1969 Chevy Corvette - Lightweight Champion

The Story Behind The Caplan/Barber/Stiles L88 Racer

Wayne Ellwood Oct 1, 2008 0 Comment(s)
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Elliot Forbes-Robinson tears up the track at Sears Point in 1978.

In 1988, Stiles sold the Vette to New Jerseyan Larry Zane, reportedly for $125,000. Curiously, Zane never moved the car from the West Coast. Rather, it was stored in Reggie Jackson's garage until 2002, when it was purchased at auction by Mike Yager, for $130,680. As purchased, the car was a virtual time machine, requiring only a fresh set of valvesprings and a brake rebuild to be race-worthy again.

After piloting the Corvette in celebrity parade laps at last year's Mitty race, EFR remarked that he had always enjoyed driving the car, noting that it was powerful, stable, and incredibly solid. For fans of vintage-Corvette racing, it was thrilling to see this legendary competitor return to the track, if only for a few brief moments.

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EFR (left) was reunited with the car at the '07 Walter Mitty Challenge at Road Atlanta. Here, he poses with current owner Mike Yager.

The L88 Lightweights
Between December 1968 and January 1969, GM released a small number of early Second-generation L88 Corvettes (equipped with open-chamber heads) to selected racers. Because these cars wouldn't be available to the public until June 1969, they could be accessed only through a special "buyer's key pass" purchase program. This program allowed GM to secretly test new components under competition conditions.

All of these cars came with an M-22 heavy-duty transmission, J-56 heavy duty brakes, an F-41 heavy-duty suspension, and a 4.56 Positraction axle. While the traditional heater/radio delete was no longer available as a factory option for production cars, it's believed that some of these off-road-only cars were so equipped.

Vemp_0810_10_z 1969_chevy_corvette Vette_displayed 4/11

Although commonly referred to as "lightweight" cars, these Corvettes should not be confused with the Grand Sport models, which carried very thin fibreglass. Rather, it was the aluminum-headed L88 engine, combined with the deletion of the convertible top, carpet, and spare tire, that lent these special '69 models their "lightweight" moniker. The cars also came with a race-oriented "trunk package," which comprised a pair of headlight bubbles (to replace the stock retractable units), a rearend cooler, an oil cooler, and OK Custom headers. Depending on whom you knew, a set of four fender flares might also be included. (These were also available over the counter, provided you could ferret out the part numbers.)

The first batch of four cars, including the one purchased by Herb Caplan, preceded the famous James Garner AIR Vettes ("Hollywood Blockbuster," Mar. '06) by about one month. Three of them debuted at Sebring in 1969: the No. 4 Or Costanzo car (later made famous as the No. 57 "Rebel"), the No. 1 Owens-Corning car, and the No. 69 Bob Esseks/Frank Dominianni car, later driven by John Paul Sr. The Caplan/Barber/Stiles car was less well-known at the time, due mostly to the fact that its racing appearances were limited to West Coast regional events.


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