1996 Corvette Grand Sport - Rare Air

Bill Hermanek's 1-of-3 '96 Grand Sport convertible is a prime example of the breed

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How rare can a Bowling Green–built C4 Corvette be? How about one of three?

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That's the tally on Bill Hermanek's '96 Corvette Grand Sport convertible. Only 1,000 Corvettes were built with RPO Z16—the Grand Sport package—in the C4's last production year of 1996. Of that total, only 190 were convertibles, and 53 of those came with the available red/black interior.

Add in the other options on this Vette (MN6 Six-Speed Manual Transmission, F45 Selective Ride and Handling, a spare tire, and Preferred Equipment Group 1 with Delco AM/FM stereo radio/cassette/CD player), and the total of '96 GS convertibles thus equipped drops to just three, including this one.

You'll also notice a big difference between this car (and the other 189 drop-top GSs) and the '96 Grand Sport coupe. The convertibles didn't have the coupe's rear fender flares, or the fat 315/35ZR17 tires inside them.

But it's likely that you've seen this very C4 somewhere. "It was on display at the National Corvette Museum for a year in the early 2000s," says Hermanek, who adds that it was also featured in the 2006 Corvettes at Carlisle program, which spotlighted the '96 Grand Sports.

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When Hermanek first laid eyes on this C4 in person, it was love at first sight. "I've wanted this car since I first saw it, which was when the third owner had it, and he said that he'd never sell it."

Hermanek kept in touch with the Grand Sport's owner, who eventually had a family crisis that meant parting with the car. "His girlfriend got sick and needed a wheelchair, and this car is a convertible," says Hermanek, who adds, "If you know C4 convertibles, then you know there is no space when the top is down. So, he had to sell it." As soon the '96 went up for sale, Hermanek bought it.

The Grand Sport had just under 13,000 miles on it, but it needed a little TLC. That paid off the first time he showed it. "It just won an NCRS Chapter Top Flight with a 98.4, and it's now going to the NCRS Regional meet in Wildwood, New Jersey."

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This C4 joins a collection that includes an '82 Collector's Edition with NCRS National Top Flight certification, a custom '97 Corvette coupe, and a fully optioned '66 Sting Ray coupe that's a "Triple Crown" car—having earned NCRS Top Flight, Bloomington Gold, and Chevy/VetteFest's "Gold Spinner" honors. Plus, Hermanek says he's acquired another ultrarare factory-built C4. "I just bought an '86 Malcolm Konner Edition, of which there were only 50 made, and I'm restoring it." Hermanek says that it took a Second Flight when it was NCRS judged last year, and he hopes that it will be another Top Flight car in his collection before long.

If you're looking to launch your own Corvette collection, or add to one, Hermanek has this advice: "If you're going to start one, and money is tight, the best deal out there right now is an '85-'90 C4. They're the best deal for anyone who wants to get into the Corvette hobby—they're great cars, and if you find one with low mileage, even better. If anyone wants to get into the hobby without spending a lot of money, that's what I'd recommend." What if you're looking for an investment-grade Vette? Says Hermanek, "Obviously the big-block '66-'67s are probably your best investment, and they're way down in the market right now, so it's time to buy."

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