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1969 Chevrolet Corvette L88 - Speed Racer

Legendary Motorcar's '69 L88 Replica Is A Star On The Screen And Track

Wayne Ellwood Jun 1, 2006
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Background You're probably familiar with the Dream Car Garage series on the SPEED channel. If you are, you'll also be familiar with Peter Klutt, of the Legendary Motorcar Company, and his TV sidekick, Tom Hnatiw. But there are plenty of stories you might not know. One is the tale of how Peter created Legendary. Another is the story behind one of the company's more important projects: the '69 Corvette L88 replica historic racer.

Peter says he started fixing cars when he was quite young. His father was a welder and taught Peter this skill first. At age 15, he bought his first car, a Mustang Mach 1, and fixed it up for resale. This was followed by a Shelby, then a Corvette, and many others. Somewhere along the line, Peter came to the realization that his onetime hobby had developed into a legitimate vocation. So, when he finished school, he decided to open a shop and go into business in earnest.

The first shop he leased was a small, 2,000-square-foot facility in an industrial park. It was replaced a few years later with a 12,000-square-foot-facility, which was in turn superseded by the current Legendary Motorcar headquarters, situated on 20 acres in Ontario's Halton Hills area. At first, this location seemed as if it were miles from anywhere, but in only a few years Toronto's urban sprawl began to close in. Fortunately, this population growth brought new customers. Just last year, Legendary added a race-car-specific shop, and further expansion is ongoing. Total shop-and-office area is now more than 50,000 square feet, and there are specific staffers dedicated to everything from researching vehicle specifications for classics to designing chassis for race cars. The range of cars being prepared in the shops covers everything from NCRS-correct restorations to street cars that combine a period look with modern technology. There's even a staff group dedicated to the television show.

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Peter's jump from the restoration business to the small screen was, as he describes it, a bit of a fluke. The producers of Dream Car Garage approached him about doing a one-minute segment on "pro" buying tips. That went well, and when the show's original two hosts left the show, Peter was asked if he would team with Tom Hnatiw as their replacements. Eventually, Peter and Tom ended up buying the show.

Naturally, the show has proven to be an excellent complement to the business. Since everything is done in-house and in support of real clients, the shows have an air of authenticity. And because the cars being featured are truly collectible, the restoration process has to be done properly, with none of the shortcuts used on most other automotive programs

The Car Before we address how the L88 historic-racer project originated, we'll take a look at historic racing in general. These series have experienced a rebirth of interest in recent years, thanks to the enduring fan appeal of the old production-based categories such as Trans-Am.

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The types of historic racing vary by sanctioning body. Starting with the Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) group, the rules are fairly open. In HSR, cars do not require original race provenance, and many show up with modern engine and driveline upgrades that were never dreamed of in the early days.

The Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) is considerably tighter in its regulations, with only specific modifications being allowed. Provenance is recognized in the classification system, but it is not an absolute necessity. The rules in Peter's group favor a car that has strong provenance and is presented in period-correct configuration. Peter chose SVRA because the racing is typically gentlemanly, and, while safety upgrades are strongly promoted, the main objective is to create a set of simple, enforceable rules that promote the "presentational" aspects of the cars. Even so, the cars can go like stink. Despite being limited to specified tire types, the enthusiasm of the owners is limited only by their ability to finance period-correct performance parts.

When talking about the car, Peter's first inclination is to count up the time that went into its creation. The L88 we saw on SPEED took more than 2,300 hours to build, but the results spoke for themselves: a 2:04 time at Watkins Glen-a track record for a Group 6 car. Peter recorded the fastest lap in every session, took the pole for the various races, and recorded both a win in the pre-final and an overall win in the feature race.

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In its first race appearance-at the Watkins Glen 2005 Labor Day historics-the car proved the class of the field.

The L88 replica Corvette was built from a '69 Corvette that had burned. Once the donor car was stripped down, the frame was cleaned and placed on the surface plate. Everything was squared, and the centerline was established. Peter didn't say much about the other techniques used to strengthen the frame, but we assume his chassis expert has read the Chevy Power book at least once. (The book is now out of print, but in its day it was the definitive reference for modifying a C3 Corvette for the track.) Peter's chassis man has also been working on road and race cars for more than 30 years, so he's seen it all and even made up some of his own inventions.

The rollcage was made of 1.75-inch chrome-moly steel, which is stronger and lighter than regular steel tube. In fact, almost everything on the car was designed with weight reduction in mind. By the time it was finished, the car was 400 pounds under its prescribed weight limit, and the team was free to place lead weights wherever necessary to achieve a 50-50 front-to-rear and side-to-side balance. Talk about attention to detail-they even made special molds that would allow the weights to be put into the recesses that would achieve the best weight distribution.

