Retired Corvette R&D engineer Bill Tower shares some of his insights into the background of the 1963 Grand Sport Program
The 57-Year Saga to the C8 Mid-Engine Corvette – The Old Mid-Engine Advantage & the 1960 CERV I
Dateline: 8.13.17 – Images: GM Archives & Mecum.com – Introduction: Honestly, I didn’t believe it at first. It seemed like the floodlights from the debut of the C7 Corvette weren’t even cool yet when the automotive press and the Internet started chattering about the C8 Corvette being a mid-engine design. GM then added fuel to the fire when it was announced that they had trademarked the word “Zora” which ignited the speculation of a mid-engine Corvettes.
Part of Corvette-lore is that Zora Arkus-Duntov unsuccessfully tried many times to make the Corvette a mid-engine car, because in Zora’s day, it made perfect sense. The trouble was that Chevrolet was selling enough Corvettes to make the argument that, “the Corvette wasn’t broken, so don’t fit it!” The mid-engine Corvette concept lost its champion after Duntov retired in 1975. Dave McLellan’s team tried to recycle the body design of the mid-engine Four-Rotor Corvette, powered by a transverse-mounted small-block Chevy engine. That idea was actually “approved” briefly, but died a quick death. The mid-engine Corvette concept came back again as a development program that started with the Corvette Indy (a full-size static model), the Running Corvette Indy (a functional, drivable version), and finally the CERV III. This CERV III was an almost completely flushed out car, meaning that it “could” have been put into production, had GM not been embroiled in a financial crisis in the early ‘90s. The crisis was so bad that once again, the Corvette was on the chopping block!
Perhaps by sheer luck, the C5 plan eked through and turned out so good, that the mid-engine concept then seemed antiquated. Then suddenly, shortly after the C7 came out, the Mighty Wurlitzer Rumor Organ got cranked up and once again, we are in mid-engine mania. But does the mid-engine make sense? Is this what the Corvette community really wants? I’ve had my head plugged into the world of Corvettes since 1965 and followed all of the mid-engine Corvette concept cars. Most were engineering studies and not real, drivable, serviceable, safe cars – a few were close to production-ready.
The “story” of the Corvette is long and rich with colorful characters, loud and awesome machines, and two, BIG, “Could’a been so cool!” chapters – The Grand Sport and the mid-engine Corvette. While it was wonderful that Chevrolet used the Grand Sport moniker for one of the two special-edition 1996 C4 swan song Corvettes, and then as a separate model Corvette starting in 2010, these were not Duntov’s original vision. Continue reading
Dateline: 8.12.17 / Photos: WikiCommons, Illustrations by K. Scott Teeters – When I was a wee lad and would see the term, “For Off Road Use Only” I used to think, “Well who drives these cars in the dirt and grass?” What I didn’t understand was that the term is code for “RACING”! Beginning in 1957, Chevrolet’s new general manager, Ed Cole, made the command decision that he would let “customers” carry the Corvette racing mantle by offering Chevrolet-engineered parts, specifically designed for racing, available through the Chevrolet Parts Department.
For decades, Zora Arkus-Duntov has been credited for the implementation of the Corvette “Racer Kits” through the RPO (Regular Production Option) system. Zora was the face of the unofficial Corvette racing effort, but while researching C1 Corvette chassis design, I came across some interesting information in Karl Ludvigsen’s 2014 book, “CORVETTE: America’s Star Spangled Sports Car”. While Duntov was definitely the front man, Ed Cole also charged three-time Indy 500 winner and engineer, Mauri Rose with the development of the Corvette’s RPO parts program. So, the Corvette “Off Road” RPO effort guided by Le Mans racer and class winner, Duntov, AND Mauri Rose, the second man to win the Indy 500 three times (1941, 1947, and 1948)! Pretty cool, huh?
The Racer Kits weren’t a “secret” but unless customers were tuned into racing, most weren’t aware of this special program. In truth, since improvements in suspension and brakes were for racing, customers rarely used them for their street Corvettes. And typically racers used the expensive dual quad or Fuel Injection performance engines. The Racer Kit RPO option program enabled Corvette racers to be seriously competitive in SCCA racing such that by the end of the 1950s, Corvettes were a force to be reckoned with.
