Dan Barr’s 1989 Factory-Built Corvette Challenge Race Car

A Look Back at the First-Ever Factory-Built Customer Spec Race Cars

Get Into the Time Machine Inside Your Head

Imagine for just a little while that it’s 1988-1989 and you know nothing about Z06 Corvettes, supercharged Corvettes, or mid-engine Corvettes, and the Corvette ZR-1 “King of the Hill” super-Vette is just over the horizon.

The times were very good for Corvette and the new C4. With massive tires and modern suspension, the C4 could go around corners like never before. In 1985 electronic-controlled fuel injection was back and Car and Driver proclaimed the Corvette, “The Fastest Car In America”, clocking at 150 mph! Starting in 1985, Corvettes became the new “Untouchables” and started a three-year total domination in SCCA’s Showroom Stock racing.

The competition was so flummoxed, Porsche bought a C4 to take apart to see why the car was so damn fast. Corvette fans enjoyed seeing Porsche eat some Humble Pie. Of course, the situation couldn’t run on too long. Rather than tell the other sports car manufacturers, to build a better car, Corvette was kicked out of the Showroom Stock Series. Yes, kicked out for being too fast! This is an amazing thing to consider because early C4s are the cheapest, least respected Corvettes around. Fans loved the Showroom Stock Series because they knew, “I own one of those too!”.

But the Party Wasn’t Over

Corvette performance was back and race promoter John Powel, from Toronto, Canada wasn’t about to tuck tail and complain. Powel pitched Chevrolet the idea of a million-dollar, ten-race series with equally-prepared Corvettes. Chevrolet was warm to the idea, as they were heavily involved in NASCAR, the Callaway B2K Twin-Turbo was an official Corvette option, and the all-aluminum, double-overhead-cam (DOHC) ZR-1 was in the works.

The new Corvette-only series was called, “The Corvette Challenge Series” and it came together quickly. The concept wasn’t new, as the International Race of Champions Series (IROC) had been around since 1974. IROC was launched with Porsche Carrera RSR cars that proved to be too expensive to build and maintain. From 1975 to 1989 it was an all-Camaro series.

The 1988 Corvette Challenge Cars

While the basic formula is the same as the IROC Camaros. The cars rolled off the Bowling Green assembly line as “RPO B9B” with the same options that included the following; the Z51 Performance Handling Package that included the new Bosch ABS II, larger-diameter stabilizer bars, Bilstein shocks, restyled 17×9.5-inch wheels with twelve cooling slots, shod with P275ZR17 Goodyear tires, higher-rate springs, a finned power steering cooler, larger 13.1”x1-1/6” front brake rotors and duel-piston calipers, the Doug Nash 4-3 manual transmission, 6-way power driver’s seat, a Delco-Bose stereo radio, Rear Window + Side Mirror Defogger, and removable blue-tinted roof panel. The 1988 Corvette base price was $29,489 and the additional options brought to total to around $33,500.

The L98 engines were specially-built at the Flint, Michigan plant and calibrated to equal horsepower levels, and sent to Bowling Green for assembly. Each engine’s bolts and screws were painted with special paint that could only be seen in low light with laser light to verify that the engine had not been tampered with. Fifty-six cars were built and forty-five of the cars were sent to Protofab, in Wixom, Michigan for preparation. “Protofab” later became Pratt & Miller.

Each car received a roll cage, a racing seat, a safety harness, a fire suppression system, PBR racing brake pads and ducting, a low-restriction Desert Driveline exhaust, Dymag magnesium wheels with shaved-to-half-depth Goodyear tires, and special “Corvette Challenge” emblems. The Protofab preparation cost $15,000 for a grand total of $48,043. That’s just over $124,000 in 2023 dollars. Race cars have never been cheap.

The 1989 Corvette Challenge Cars

The 1989 Challenge cars used the same formula, but with a few changes. Sixty RPO R7F Challenge cars came off the Bowling Green assembly line with the same package as the 1988 cars, but with the new-and-improved ZF 6-speed transmission. Upon completion, twenty-nine Challenge cars were sent to Powell Development America for the same preparation as the 1988 cars but received straight-through exhaust that exited the side out the rear fenders and a roll cage with sidebars.

