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1996 Corvette Grand Sport - Great To Be # 1

How GM Performance Guru John Heinricy Snagged The Very First '96 Grand Sport

Walt Thurn Mar 10, 2011
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The car pictured here is John Heinricy's '96 Grand Sport, which carries serial number 001 out of 1,000 units built. Until his 2008 retirement, Heinricy had a gearhead's dream job: He played with cars at General Motors for 38 years, ultimately landing the coveted job of Director of High Performance Vehicle Operations at GM's Performance Division. His last corporate contribution was developing the outstanding Cadillac CTS-V sedan. Heinricy has always been a serious performance guy and is responsible for fine-tuning such GM products as the Chevy Citation, Camaro, Cobalt, and Corvette; the Pontiac Firebird, GTO, G8, and Solstice; and the aforementioned Cadillac.


Besides being an exceptional engineer, Heinricy is also an accomplished racer. He started his racing career in 1984 behind the wheel of a Chevy Citation X-11. After securing his competition license later that year, he began racing a Morrison/Guldstrand showroom-stock Corvette. In 1989 he was nicknamed "Heinrocket" by fellow driver Leighton Reese, and the moniker stuck. Even in retirement, Heinricy remains an active test and race driver, racking up numerous SCCA production-car championships and sports-car-race wins in the U.S. and Europe. He's even set lap records at the Nordschleife (North Course) Nürburgring track in Germany driving Corvettes, Caddies, and Cobalts.

In 1992 Heinricy joined Dave McLellan as Assistant Chief Engineer for Corvette. One year later McLellan retired, and Heinricy began reporting to new Corvette supremo Dave Hill. Hill was working on the new C5, so responsibility for ending C4 production fell to Heinricy. Heinricy wanted to build a special commemorative C4 for the car's final year of production. Having won so many races in C4s, he was the perfect choice to build this special edition.

Heinricy asked Corvette designer John Cafaro to sketch some design ideas for the car. Cafaro based his sketches on the '63 Corvette Grand Sport, since he and Heinricy were both fans of Zora Arkus-Duntov's five specially built, all-out racing Vettes. Cafaro researched various Grand Sport paint schemes, eventually selecting A.J. Foyt's 1964 Sebring entry. Foyt's car was painted dark blue with white stripes, and Cafaro recommended that the '96 version be fitted with a red interior. The team liked Cafaro's design, but the proposed interior color raised some eyebrows. It was decided that the car would be offered in a choice of a red or a black cabin treatment. (The team was right, as only 270 cars would be ordered with the former.) The new model was named "Grand Sport," in honor of the cars that inspired it.


Assistant Brand Manager Fred Gallasch felt the market could support 2,500 sales, but the Bowling Green Plant was unable to meet that production level due to the difficulty of applying the special white-striped paint scheme. It was decided to reduce production to 1,000 units (190 convertibles and 810 coupes). Heinricy received approval to number these cars with their own sequential VINs, a first-and, so far, a last-for Corvette.

Work began on a tweaked LT1 engine, dubbed the LT4. Due to limited development time, it was only certified with the six-speed manual transmission, and it became the standard engine on all '96 manual Corvettes. The LT4 featured a new aluminum head design with 2.00-inch intake and 1.55-inch exhaust valves, a revised combustion-chamber shape, and a bump in compression from 10.4:1 to 10.8:1. The redline was raised to 6,300 rpm, requiring the installation of Crane roller rockers and hollow-stem valves (sodium filled on the exhaust side). The crankshaft was strengthened, and a more aggressive cam was installed. These changes produced a conservatively rated 330 hp at 5,800 rpm and 340 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm.


Grand Sport coupes were fitted with 17x9.5-inch front and 17x11-inch rear ZR-1-style black wheels; convertibles got 17x9.5-inchers all around. (GM required that all cars be able to store both a flat tire and the wheel on which it was mounted. The convertible, with its tiny cargo area, had no room for the 11-inch rear rim.) Stick-on fender extensions from the Japanese-market export Corvette were fitted to all Grand Sport coupes to cover the bulging rear tires. Production began in the summer of 1995.

Around a dozen Grand Sport pilot cars were built and used for testing, each one carrying a sequential VIN. A few were destroyed during the validation process, but the remaining ones were refurbished and offered for sale. In the summer of 1995, Ralph Cramer, the head of GM public relations, arranged for the press to drive the Grand Sport at Road America. GS 001-the car Heinricy had personally driven during validation-was one of the cars used, but unfortunately, a press member blew its engine during the track portion of the event. The car was returned to Detroit, and a new engine was installed.


After testing was competed, GS 001 went into the Chevrolet dealer system with 7,500 miles on the clock. Heinricy obtained permission to purchase the car, then followed its dealer-delivery path to Cauley Chevrolet in West Bloomfield, Michigan. A deal was made, and Heinricy became the owner of the very first '96 Grand Sport. His wife Rita drove it during their first year of ownership. The last time he renewed its tag was in 1997, and since that time he has only used the car for autocross events. It currently has a little more than 15,000 miles on its odometer.

Heinricy brought his pride and joy to last year's C4 Gathering in Bowling Green and entered it in the autocross event. Not surprisingly, he won. "Heinrocket" plans on keeping GS 001 for a long time, and we can't blame him.



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