Two important factors in getting a race car to handle properly are ride height and roll center. The lower the roll center, the better. Ride height should be as low as possible without bottoming out. In this case, ride height was going to be 1.5 to 2 inches lower than stock (measured at the frame). The critical factor was the headers. Back in the day, GM used OK Kustom side pipes, but custom manufacturing is usually required these days. To avoid running the headers under the framerail, Peter's group fabricated special one-off headers that go over the top instead. Like magic, the primary technical restriction to lowering was overcome.

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The mock-up for the L88 engine includes a ZL1 aluminum block, cast-iron oval-port heads, and a Tex Racing SR1 transmission.

Achieving the targeted ride height and roll center also required exacting attention to detail. Setting up the front control arms provided an example of how difficult it was to meet the full equation. Every set of lower-control-arm shafts the team located was bent. Since new parts weren't available, they had to machine their own parts from 4140 chrome-moly. Naturally, everything was blueprinted to ensure accuracy. The Legendary crew also machined its own center links and idler arms. Bumpsteer and toe change are strictly controlled, and the camber curve is predictable.

The rear spring also had its share of attention. Legendary had three distinct units fabricated in order to provide different spring rates for various tracks. They were disassembled once they were received. The metal was polished, and the edges were rounded to eliminate the hysteresis that's common to the stock spring. By avoiding any binding between the leaf sections-and the attendant sudden release-the whole compression-expansion process is smoothed out. Now the transitions are clean, and the car doesn't step out.

Ohlins shocks were also specially designed for the car. Legendary sent the company a full set of operational parameters, including vehicle weight and intended use. The shocks were critical to controlling the massive toe change that can result from the relatively short rear control arms. The correct shocks can control these movements and greatly improve handling. The first shocks were initially tested at the Watkins Glen event, then sent back for further updates. Once these were dialed in, the problems inherent to the C3 Corvette's suspension design were fairly well controlled.

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Although construction was completed only a few years ago, the Legendary Motorcar Company's corporate headquarters have already been updated with a new race shop and additional offices.

The brakes are Corvette "HD" pieces, friction material is race-quality, and the tires are period-correct bias-ply. Peter has two sets of 15-inch wheels-in Torq-Thrust D and Minilite patterns-both of which were sourced from Phil Schmidt at PS Engineering. Unfortunately, available brake upgrades are severely restricted by the SVRA rulebook. With a Traqmate-confirmed top speed of 166 mph at the Glen, even a twin-pin J56 caliper setup can be a weak link.

When you're building a car from the ground up, you have an advantage that doesn't occur when you simply buy a running car and add to it various race-spec pieces. Specifically, the whole interior can be designed to maximize driver comfort and safety. In fact, Legendary fabricated all of its own pieces-the dash, brackets, pedal assembly, seats, and so on.

At this point, transmission selection became important. By choosing a Tex Racing SR1 unit, the seat-and, more important, driver weight-could be moved 4 inches closer to the center line. The top-loading transmission not only saves valuable space, but it also permits a larger side-crush zone. The drawback? This new-generation trans comes at a cost of about $8,500, and exacts a 150-pound weight penalty. Still, these custom-built pieces permit the best alignment of seat, steering wheel, transmission, and pedals so as to ensure driver comfort. In the long run, this is really the critical factor.

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Active Engines in Mississauga, Ontario, built the engine. Many of the engine details are proprietary, but the brand names Comp Cams, Air Flow Research, Diamond Pistons, Peterson Fluid Systems, Tilton, and Fuel Safe are all clearly visible on the car. Photos provided by Legendary show the mockup engine and transmission, using a ZL1 block with cast-iron oval-port heads and a triple-disc hydraulic clutch. The radiator comes from CNR, while American Custom Industries built the Vette's one-piece front and rear clips. Smoothline Manufacturing crafted the lightweight removable hardtops, and the headlight buckets and covers are from F. Gregg Racing.

The car made its debut on Labor Day 2005 at the Watkins Glen historic races. As you may have seen on TV, the car was perfectly dialed in, and Peter simply ran away from the pack. Plans are for more historic racing in the future.

As we mentioned earlier, there is at least one other order on the books for a car of this style and specification. Another customer is talking seriously about a similar car, and two or three others are making initial inquiries. To us, Legendary's L88 racer sounds a lot like a "series-built" car. To Peter, it just sounds like good business. And for the historic-racing community, it looks as if the wick has just been turned up a notch.

You can visit the Legendary Motorcar Company Ltd. at www.legendarymotorcar.com.

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