During the 1988 Series, there were complaints that some cars had more horsepower. To assure this was not happening, an electronic telemetry box was installed in place of the passenger-side airbag to monitor engine output. And to keep things fair, ten cars per race were monitored in random sequence.

Unlike the 1988 Challenge cars that were built on the assembly line with certified, equally-built engines, they came off the line with the stock L98 engines. The stock, numbers-matching engines were crated and stored with Powell so that if the owner ever wanted to take his car back to “stock”, he could. Again, the L98 engines were assembled for identical power. According to Dan Barr, owner of the #9 Bosch Challenge Corvette, the power output was around 300 horsepower. While all Challenge cars were “purpose-built” race cars, they were all street-legal and carried the full factory warranty. The window sticker for Dan Barr’s Challenge Corvette totaled, $36,193. (around $89,500 in 2023 dollars) Continue reading “Dan Barr’s 1989 Factory-Built Corvette Challenge Race Car”

2026 Electric SUV Corvette??? HUH!

NOTE: Big thanks to CarScoops.com for the most excellent renderings and writeup that you can read HERE!

The notion that GM would break off “Corvette” as its own division has been kicking around since the days of GM’s bankruptcy. Government auditors discovered that of all GM’s divisions, only two were turning a profit; the truck division and Corvette.

Before this discovery, it looked like Corvette was once again on the chopping block. This happened once before in the very early ’90s when the late Jim Perkins came back to GM to be the new Chevrolet general manager. When Perkins arrived back at Chevrolet he reported that he didn’t recognize the place, it was in such disarray.

To read the full report and review more renderings on CarScoops.com, CLICK the above image!

As a result of the happy findings of the g-man auditors, Corvette engineering and design were given the green light for the C7. Tadge Juechter was already working on a mid-engine platform, but an enhanced front-engine layout built empirically on the highly successful C6 Z06-based C6.R race cars would get Chevrolet to the C7 sooner, rather than later.

Since those days, much has changed in the automotive world. Customers liked and wanted more SUV-type vehicles, enough that the industry began walking away from the traditional two and four-door sedan designs. Crossover SUVs filled the marketplace for buyers that didn’t want a big SUV.

At the same time, hybrid cars started getting traction. Then came the success of the Tesla vehicles and the race was on! It wasn’t long before big hybrid and battery-powered, luxury SUVs started showing up from U.S., European, and Asian manufacturers. This was a total game-changer because the public discovered something new… TORQUE… you know, that “other horsepower”. Continue reading “2026 Electric SUV Corvette??? HUH!”

The Story of Fiberglass, Pt. 2 – Making the Plastic Corvette

NOTE: This story was first published in the January 2023 issue of Vette Vues Magazine We left “The Story of Fiberglass” in the October 2022 issue of Vette Vues. The story goes back to 1880 when Herman Hammesfahr, a Prussian-American scientist, was issued the first-ever U.S. Patent for “glass fibers”. Self-taught “scientists” had been playing with making glass fibers long before 1880. But for decades, many said, “… interesting stuff, but what do you do with it?”


Once the Patent was issued, it took sixty years before the answer to that question was discovered. One of the earliest applications was for the military’s new radar systems during WW II. As microwave energy passes right through fiberglass, large globes were made to house the spinning radar units that gave the Allies the edge during the war.

Post-war, industries that were part of the war effort just wanted to get back to commercial business. The selling of fiberglass (GRP – glass-reinforced plastic) into the automobile industry was very difficult. The industry just couldn’t see it. After all, car parts have always been metal. It took small-time entrepreneurs to show, “Look what we can do with this stuff!”

The “First” Fiberglass Car

After the war, in 1946, Bill Tritt, from Pasadena, California applied what he’s learned while working at Douglas Aircraft to build fiberglass-hulled 21-foot sloop pleasure boats. Because of his hands-on expertise, U.S. Air Force Major Kenneth Brooks commissioned Tritt to build a fiberglass body for his wife’s personal Jeep. Major Brooks was so happy with his re-bodied Jeep he commissioned Tritt to build a slick fiberglass body for a sports car.