Engineer Maurice Olley designed the chassis and suspension of the first Corvette in 1952 and was considered to be the best suspension and chassis engineer in Detroit. It is essential to remember that the Corvette was NOT designed to be a racecar. Continue reading
Dateline: 8.11.17 – Photos: GM Archives, Michael Beal, Illustrations: K. Scott Teeters – There’s an unwritten, unofficial “Law of the Jungle” that basically states, “If you are at the top of the food chain, you might not be there for long.” Such was the case for the C4 ZR-1 Corvette, for a little while. The C4 ZR-1 had a six-year production run with only 7,018 units produced. The ZR-1’s head-exploding price was the biggest limiting factor. The crummy economy in the early ‘90s didn’t help, and the much-rumored, all-new C5 no doubt was a drag on the ZR-1’s sales. And then there was also that pesky Dodge Viper. The 427 Cobra’s “Marley’s Ghost” was obvious, only this time disguised as a Dodge,
While armchair quarterbacking is easy and hindsight is 20/20, it is worth asking the question, why wasn’t such an awesome car more successful? “Timing” aside, the ZR-1’s aesthetics was a big factor. Stated simply: When viewed by itself, the C4 ZR-1s look like “regular” Corvettes. As an illustrator and stylist, I find it astonishing that Chevrolet would have done this, after all the engineering work that went into the ZR-1. The body panels from the doors all the way back to the rear bumper cover, are unique to the ZR-1 – made wider to cover the widest tires put under a factory-built Corvette body, to that point. This means that the panels had to be redesigned. But rather than make them visually unique, the Corvette stylists were commanded to imitate the basic design of the standard Corvette, with one exception Continue reading
We just love “firsts & lasts” of any important performance car. Why? Because there are only ever two – the first and the last ones to roll off the assembly line.
Dateline: 7.22.17 – The First C1 and C2 Corvettes are not known, however, the Last C1, a black 1962 model sold for $150,000 at the 2014 Mecum Seattle Auction. We covered the Last Sting Ray, HERE. But today, we honor the “Last C5 Corvette”, which if you are looking to add an important Corvette to your stable of Vettes, just happens to be For Sale at BuyAVette.net! More about where you can pick up this piece of unique Corvette history for only, $1,000,000. (Karen, call the Credit Union!)
But for now, lets step into the CorvetteReport.com Time Machine and dial it back 13 years to 2004. To celebrate the success of the C5-R Corvettes winning Le Mans in ’01, ’02 and ‘03, Chevrolet dished up the 2004 Commemorative Edition option. This was an intense option to put into the production schedule because it was an open option on all three models of 2004 Corvettes – coupes, convertibles, and Z06s. On top of that, plant managers knew that as soon as the Last C5 was rolling through its journey of assembly, the production line was disassembled.
“Special Edition” Corvettes are always a tedious enterprise because all of the unique parts of a package have to be on hand. For Limited Edition Corvettes, at least it is known ahead of time that X-number of parts will be needed. However, with “open production” Special Edition Corvettes, the marketplace determines how much resources will be needed. From a sourcing and production position, it is a difficult task. Continue reading
From “Racer Kit,” to World Class Sports Car: Waiting for the C7 ZR1 & Looking Back at Past ZR1s
Dateline: 7/7/17 (This story was first published in the Sept 2016 issue of Vette Vues Magazine)
Suddenly… its 2009 again! Is it “Déjà vu” all over again? It kind’a seems that way. In the summer of 2008, as the presidential election was heating up, Wall Street and the economy was shaking and quaking until finally in October 2008 the stock market crashed so badly that the candidates had to suspend their campaigns for a few days to vote on the big, bank bailout bill.
What followed was another deep recession that hammered the already stressed auto industry. 2009 was pretty ugly and the Mighty Wurlitzer, called “the Internet” was starting to get cranked up over C7 Generation Corvette speculation.
