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.
"We contacted Guldstrand and asked if he would 'refresh' the car. He was very receptive to the project. We went with his recommendations, and the car is now virtually identical to the way he built it 20 years ago. The only differences are the upgraded rims and tires and a rollbar that was part of the original upgrade but never installed on this car."
To be sure, the true stories behind these two surviving GS80s make for exciting reading, but we want to know more. Specifically, how were these rare GS80s engines built? How was their suspension designed? And, most important, how did they perform?
According to Hurst, Traco Engineering began with a Chevrolet HD Bow Tie block, which the company's techs bored to 4.125 inches. A 3.48-stroke, forged-steel GM crank; Carrillo rods; and JE pistons brought displacement to the prescribed 372 cubes.
Next up were a pair of extensively ported GM aluminum heads. Hurst explained that the Traco-performed cylinder-head modifications were state-of-the-art for the time. "The heads underwent some 50 hours of shop work. The valve-seat work was done on a Serdi 100 valve-seat-prep machine. The valve guides were overbored and fitted with K-Line bronze inserts. The heads were machined to unshroud the combustion chamber, then valve seats were cut for larger intake and exhaust valves. The intake and exhaust ports were substantially enlarged and polished, and the valve pockets were worked on. The intakes were enlarged from 165cc to 180cc. The final modification was a top-secret Traco multi-angle valve job. A before/after dyno test with the valve job on stock heads yielded a 15hp gain; fully modified heads produced a 45hp gain over stock. Together, the head/block combo boasted a 125hp gain over the stock L98 engine configuration."
Additional engine mods included 1.6-ratio rocker arms compressing dual springs and actuating the Ferrea 2.02/1.65-inch steel valves. An Engle solid-lifter camshaft boasted 231/231-degree duration, 0.480/0.480-inch lift, and a 112-degree lobe-separation angle-relatively modest by today's standards, but significantly rowdier than the factory L98 stick. Fuel was fed from a GM heavy-duty pump to 28-lb/hr injectors, while a TPIS 52mm throttle body gulped air into a port-matched L98 intake manifold with siamesed runners.
All GS80s were further upgraded with Traco 1 3/4-inch headers; the No. 9 car also received Random Tech high-flow cats and a 2 1/2-inch Flowmaster exhaust system as part of its rebuild. Power traveled from a GM steel flywheel and L98 clutch to a factory-issue Dana 44 rear loaded with 3.42 gears.
The suspension was the second major component in the GS80's transformation. It used Guldstrand/Bilstein shocks with Guldstrand roller-bearing control-arm bushings; aluminum, Heim-jointed camber and toe-rod trailing arms; and Heim-jointed sway bars. According to Hurst, the race-bred suspension package was capable of nearly 1g lateral acceleration on the skidpad. To round out the package, GS80s were fitted with various sizes of Epsilon wheels wrapped in Goodyear rubber. (As is evident from the accompanying photos, both the No. 9 and No. 4 cars have since been modified with other wheel/tire combos.)
The resulting performance was well worth the extra money the package commanded. Dyno testing of the 372ci engine yielded 365 hp and 430 lb-ft torque at the crank-well up from the Vette's 240/340 factory rating in '87. "Guldstrand has said that the GS80 will perform as well as a C6 Vette," says Willauer. "I would be happy to have a side-by-side comparison performed." That's a tete-a-tete we'd like to get intimate with as well.
Dick Guldstrand on the GS80 Program
With a better understanding of the GS80 and its racing heritage, we asked Dick Guldstrand for his own thoughts on the car's origins and development. He was more than happy to oblige.
Vette: What year was the GS80 program incepted?
Dick Gulstrand: The first GS80 was completed in 1986.
Vette: How many vehicles were built?
DG: A total of 35 cars were assembled, all the way through 1994.
Vette: Did you keep a year-by-year breakdown of the numbers and colors produced?
DG: A breakdown of colors and year productions is not available; however, the majority of the cars were black, [and others were] everything from white and red to yellow.
Vette: How did the GS80 change the Corvette hobby in the '80s?
DG: The GS80 definitely filled the horsepower void left by GM. The base chassis was good, but my tuning took the C4 to an entirely new level. It was equal to that of any current Corvette. The GS can pull 1.0g all day with good tires and still not loosen your dental work. The Traco-built motors were monumental performers over the factory. They had tons of torque from 3,000 to 5,500 rpm and horsepower up to 380 to 400, depending on the final setup. The siamesed runners and all the other components would let you rev these cars to 6,000 to 6,500 rpm all day if you wanted.
Vette: What was it like to have to one of your GS80 "children" back in your shop nearly 20 years after its conception?
DG: It was great to see GS80 No. 4 back in the shop. It brings back a lot of memories with Traco and Jim Jones of Thunder Alley.
Vette: Did GS80 No. 4 feel any different to you than your personal GS80 [No. 9]?
DG: The two GS80s basically felt the same, but there were subtle differences. The power and suspension performance were set up similarly. The biggest difference between the two cars was the choice of tires.
Vette: What work was required to bring the GS80 No. 4 back to restored status? Was it abused? What motor work was performed?
DG: The work required to bring GS80 No. 4back to what it looks like today [involved removing] the rust from back East and some surface corrosion. The car was more neglected than abused. The motor was in fine shape; a little tune and a new clutch was all we did under the hood.
Vette: How well have the GS80 motors held up over the last twenty years?
DG: These motors have been bulletproof; they are exceptional performers and still run with the big dogs.
Vette: Compared with today's Corvette motors, how do you describe the GS80 engines?
DG: Compared with today's Corvette motors, the Traco-built GS80 engines had gobs of torque; it varied from 430 to 460 lb-ft. Keep in mind that torque is what gets you out of the hole, not horsepower. Horsepower is really a fictitious number compared with real, off-the-line performance for the street or the track.
Vette: Can the '80s-era GS80s compete against the brand new Corvettes and, if so, in what ways?
DG: Absolutely. These cars are 20 yearsold but can pull off 0-60 in 5.0 seconds all day long, run all the way up to 180-plus mph, and still idle in L.A. traffic.
Vette: Will there be a Guld strand GS built upon a C6 Corvette? If so, please describe its goals.
DG: We are working on a GS built off the base C6. I feel the horsepower race is coming to an end. Six-hundred-plus hp with the traction control off is a handful on street tires. Even though we are Katech's Southern California dealer and a ProCharger dealer, the focus now will be on suspension tuning, exhaust, lightweight components, seating, and braking. The C4 cars were a great starting point, and the GS80 brought the most and best performance out of that design. The C6s are exceptional street cars out of the box.