As the car was being built, Eric Irwin, from Costa Mesa was inspired to build a similar sports car that became the Lancer sports car. When Mrs. Brooks car was completed, she called the car the “Brooks Boxer” because she loved boxed dogs. In 1950 Tritt teamed with Otto Baeyer to form the Glasspar Company to expand the boat hull business.

Enter the Naugatuck Chemical Company. Their business wasn’t just chemicals, they wanted to be part of what growing numbers of visionaries saw fiberglass as a modern marvel of wartime technology. Several companies had tried to get Detroit to embrace the new material but weren’t having any luck. The car industry needed to see a real fiberglass “car”. Naugatuck was given a license to make replicas of the Brooks Boxer and a version for themselves. This one had opening doors and was called Alembic-I.

In the 1950s and 1960s Life Magazine was one of the most popular magazines in America. Bill Tritt from the Glasspar Company built the Alembic-I and was featured in a one-page article on Life’s “Science” page, titled, “Plastic Bodies For Autos.” The photo in the magazine was fascinating, showing the translucent quality of fiberglass with Tritt’s hands on the underside of the rear deck of a sports car body that Glasspar was selling for $600, equal to $6,747 in today’s dollars. The following month, the Alembic-I was on display at Philadelphia’s National Plastics Exposition, on March 11, 1952. Seen as part of the war dividend, fiberglass was as futuristic, gee-wiz stuff!

The Alembic-I was a drivable car and definitely got the attention of General Motors, a major American industrial giant with a passion for advanced technology. Their Hydra-Matic automatic transmission was first seen on the road in the 1937 Buick and used during the war in the M5 Stewart tank, which would revolutionize the auto industry. The development of automatic transmissions was viewed as a safety feature and enabled more women to drive cars. Continue reading “The Story of Fiberglass, Pt. 2 – Making the Plastic Corvette”

Meet Mr. Bloomington Gold; Guy Larsen

Note: This story was first published in the ??? issue of Vette Vues Magazine. All photos from the Guy Larsen Collection: The Corvette success story is one of empirical accomplishments built on previous accomplishments. Joe Pike was Chevrolet’s National Sales Promotion Manager in the early days of Corvette and clearly saw the vision. Joe once said, “… the Corvette is more than a car; it is a lifestyle.” When Joe and his team launched “Corvette News” in 1957, they had no idea what the Corvette lifestyle would become.

Many years later in an interview with then-Corvette Chief Engineer, Dave Hill, Hill said something similar, “… We’re not talking about transportation here; we’re talking about a product that changes someone’s lifestyle, and that causes us (Dave’s design team) to be enthusiastic about our duty.” It is easy to forget such statements, but the sentiment has echoed since the mid-’50s.

Were it not for that sentiment, that ephemeral heart connection to Corvette, there’s be no Vette Vues Magazine or any of the other Corvette print publications over the years, no National Corvette Museum, no Corvette clubs, no NCRS, and no big Corvette shows; such as Bloomington Gold. It is not an overstatement to say that the foundation of the Corvette hobby, as we know and enjoy it, is Love.

Guy Larson Gets Bit By the Corvette Bug!

Recently we had a conversation with Guy Larsen, the current owner, and CEO of Bloomington Gold. What started out as a regional Corvette parts swap meet in 1973, quickly became a force of nature that added a depth of credibility to mostly-original Corvettes. When the event started, it wasn’t called “Bloomington Gold”, it was simply “Corvette Corral”, and was held in Bloomington, Illinois.

To put this into perspective, in our interview with Guy, he said, “People lament that the Swap Meet part of Bloomington Gold isn’t what it used to be. Well, of course not. Back then, if a Corvette owner was looking for missing parts, he had to hunt and scratch around at swap meets because it was the only way to find parts. Everything changed when the internet and eBay started and Corvette parts started to become available online.”