In 2007 Chevrolet sold 40,561 Corvettes – the best sales year since 1984 when 51,547 Corvettes were sold. Then in 2008 they sold 35,310 Corvettes. Yes, sales slipped, but that’s still an impressive sales figure. Then in 2009 the bottom fell out with only 16,956 Corvettes sold – that is a 48-percent drop! Continue reading
Performance Bookends of the Shortest Generation Corvette, the C2 Mid-Year
Dateline: 6.23.17 – The difference between a 1962 and 1963 Corvette is staggering. In 1963, the new Sting Ray looks like the sports car from another planet! The only carryover components used for the new Corvette were the base and optional engines. Everything else (body, interior, suspension, and frame) was all-new. The C1’s basic structure was created in 1952, and over the years was given slight tweaks, such that by the late 1950s, the Corvette was holding on against the European cars. But the new Sting Ray was a game-changer.
We’re going to look back at the first and last “performance” Corvettes – the 1963 Fuelie and the 1967 L71 427/435. The Sting Ray had an all-new parameter frame that would ultimately serve as the foundation of the Corvette up to 1982! The new C2 frame allowed the passenger seats to be located “down and inside” the frame rails, unlike the C1’s frame that located the seats “on top” of the frame, thus allowing the overall design to be lower and more slender. Although the shape looked “aerodynamic, it suffered from severe “lift” at high speeds. The lift issue was a combination of the body shape, and the rear suspension “squat” upon hard acceleration – and was never really solved, just dealt with.The independent rear suspension and updated front suspension made the 1963 Corvette the only American car with four-wheel, independent suspension. This was a very BIG deal then. The new interior was just beautiful. The dash had double-arches with a perfectly laid out array of the proper sports car gauges. From 1953 to 1962, the Corvette was a convertible with an optional bolt-on hardtop. The new Sting Ray was a production of Bill Mitchell’s 1959 Stingray Racer – a beautiful car with big aerodynamic problems. Instead of a convertible-only version, there was a coupe version with the now classic “stinger” design. The hidden headlights were show-car-like, and rotated horizontally along the front leading edge when the lights were turned on.
The rear glass had a split down the middle so that the crease that started at the front edge of the roof could run uninterrupted back to the end of the car. This was the infamous “split-window” that was a love-it, or hate-it detail and was Bill Mitchell’s pet design element. The split-window was gone after 1963 – making the 1963 coupes a rarity. 1963 convertibles outsold coupes, 10,919 to 10,594. Some coupe owners replaced their split-window with a 1964-1967-style rear glass! Continue reading
Mr. Duntov took care of “his customers” that wanted to go racing!
Dateline: 5-27-17 (Download link is at the bottom of this story) – Before the ax fell in 1957 thanks to the AMA Factory Racing Ban, Zora Arkus-Duntov was planning to take a team of his 1957 Corvette SS Racers to Le Mans. The completed SS Racer was an embarrassment at it’s 1957 Sebring debut and in fact, the Corvette SS mule car showed more promise. The car was rushed in its construction and was actually being finished inside the transported on route from Detroit to Sebring, Florida. Management seemed to be more interested in having the car look good than a developed racecar. In retrospect, the car was terribly underdeveloped. Then, right after the race, GM signed on with the AMA Racing Ban and as Duntov liked to say, the program came to, “… a screeching halt!”
But two major elements from the Corvette SS project survived and eventually made a significant impact on Corvette racing. The finished Corvette SS Racer with its magnesium body was converted into a show car and went on tour with a jet age bubble top. The rough mule car was stripped of it’s cobbled together fiberglass body and the chassis went into storage, only later in 1958/59, to be bought for a nominal fee by then-new GM VP of Styling, Bill Mitchell so that Wild Bill could go racing. His racing effort could in no way look like it was a GM-sponsored enterprise. Mitchell’s racing indulgence became the Stingray Racer, which was the public face of what would eventually become the 1963 Sting Ray. Continue reading
Race-prepared, stock 1990 ZR-1 Shatters a 50 Year 24-Hour Speed Record
Dateline: 5.22.17 (This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of “Vette Vues”) – Racing Corvettes used to have a long history of durability issues. There are many reasons why Corvette racecars had durability issues, but one of the biggest is easy horsepower. It’s always been relatively easy to get a lot of power out of a small-block or big-block Chevrolet engine. If a builder is more oriented towards drag racing, the temptation for an extra 50-horsepower is just too tempting for many builders. That’s fine for drag racing where a car is stressed to the max for a matter a seconds. But in endurance racing, you have to finish to win.
