The year was 1996 and the voice of Chevrolet was extolling, “1996 is going to be a vintage year for Corvette aficionados and Chevrolet performance enthusiasts. Two very special Corvettes, the Grand Sport and Collector Edition, will add to the marque’s legendary mystique. A new, optional 330-horsepower 5.7-liter LT4 engine, available on all Corvette models, raises the revered small-block’s performance level to a sensational new height.” (The 330hp LT4 was a one year only V-8.)
In the interim, we have seen the nameplates “Grand Sport,” “Z06” and “LT4” go onto great and lofty heights in the world of Corvette lovers. Our passion that is the Corvette has always been one of innovation in styling and performance, but most importantly the Corvette has always retained its own identity. (The ’96 Grand Sport was option code Z16 and there were 1,000 of them produced while the Collector Edition was option code Z15 and there were 5,412 of these produced. The 1996 production run amounted to 21,536 coupes and convertibles.)
The Grand Sport nameplate used in 1996 (C4) was revered because it hadn’t been used since the 1962-’63 Grand Sports. And for those Corvette, race car or racing history buffs who can ever forget the 1963 Nassau Speed Week races where Texas oilman John Mecom with his “hired guns” to drive cars #3, #4, and #5 took on the newly released Carroll Shelby Cobra. (Cars #1 and #2 remained under the ownership of Chevrolet. It was one of the few times where the Corvette had true success against the Cobra.)
The five lightweight Zora Arkus-Duntov special Corvette race cars made up of three coupes and two roadsters became the most recognizable Corvette race cars of that or any era. Today, they hold a special place in Corvette fans’ hearts as well as in the minds of car collectors the world over. But it was the ill-timed ban on racing that Chevrolet was going to adhere to and thus what was to be 125 of these special race cars turned out to be five and even then they were raced under a cloak of secrecy.
But “now” it is 1996 and the Grand Sport is back. While the ’96 version clearly wasn’t the 2,000-pound race car from the ‘60s it did have a great deal of imagery about it that made one feel good about the past. It was painted in an exclusive Admiral Blue Metallic paint, white stripe and red hash marks on the left front fender. More decorative appointments included chromed “Corvette” emblems on hood and fuel door, 17-inch five-spoke black aluminum wheels, black brake calipers with raised bright aluminum “Corvette” lettering, and perforated Sport bucket seats available in Red/Black combination or Black options with embroidered “Grand Sport,” distinguish the Grand Sport for 1996. Grand Sport coupes are outfitted with 275/40ZR17 (front) and 315/35ZR17 (rear) tires, and special rear fender flares cover the extrawide rear rubber.
The original Grand Sport came with an all-aluminum 377-inch small-block V-8 with Weber carbs. Well, as exotic as that sounds by 1996 standards that engine would be antiquated … but fun. The ’96 Grand Sport would be powered by a new 330-horsepower LT4 small-block V-8. (It was optional on other Corvettes.) (Don’t confuse this LT4 with the latest version of the LT4, which is different small-block architecture to say the least!)
The 1996 LT4 was a derivative of the LT1 that was introduced back in 1992. The ’96 version of the LT4 featured high-flow aluminum cylinder heads, larger hollow-stem valves and higher load springs, a more aggressive camshaft profile, revised pistons with a 10.8:1 compression ratio, a new fuel injector that increases fuel flow and friction-reducing roller rocker arms. To this combination there was a specially prepared crankshaft, steel camshaft, and water pump gears driven by a roller chain and premium head gaskets.
But it was also an outward appearance change that made the LT4 striking in appearance as well. Included were a red inlet manifold, red spark plug and coil wires, red “Corvette” lettering on the manifold covers and red “Grand Sport” lettering on the throttle body cover. Models equipped with the LT4 engine have an 8,000-rpm tachometer with a 6,300-rpm redline. Lastly, the LT4 (code: LT4) was only available with a six-speed transmission (code: MN6) butted to it and there were 6,359 of these mated powertrains produced.
Maybe the ’96 Grand Sport was docile by the standards of the 1962-’63 Grand Sport but the ’96 most definitely had the punch required to give each and every one of us a glimpse into the past and what it might have been like to drive a true performance car … and not just any car but a Corvette. Vette