1986 Corvette Guldstrand GS80 - Re-Mastered

The story behind Alex Van Halen's 1986 Corvette Guldstrand GS80

Wayne Ellwood Nov 2, 2006 0 Comment(s)
Vemp_0609_01_z 1986_corvette_guldstrand_gs80 Side_view 2/6

This Guldstrand GS80, serial number 008, was originally built for rock drummer Alex Van Halen and is date stamped as having been completed on August 15, 1988. The car received quite a bit of press coverage when new, thanks to its famous owner, but there is much more to the vehicle than its celebrity parentage. Perhaps most important, it illustrates some of the running changes made to the GS80 series over the years. And, for anyone trying to extract a little extra performance from an L98 C4, the lessons of the past can still be quite instructive.

When Dick Guldstrand introduced the GS80 series in 1986, the car was targeted specifically at Pro-Solo and autocross enthusiasts. He knew all about the needs of these groups, as he was a longtime provider of performance upgrades for the C3 and a direct supporter of a small team of racers from the Western Council of Corvette Clubs. Up to this point, Dick had basically been a tuner. But with the introduction of the GS80, he was venturing into the realm of small-volume manufacturing-tricky territory in both the business and regulatory contexts.

The key element in selling a successful rebadged production car is having enough sales to make the vehicle a legitimate "series built" model. Some changes in the basic pattern can be tolerated, but deviate too much from the engineering concept, and it's possible to lose the economies of scale that result from producing a large quantity of specific parts and assemblies. With only 19 to 25 units built, it is questionable whether the GS80 project ever turned a profit, though a fairly common build pattern may have helped by keeping costs in check. In its day, the Guldstrand makeover cost $15,500 (with iron heads) over the price of a base Corvette.

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Effective suspension improvements were critical to the performance of the new C4. Despite being light-years ahead of the C3 design, the C4 had some inherent weaknesses. For example, it was susceptible to even the smallest of variations in suspension calibration. As little as 11/48 degree of camber or 11/432 of toe setting could make a noticeable difference.

Developed and refined over a two-year period, the Guldstrand GS-80 suspension package (hyphen added) proved an effective upgrade. Guldstrand lowered the car by 111/44 inches using longer rear spring bolts and revised spring rates in both the front and rear. The choice for the front was the stiffer Z51 spring, while the rear spring received a lower-than-stock rate.

In most cases, the GS-80 setup used roller-bearing bushings in the control arms. These have less resistance than conventional rubber or polyurethane bushings, resulting in a faster response from the suspension, with less "stiction." These bearings also give zero deflection-just like steel bushings, but without the attendant squeaks and ride harshness.

Poly bushings and Heim-joint end links were used to locate the sway bar, thus allowing it to work more freely. In the rear, all rubber bushings were replaced with Heim joints, and Guldstrand even added his own toe-steer and camber-control kits. Monroe Formula GP shocks were used to dial in the optimum jounce and rebound control. The preferred steering rack was the slower-rate, base-suspension variant.

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The end results of Guldstrand's suspension magic were reduced squat and dive along with better camber and toe control. The ride remained comfortable and maintained excellent compliance for street driving.

The engines for the GS80 cars were built by Jim Jones of TRACO, which was just next door to the Guldstrand facility in Culver City (see sidebar). Apart from a few unusual variants, there were three basic stages in the evolution of the powertrain.

The initial engine was based on a seasoned L98 block, which was blueprinted and overbored to 372 cubic inches. The bottom end comprised stock LT-1 pieces. It included a forged crank, "pink" connecting rods, and TRW 9:1 aluminum pistons (later engines used 10:1 pistons). An Engle cam was employed, and a choice of either iron or aluminum heads was offered.

The iron heads were from the L82 engine but used 2.02-inch intake and 1.65-inch exhaust valves. TRACO port-matched and "cc'd" these heads as part of the overall blueprinting process. When the aluminum Corvette heads came into production, TRACO upgraded them by performing a major port job and installing the larger valves from the iron version.

Other changes included intake runners that were siamesed and port-matched to the manifold. TRACO also built its own custom headers, which led to a 211/42-inch exhaust system. The cars were available in both manual and automatic versions, and each one came with an application-specific custom PROM. As a finishing touch, each owner's name was imprinted on the engine-stamp pad.




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