Spiritual Journey

A famous C3 racer delights European fans once more

Wayne Ellwood Jan 1, 2013 0 Comment(s)
Vemp 1301 01 Spiritual Journey Steve Goldin 1/10

Steve Goldin poses with his car prior to FoS practice runs on Friday. Photo by Matt McSwain.

The story of John Greenwood taking Rick Mancuso's No. 76 "Spirit of Le Mans" Corvette to the famous French race is virtually a legend. The short version starts with the fact that, in 1976, attendance at Le Mans was slipping. Several years of fuel shortages and other economic problems in Europe hit road-racing hard. Something had to be done to lure in the crowds. The sights and sounds of the Heinz and Greenwood big-block Vettes in 1972 and 1973 had fascinated the Europeans, so it was logical for the organizers to extend an invitation to Greenwood to bring back at least one of these cars.

When he received the invitation to return to Le Mans, Greenwood didn't have a "legal" car. His two team cars—Spirit of Le Mans Nos. 75 and 76—were too highly modified to meet FIA/ACO regulations. The full coilover suspension, for example, was definitely not stock configuration. But the No. 76 Mancuso car (chassis No. 007) would meet the requirements for the GT class. Mancuso and Greenwood were business associates and friends, so it wasn't surprising when Mancuso agreed to let his car be prepped for the world's most grueling endurance race. (He couldn't go himself, as he was working at his car dealership, and simply couldn't get the time off. It was probably one of the major disappointments of his career.)

Vemp 1301 02 Spiritual Journey Rear 2/10

The car qualified ninth and hit 216 mph on the Mulsanne Straight—much to the astonishment of the crowd. While it did not finish the race, it did achieve its overall objective of stirring the interest of European race fans and improving attendance. Le Mans organizers were well satisfied with their investment.

After the car returned to the U.S., Mancuso continued to race it as both No. 76 and No. 77. As with most race cars, though, it eventually passed through a series of owners. Mancuso sold it to Kerry Hitt, in Pennsylvania. Hitt ran Trans-Am with the car and then sold it to Paul Canary. From there it went to Atlanta Ferrari dealer George Nuse, who, in turn, sold it to Jack Boxstrom. Current owner Steve Goldin bought the Spirit of Le Mans car from Boxstrom in 1992 or 1993, at which point it underwent its first real restoration. By 1994 it had been restored and had a new engine prepped by Gary Smith of Carolina Racing Engines (located, oddly, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida). While the new motor put out a little more power than did the original from 1976, the car otherwise came out of the process pretty much as-built.

Vemp 1301 03 Spiritual Journey Le Mans 3/10

Goldin has driven the car in various vintage races for the last 18 years, and has put it on display at such prestigious events as the Greenwood Reunion at Corvettes at Carlisle in 2004. While there are plenty of exciting anecdotes associated with this part of the car's history, it's all just background to our current story.

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