For those that are relatively new to the hobby; imagine traveling hundreds of miles to pick through parts at swap meets a few times a year, to finish your restoration project. Yes, the “hunt” was part of the fun, but it sure made restorations much slower than today.

A Novel Idea! Your Corvette Competing with Itself! Continue reading “Meet Mr. Bloomington Gold; Guy Larsen”

Corvette Engineer Mauri Rose

Genuine Unsung Corvette Hero

There are a few dozen Corvette heroes and arguably hundreds of unsung heroes. Most engineers are quite thoughtful people that do not seek attention. Of all of the Corvette heroes, Zora Arkus-Duntov was atypical, he loved attention, and that made him the perfect Corvette frontman.

But Duntov wasn’t the only player in Ed Cole’s dream team of specialists for the then-new Opel sportscar project. Riding on his success with the 1949 Cadillac OHV Cadillac engine and the soon-to-be-released small-block Chevy engine, Cole was promoted to Chevrolet chief engineer in the fall of 1952

Chevrolet Chief Engineer, Ed Cole Builds His Corvette Team

Cole wanted a team of engineers with chassis, suspension, and racing expertise for Harley Earl’s Opel sports car project. His hand-picked team included: chassis expert Maurice Olley, engineers Harry Barr, Russ Sanders, Maurice Rosenberger, Duntov, and three-time Indy 500 winner, Mauri Rose. Rose had the most racing experience and Cole told him, “You are the man to do the sports car.”

Rose later said, “There were no drawings, all I had was an 8-1/2” x 11” sketch.” (Olley’s sketch) Working in a sequestered loft with a sketch and basic dimensions, Rose started roughing out the frame with wood and Styrofoam. When pieces worked out they were then made from metal in the build shop.

While Rose’s three-time Indy 500 record loomed large, he only ever raced at Indy and was always a working engineer at the Allison Engine Company in Indianapolis. When Rose was preparing for a race, he would do his track testing on his lunch hour.

Rose raced at Indy a total of 15 times, won in 1941, 1947, and 1948 and had a reputation for being a hard-charging, fierce driver. After a crash in 1951 at Indy, Rose retired from driving at the age of 45 and quickly found work at GM. Continue reading “Corvette Engineer Mauri Rose”

Happy 70th Birthday/Anniversary Corvette!

What a very special day for lovers of Chevy’s “Plastic Fantastic”! The Corvette phenomenon was launched seventy years ago today. The car that few inside Chevrolet and GM understood and many wanted to see go away! What an amazing story! Seventy years later, not only has Corvette survived and thrived, it is one of a small handful of GM Flagship technology vehicles!

Our resident Corvette historian from Maryland, Mike Waal e-mail published the below photo essay. So, after you check out all the articles and YouTube videos about the new and amazing E-Ray Corvette, have a look-see where and how it all began, seven decades ago.

Corvette” is arguably Detroit’s greatest marque!

(Mike has had several essays and a feature article HERE.)

Take It Away, Mike!

On this date, January 17th, 1953, history was made when the Corvette was introduced to the world at the GM Motorama Show held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Harley Earl, the first Head of GM Art and Color [circa 1927], with a name change to The Styling Section [circa 1937], and finally VP of GM Design. Earl
conceived the idea for an American Sports Car while attending and being Grand Marshal of the September 14/15, 1951 Watkins Glen Grand Prix Races. The car that Earl brought with him was his personal car at the time, the Le Sabre Concept Car. Earl’s Le Sabre was also the Parade Car for all the races.

So impressed was Harley Earl with the ‘European’ sports cars that were racing; MG, Jaguar, Healey, Alfa, and Ferrari, he decided that America should have a sports car, and GM needed to produce it. About a month later, upon his return to Detroit, ‘Project Opel’ was initiated.

And we all know the rest of the story.

September 14/15, 1951: Watkins Glen Grand Prix Races, Harley Earl in his personal car at the time, the Concept Car – Le Sabre, front and center, curd-side viewing the race.

