorsports Park.
Dave has spoken with first owner Zeigler about his experiences with the Corvette on several occasions and can confirm from first hand experience that the passage of time and a comprehensive restoration have done little to change the L88's personality. Through it all, the car is still recalcitrant in traffic, unruly on the highway, and an absolute ferocious beast on the dragstrip.