When it comes to driving and developing high-performance vehicles, the international achievements, accolades, and reputation of Dick Guldstrand make it impossible to place him anywhere but at the very top. -National Corvette Museum (1999)
Earning the title of "Mr. Corvette" takes more than just a lot of hard work. It takes 20 years of championship victories and a 40-plus-year commitment to the hobby. For Dick Guldstrand, it began in the early days of the C2 era, when he drove a '63 Corvette to three Pacific Coast Championships, including the Southern Pacific A/P Championship. He followed that up with a First Place in the GT Class at the '66 Daytona 24-hour race and a GT track record at Le Mans in '67. He was also Roger Penske's first professional driver, piloting Penske's Corvette Grand Sport at Sebring in 1966 and 1967.
In the '70s, Guldstrand shifted his focus to building race cars out of his shop in Culver City, an area of Los Angeles that race car drivers called "Thunder Alley." He also raced in NASCAR, Trans-Am, and Pan Am competitions.
Fast forward to 1985 when Guldstrand returned to Corvette racing and set new track records at both the Mid Ohio 24-hour and Willow Springs 12-hour Playboy-series events. The following year, he developed the Guldstrand '86 Vette, which went on to sweep the SCCA National Solo Championships. Shortly thereafter, he partnered with longtime friend Jim Jones and Traco Engineering, also of Culver City, to develop a tuner Corvette for the public. It was called the Grand Sport 80.
For a fee of $14,750, in addition to the price of a base Corvette, a speed aficionado could order a 372ci Chevy small-block outfitted with a forged crank, Carrillo rods, JE pistons, highly modified aluminum heads, and other upgrades. (Less comprehensive engine-upgrade packages were also available.) Other options included everything from ZR-1-spec brakes to competition seatbelts and even a roll cage. The project gave Guldstrand the opportunity to overcome the factory limitations of the C4 and offer moderately deep-pocketed devotees the speed and performance they desired.
"The Grand Sport 80 is truly a world class automobile, and why not?" proclaimed the original promotional brochure. "Dick Guldstrand has an impressive record of accomplishments, which cover a span of over 30 years, and Traco Engineering has been building high-performance racing Bow Tie engines since the early '60s. All of these years of experience culminate in the Grand Sport 80."
Now, more than 20 years after its introduction, the GS80 is a Corvette classic that can hold its own against a C6 on the track. VETTE was offered an exclusive look at two of these tuner terrors--one that has remained in Guldstrand's private collection since its retirement from racing, and another one that he recently restored to mostly original specs.
Craig Hurst, Guldstrand Motorsports' marketing and parts manager, filled us in on the story behind the first car. "The ['88] GS80 No. 9 is our in-house car. It was built for Bridgestone to high-speed-test its tires at Talladega, where, incidentally, it set a closed-course speed record that held for years. The car had been underneath a cover in the back of the shop and had not seen the streets of Los Angeles for over three years.
"Once I proved my worthiness to Guldstrand, he decided to let me bring it back to life. One can see the GS80 out in front of the shop any day, with the Guldstrand Motorsports banners on the front and rear windows. And if you hang around till I lock up, the sound of the motor is very distinct, from the first crank of the solid lifters to the awesome exhaust note. Believe me, I've heard some cool-sounding cars, but the GS80s have a really outrageous growl."
The tale of the '87 GS80 No. 4 is another matter, one tinged with shades of America's Most Wanted. Current owner Andrew Willauer explains: "The car was originally built by Guldstrand for a Canadian citizen. A subsequent owner worked for a boat line that ran to Nantucket, Massachusetts. We talked about the Corvette many times, and I offered to buy it when he was ready to sell. One day, I got a call from his wife. She had to sell the car because her furnace was broken, and her husband had been thrown in jail for bringing a truckload of drugs into the U.S. from Canada. I called my son, and we rented a car transporter, drove up, paid for the car, and trailered it home.