1953 Corvette Wooden Buck. (Beautiful!)

Continue reading “Happy 70th Birthday/Anniversary Corvette!”

Red Penske 427 L88 Corvette Racer in 1:24th Scale

Doug Whyte Replicates George Hadad’s “Re-Creation” 1966 Penske Red L88 Sting Ray

Greetings and Happy New Year.

I’d say it’s a pretty good guess that most of us that love Corvettes and cars in general, spent hours and hours building 1:25th scale model cars when we were youngsters. When you are ten years old, it’s a great way to learn about the various parts of an engine, drive train, suspension, etc. It was as if AMT, Revell, and Monogram were “teaching” us about real cars.

Regardless, it was big fun for me, and because I’m patient and have a steady hand, my model builds were pretty good.

But I Was Never This Good!

I’d like to introduce you to two “gasoline in the veins” kinds of guys. George Haddad, owner of Fabulous Restorations in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has been a hot rod builder for over 45 years. Doug Whyte learned his modeling craft through his work for The Danberry Mint. The die-cast, articulated cars, and trucks that Danberry Mint creates are well known for their extraordinary detail.

George has carved a unique corner for himself, besides being a custom car builder and painter, he’s the Master of Re-Creations. George’s shop, Fabulous Restorations has been building and painting hot rods, street rods, customs, and race cars for over 45 years.

The Roger Penske 1966 L88 Corvette Race Car

The Penske 1966 L88, the Sunoco Blue with “Sunoco” livery, is currently owned by Kevin Mackay, in Valley Stream New York. But, the Sunoco Blue livery wasn’t the car’s first livery. When the Penske team first raced the car with just “Sunoco” on the car’s front fender at the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona, the car was factory Rally Red, with obvious racing modifications. This configuration and livery won its class at the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona.

Sunoco was happy with Roger Penske’s success they granted another “one race” sponsorship, but with one change. Sunoco wanted the Rally Red Corvette to be painted “Sunoco Blue”. Penske said, “No problem!”

The car was repainted Sunoco Blue, race prepped, and won its class at the 12 Hours of Sebring! The Penske 427 Corvette proved that a big-block Corvette could win races! This was a major turning point in Corvette’s racing history Continue reading “Red Penske 427 L88 Corvette Racer in 1:24th Scale”

“70 Years / 70 Stories” by Mario Brunner!

Corvette Man, Mario Brunner from Germany’s new 70th Anniversary book to be out by June 2023!

I met Corvette Man, Mario Brunner in December 2020 through Vette Vues Magazine. The magazine regularly gets requests from readers to publish stories about their Corvettes. Editor Bonnie Wolf sends me the photos the owners sent to her and their contact information. I reach out to the owners, interview them to get their stories, and work with the photos they send to me. These are what I call, “Reader’s Rides” stories and they’re a lot of fun for me to write.

Mario’s story was especially interesting.

Mario grew up in the small German village of Enzweihingen, just northeast of Stuttgart in southern German. His home was close to the Porsche factory and museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Mario’s Dad was into American muscle cars, hot rods, and motorcycles; so it’s no surprise where Mario’s passion for cars came from. After his Dad passed, Mario’s Mom suggested that he get the car of his dreams because that’s what his Dad would have wanted.

Mario Finds a Sweetheart of a Corvette!

For years, Mario felt that the Corvette was the ultimate American muscle machine. Corvettes are outstanding sports cars with muscle car grunt and thunder. C2 Sting Rays were Mario’s favorite generation (mine too!), so he started looking for something Sting Ray sweet.

One day while scanning Facebook-Colorado for Corvettes, Mario found his dream Vette. Everyone’s “dream Vette” is special to them, but Mario’s find was a loaded small-block 1966 Sting Ray Convertible “Pilot Line Car”. These are pre-production cars built for evaluation and to be used for magazine testing. Afterward, Pilot Cars are sold through Chevy dealers as “Used Cars”. Each year, perhaps a dozen or two are produced, making them unique. Continue reading ““70 Years / 70 Stories” by Mario Brunner!”