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Are These L88 Heads From the James Garner American International Racing 1968 Corvette Daytona Race Car?

Bow Tie Nostalgia: Heads or Tales: Were These Heads From James Garner’s 1968 L88 Corvette?

John Gilbert Jun 30, 2015
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Nostalgia is all about memories and provenance is all about being able to prove if those memories are real, or just foggy recollections of how someone thought something was. A case in point is the pair of L88 heads my friend Stewart Van Dyne has had gathering dust under the workbench in his cleanroom since the mid-’80s. Notice that I said “cleanroom,” and the truth of it is the heads aren’t really all that dusty, it’s just that gathering dust is a writer’s way to create the perception that a considerable amount of time has passed.

Perhaps the most storied Corvettes in Corvette racing history are the three Le Mans Blue 1968 L88 COPO Corvette convertibles campaigned by the late actor James Garner’s team, American International Racing, at Daytona in 1968. It was my recollection of those L88 heads stored under Stew Van Dyne’s workbench along with a recent article in Vette magazine about the number 44 AIR Corvette that sparked my interest. You see, the L88 engines in those AIR Corvettes were blueprinted by Traco and 1968 was the year my friend Stew started working at Traco. My imagination went wild as I hauled buns to Van Dyne Engineering in neighboring Huntington Beach, California, to verify if indeed Stewart’s L88 heads were from one of James Garner’s L88 Corvettes.

L88 4 5 67 Casting Date 2/4
L88 3904392 Casting Number 3/4

Stewart’s L88 heads hadn’t even reached the benchtop before he said his heads weren’t related to the AIR Corvettes. It was the summer of 1968 that Stewart started working at Traco, and the AIR Corvettes were already gone. The first giveaway was they lacked a Traco stamp, but cinching it was Stewart knew the heads’ history going back to new. Stew was rounding up parts to build a nasty big-block for his ’74 C10 and thought about the heads languishing at his friend Ray Bates’ shop in Costa Mesa, California, for some time.

Ray explained the heads weren’t his, but he’d call the owner to see if he wanted to sell. The L88 heads belonged to Sig Erson, Sig bought the heads new from Chevrolet, ported them out, and then diverted to another project. Stewart and Sig worked out a deal, Stew brought them home to his shop and then forsook the heads to attend to customer needs.

L88 Head Exhaust Ports 4/4

In 1976, Stewart left Traco to work for Drake Engineering, and then departed Drake in 1986. In 1987, Stewart opened the doors to Van Dyne Engineering in Huntington Beach, and that’s where Sig’s L88 heads have remained. With the assortment of superior aluminum cylinder heads available in the aftermarket today, it’s not likely Stew will ever use these heads for a contemporary build. So if you’re someone with a need for vintage L88, never-run 3904392 heads with an April 5, 1967, casting date give Van Dyne Engineering a call.

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