1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport - The Spittin' Image

This Grand Sport replica is as close as it gets to the real deal

Paul Zazarine Mar 30, 2007 0 Comment(s)
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We live in an age of imitation, where the line between genuine and duplication has become badly blurred. In the Corvette hobby, some sellers will freely admit they've altered a car's provenance to increase value. A more desirable engine, a hotter color, and a slew of value-adding options can make the most mundane Corvette an attractive commodity in the marketplace.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, and this replica of a '63 Grand Sport is one of them. Patterned after the No. 5 GS owned by Bill Tower, this reproduction incorporates details taken directly from the original.

The history behind the Grand Sport reveals a fascinating yet frustrating time within the Corvette engineering department. As the '50s wound down, the Corvette continued to evolve into a legitimate sports car. Chevrolet engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov had almost single-handedly saved the Corvette from extinction in 1955 when sales were at their lowest. His determination to exceed 150 mph on the sand at Daytona during the 1956 Speedweeks brought more-powerful engines, heavy-duty suspensions, and manual transmissions, all of which helped legitimize the Corvette in the eyes of the sports-car fraternity.

What stymied Duntov in his quest to maximize the Corvette's racing potential was the car's weight. While he could overcome some of that with horsepower, doing so only overloaded the brakes, which were at best barely adequate for street use.

Seeing this, Duntov began a crash program to develop a purpose-built Corvette racer that could compete with lighter cars such as the new Shelby Cobra. Duntov envisioned a Vette with a lightweight frame and body panels, four-wheel disc brakes, and a highly tuned V-8 engine. The plan called for total production of 125 cars to meet the necessary homologation requirements, and all would be sold to private racing teams to skirt GM's ban on racing.

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Five prototypes were built. All were constructed of aluminum birdcage frames and made extensive use of lightweight components, including magnesium wheels and super-thin fiberglass front and rear body clips. The engines displaced 377 cubic inches. While the brakes continued to be a problem, initial testing indicated the Grand Sports would be more than competitive on the track.

The only way the Grand Sports could lose was if GM management pulled the plug on the project, which they did in January 1963. All GM divisions were banned from any form of competitive racing, as well as from designing or engineering any racing cars or components.

Duntov covertly sent out some of the cars to be raced by privateers, then returned to the factory for further development. Believing the GM ban would not last long, he continued to refine the five cars. Dressed to look like a privately entered production Corvette, Grand Sport No. 4 captured a win at the SCCA Nationals at Watkins Glen in August 1963. The car came back to Chevrolet two months later. The lessons learned from racing were reflected in modifications that included slots and vents in the body panels to improve brake cooling. Larger, 9.5-inch wheels and bigger tires were also installed. The most significant improvement, however, was a new engine that utilized four 58mm Weber carbs mounted on a unique cross-ram intake and produced in excess of 485 hp.

Later that year, a contingent of Grand Sports and "vacationing" Corvette engineers converged on Nassau for the December Speed Week events. The three Vettes-Nos. 3, 4, and 5-pounded the Cobras, finishing Third, Fourth, and Sixth.

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As Duntov was modifying Nos. 1 and 2 for Daytona by removing their tops, GM management got wind of what was going on and again clamped down on the Grand Sport program. The cars were ordered destroyed but were instead spirited out by Chevrolet insiders and sold to private racing teams. While the Grand Sports continued to make irregular appearances at racing events, the lack of factory support soon rendered them obsolete and noncompetitive.

That didn't end the Grand Sport story, however, or diminish the car's legend. Many Corvette lovers were fascinated with the engineering and the history of these powerful race cars. One of those fans was Gary Hunt, of Naples, Florida. While he couldn't buy an original, Gary, who builds and restores collector cars and hot rods, was more than capable of creating a replica.

"The project got started when I was in the hospital having open-heart surgery," Gary says, "and a good friend of mine called to tell me that Grand Sport No. 5 was in Naples at a friend's shop for some work." As soon as he got out of the hospital, Gary went to look at the car. "I got to sit in it, take extensive pictures and measurements, and that's what started it all."

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