Grand Sport. Nothing else needs to be said among anyone familiar with the Corvette hobby in order to conjure up images of legendary brute power and performance. When Chevrolet paid tribute to the original mid-year race cars with 1,000 Admiral Blue coupes and convertibles in 1996, they stirred up lots of sentiment and excitement. While the '96 Grand Sport was mostly a cosmetic package, the name and the concept inspired quite a passion with enthusiasts of all generations.
Denver's Dave Bell was one such person moved by the C4 Grand Sport. A fanatic for performance cars in general, and Corvettes in particular, Dave built his first car when he was only 14 years old. In June 1996, Dave decided that he needed a Grand Sport, but the pickings were slim by then. None of the remaining Grand Sports he looked at had satisfactory quality paint for his tastes. While Dave was checking out two G/S's at a local dealership-one a coupe and the other a roadster-he spotted a black '96 coupe with nearly flawless paint. After learning that it was equipped with the same ZF six-speed gearbox and 330hp LT4 powerplant as the Grand Sport, Dave began imagining the black coupe in G/S-style trim. "I decided right then to build my own Grand Sport!" says Dave, and the black coupe was instantly sold.
In the spring of 1997, the coupe went into the body shop at Purifoy Chevrolet in Fort Lupton, Colorado, where Matt Winholz added a Torch Red G/S center stripe and left-fender hash marks to complement the Torch Red and black interior. G/S rear fender flares, blacked-out 17 x 9.5 and 17 x 11-inch five-spoke wheels, and all the appropriate badges rounded out the Grand Sport cosmetics, but Dave didn't stop there. He added a Greenwood rear wing and hood louvers, as well as Phantom taillight louvers to accentuate the Vette's aggressive looks. He succeeded grandly. A week after leaving the shop, Dave and his brother Doug caravanned with fellow Looking Glass Corvette Association members to Billings, Montana, for the "Big Sky" meet. "Somewhere in Wyoming, the leader of our caravan came over the CB and said, 'Dave, that car looks like a huge black widow spider coming down the road.' The name stuck."
As soon as they returned from Montana, Dave and Doug began painting a giant spider on the underside of the hood. In addition to countless hours of work on designs and cutting out patterns, the black widow artwork took five coats of Cadillac Pearl Black and some Torch Red for the hourglass, Sebring Silver for the web, and five coats of high-temp clear. But, thanks to Doug's "airbrush artistry," the black widow was becoming a reality. Dave also had "Black Widow" hand-lettered on the roof pillars.
Beneath the large spider on the hood lays some equally impressive mechanical artwork. John Lingenfelter and L.P.E. worked over the LT4 with ported and polished LT4 intake and aluminum heads, which received 2.02/1.60 sodium-filled hollow stem valves, then port-matched the heads and manifold. The factory valve covers have chrome studs, and Dave hand-polished every aluminum line. A Granatelli MAF sensor plus an open lid, Smooth Air Induction by Racer's Edge with a K&N filter allows the motor to gulp more air, and Arizona Speed & Marine 60 lb/hr injectors pump in extra fuel. Spent gasses are expelled through a 3-inch stainless steel X-pipe and twin-tip straight pipes. A Hypertech Power Programmer Plus helps to manage engine performance. Dave has fortified the six-speed trans with a Centerforce Dual Friction clutch and a B&M Ripper shifter. The engine now makes 420 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque. With a 3.45:1 ring-and-pinion, the Black Widow runs the quarter in 13.31 seconds at 106.72 mph...at one-mile elevation! That would approximate high 11's at around 115 mph at sea level.
The Z51 Performance Suspension gets tested frequently in autocross and open track racing. The C4 looks and handles potently thanks to an upgrade to G/S-spec P285 and P315/40ZR17 tires. Although the Widow sees a lot of track time, its underside is highly detailed, including polished upper and lower wishbones and polished brake lines. In the cockpit, it is obvious that Dave holds true to the Grand Sport's competition heritage. Bell's G/S clone is fitted with a chrome-plated Arizona Speed & Marine rollbar, with a camcorder mount and two Halon fire extinguishers. RCI five-point harnesses keep the driver and passenger secured in their red leather seats. The dash includes a carbon fiber insert, and Dave has appropriately dressed the interior in G/S trim with black Grand Sport carpet mats and chromed G/S door sills.
This Corvette is not just some wanna-be Grand Sport. The Black Widow has received high accolades from enthusiasts and GM execs alike. It is the only non-G/S serial-numbered C4 to be accepted in the 1996 Grand Sport Registry, and Dave has taken home more than 30 show trophies-two thirds of which are Firsts. The Vette has been praised by such GM notables as David North (a retired chief designer), John Cafaro, Dave Hill, and Dr. Fred Gallasch (a former Corvette assistant brand manager). Each of them has signed Dave's Owner's Manual with their compliments.
Dr. Gallasch has even gone so far as to say that Dave's homebuilt '96 G/S may be more historically correct than the factory ones. All five of the original Grand Sport racers were built by Skunkwerkes, not Chevrolet, since Zora couldn't get support for a factory racing program. So suffice to say the Black Widow is a fraternal twin to the '96 Grand Sport. They're not identical twins-this one is definitely bad!