From the perspective of the mid-1980s, the new C4 Corvette was light years ahead of the previous two-generation Corvettes. In the mid-1980s Corvettes were so fierce in SCCA Showroom Stock racing that after two years they were kicked out for being too fast! So, the factory-built Corvette racecars duked it out in their own series, The Corvette Challenge. Breakage with the C4 cars wasn’t much of an issue thanks to the much-improved structure and suspension, plus the cars weren’t powered by massive, torque-monster big-blocks. Continue reading
by K.Scott Teeters as written for Vette Magazine and republished from SuperChevy.com
Illustrated Corvette Series No 226: The First Factory-Built Corvette Racer
Dateline 2.5.16: There isn’t another car in Detroit history that has been so consistently involved in racing as the Corvette. Today, the base model C7 is more racecar than ever. But it all had to start somewhere and the generally accepted break-out racing event for the Corvette was Sebring 1956 when a factory-prepared 265 4-speed Corvette won 1st place in the Sports 8000 Class at the 12-hour race event. Chevrolet marketing ran print ads declaring the Corvette as “The Real McCoy.” But, we have to roll the clock back to 1955 to get to the very first factory-built Corvette racecar, and it wasn’t a road racer, it was a NASCAR racer. A “NASCAR”, Corvette? Yes! Continue reading
by Scott Teeters as written for Vette Vues
Corvette Milestones: January 30, 1971 – Owens Corning Fiberglass L88 Corvette #11 wins at Daytona – Finishing 1st in GT+2000 class and 4th overall, driven by Jerry Thompson and John Mahler
Dateline February 2016: The Owens Corning 1968 L88 Corvettes raced by Jerry Thompson and Tony DeLorenzo have the distinction of being the winningest L88 Corvette racers. While racing in two series, the team won 22 races in a row, with car #12 winning 11 times from 1969 to 1971. Continue reading
by Scott Teeters as written for Vette Vues
Corvette Milestones: January 22, 1979 – Dave McLellan receives approval for a complete redesign of the Corvette
Dateline February 2016: By 1974 it was becoming painfully obvious that the Corvette was in serious need of an overhaul. Between the increased weight due to energy absorbing bumper systems, side door guard beams, and reduced horsepower thanks to increases in emission standards, the Corvette was showing its age. Continue reading
by Scott Teeters as written for Vette Vues
January 17, 1953 – Happy Birthday, Corvette! Chevrolet’s concept car, the Corvette, makes its debut at the GM Motorama at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City
Dateline February 2016: While it is not generally known exactly when Harley Earl first sketched, perhaps on a napkin, his idea of an American Sportscar, built by Chevrolet – we do know when the Corvette made its grand debut to the automotive world. January 17, 1953 should be considered the Corvette’s birthday. Continue reading
by Scott Teeters as written for Vette Vues
Corvette Milestones: January 14, 1966 – A pre-production L88 1966 Corvette is built at the St. Louis assembly plant, destined for the Roger Penske’s shop in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, then Daytona, and Sebring
Dateline February 2016: For 1966 the new Mark IV “big-block” was offered as it was designed to be, a 427 cubic-inch beast. Duntov’s next step was to offer an all-out racing version of the Mark IV with aluminum heads, as part of what would become his legendary L88 “racer kit” package. Continue reading
by Scott Teeters as written for Vette Vues
Corvette Milestones: January 10, 1999 – At the Daytona International Speedway, in Daytona, Florida, the Corvette Racing group tests its two Corvette C5-R racecars
Dateline January 2016: All we can say is that it was about time GM and Chevrolet got behind a factory-supported Corvette racing effort! While Pratt & Miller built the cars, Corvette engineers were right there assisting and observing what worked and what didn’t, then applying their finding to what would become the Z06, the ZR1, the C7, and the C7 Z06. Continue reading