It all goes back to one man’s passion for racing. Zora Arkus-Duntov was the only executive at GM that ever raced a car at Le Mans, let alone have class wins in ‘54 and ’55. Duntov took his passion and experience and poured it into Chevrolet’s little beauty queen, the Corvette, taking the car to legendary status.
Duntov had the kind of expertise that only comes from seat of the parts experience of putting it all on the line in a four-wheel drift. With each new development in the Corvette, he always had racing on his mind. Bill Mitchell called this quality, “having gasoline in your veins.” No sooner had Duntov stuffed the new 265 small-block into the ‘55 Vette, he started secretly working on his first Le Mans intended racer, the Corvette SS.
Commemorative Edition ’04 Corvettes were available on the Coupe, Roadster, and Z06
It’s hard to imagine how he managed to spend GM money without management realizing that he was building a race car. But after the Corvette SS came out in ‘57, management came down on him like an avalanche. “GM does not make race cars. Period!” The project was shelved and fortunately not crushed. Two years later the running gear was used for Bill Mitchell’s Sting Ray racer and experienced moderate racing success.
As much as Duntov wanted to build racing Vettes, he was relegated to making parts for independent racers. In ‘60, with back door help from Duntov, independent racer Briggs Cunningham built three Corvettes to race at Le Mans and won first in his class and 8th overall.
All Commemorative Edition Corvettes wore this unique nose badge.
Then in ’63 Duntov tried to sneak through his lightweight Grand Sport Corvettes and once again got slammed by GM’s management. Duntov spent the rest of his career improving the Vette and providing independent racers with a platform and parts for their racing efforts. In ‘67 Dick Guldstrand and Bob Bobdurant took a L-88 Corvette to Le Mans, but dropped out with mechanical problems. But the car hit a top speed of 171 mph. Then in ’72 John Greenwood and Dick Smothers raced their B.F. Goodrich L-88 Corvette at Le Mans, but dropped out after 10 hours. Greenwood was back at Le Mans in ‘76 with his wild Batmobile wide-body Corvette, but was sidelined after 5 hours. There wasn’t another major Le Mans Corvette effort until ‘95 when Reeves Callaway had 2nd and 3rd place wins. With the C5 waiting in the wings and a new attitude towards racing inside GM, Corvette fans saw the first factory supported Corvette racer in ’99 with the C5-R. After two years of sorting out the C5-R, Duntov’s dream of his Corvette winning at Le Mans came true. The C5-R went on to win at Le Mans in ‘02 and ’04. The ‘04 season was the best with 10 1st place wins in 10 races!
To celebrate the success of the C5-R Corvettes, Chevrolet offered the Commemorative Edition option on all ’04 Corvettes – coupes, convertibles, and the Z06. The paint scheme and stripes were taken from the ‘04 C5-R cars and included every performance and luxury option available. This was a $3,700 option for the coupe and convertible, and a $4,335 option on the Z06. A total of 6,899 units were built, accounting for 20-percent of all ’04 Vettes.
A total of 6899 Commemorative Edition were sold in ’04. While not the lowest number of cars for a special edition Corvete, it was a VERY sweet package.
All Commemorative Edition cars had the special Le Mans blue paint, cross-flag embroidery on the headrests, polished Z06 wheels with unique wheel centers, and special emblems. The Z06 version had a carbon fiber hood that saved 10.6 pounds. The coupe and convertible had two-tone shale interiors, while the Z06 cars had black interiors.
Commemorative Edition Corvettes often are parked together at Corvette shows making for an impressive display. It may have taken 48 years to win at Le Mans, but it was worth the wait. We owe it all to one man’s vision, many years ago. – KST
PS – 11×17 parchment paper prints and Laser-Etched prints of the 2004 Corvettes are available HERE.
or, just click any of the below images.
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