by Bill Stephens
I’ve always loved Corvettes (You’re right. Who doesn’t?) Having owned a fair number over the years, I must admit there are certain years and configurations of the Corvette which still make me rubbery in the knees. For example, L88’s, big-block mid-years, mid-year fuelies, or 1990-1995 ZR1’s will always rock my world.
But the Corvette which will never fail to illicit heart palpitations, spontaneous whimpers of emotion, and outbursts of unmitigated lust from any and all members of Corvette Nation is the 1963 Corvette Grand Sport.
What a freakin’ car!
Caption: A 1963 Corvette Grand Sport at speed during its all-too-brief racing career. It was capable of explosive acceleration and its light weight made it more than a match for the small-block Cobras.
In the early 1960’s Carroll Shelby was spanking the Corvette in organized road racing on a regular basis. Before Shelby’s ultimate goal of taking down the Ferrari empire for the GT World Championship was realized, his small-block Cobra roadsters were feasting on everything in sight here in America.
It wasn’t too long before the man who gave the Corvette its performance chops, Zora Arkus-Duntov, had seen enough. Under the cover of corporate darkness, he huddled with his engineering team at Chevrolet and cobbled together a lightweight 1963 Corvette coupe, dropping its 3200-pound production weight to a feathery 1900. A 327-cube V8 was punched out to 377 cubic-inches, fitted with Weber carburetors, and dynoed at around 550-horsepower.
On the exterior, the Grand Sport was given the trimmings of a genuine war machine. Scoops, vents, flairs, hogged-out wheel wells, and a low, skulking demeanor that radiated dread from all angles. With racing stripes, racing numbers, and a set of broad-shouldered Goodyear Sports Car Special tires mounted on Halibrand magnesium racing wheels, the Grand Sport was dressed to kill.
Once the Grand Sport hit the track, everyone knew there was a new sheriff in town. It was scandalously fast. It was so light, drivers revealed that under hard acceleration out of corners, the front wheels would nearly come off the ground, making it a bit spooky when first encountered. The Grand Sport was clearly a formidable foe for the Cobras and in several head-to-head meetings, these ultra-light Stingrays came out on top.
But the great Cobra-Grand Sport rivalry which American road racing fans were just beginning to fervently sink their teeth into ended almost as quickly as it began. General Motors had instituted a company-wide racing ban in 1957, and when the Grand Sport program started making headlines, the project was axed after only five of the 125 proposed racecars had been built. All had originally been constructed as coupes, but along the way, two were converted to roadsters.
Caption: Two of the five Corvette Grand Sports built by Chevrolet were converted to roadsters.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing two of the five Grand Sports up close and in person. Goosebumps? Everywhere.
All five still exist and in 2003, they were reunited and on display at the Amelia Island Concours in Florida. Sorry I missed it, but chances are I would have made a fool of myself, openly weeping, shaking my head in euphoric disbelief, and eventually being asked to leave.
Original 1963 Grand Sports rarely make public appearances and change hands even more infrequently. Their values, as you might expect, go into the several million dollar range and their replacement value according to insurance executives I’ve spoken with is currently around $5,000,000. As with the Cobra, replica Grand Sports are offered by several companies, in fact, GM shadowed Carroll Shelby’s business plan by building “continuation” Grand Sports for those who feel that having a GM-endorsed recreation is the only way to go.
Truly, this Corvette which accomplished so much in so little time could have achieved a lot more had its life not been cut short by corporate timidity. I hope I run across another one in my travels throughout the collector car continuum soon. I’ll do my best to contain myself.
If you don’t have $5,000,000 lying around, several companies can build you a Grand Sport replica like this one for a fraction of that. If you don’t want to wait until it’s finished, one will be crossing the block at Dana Mecum’s Original Spring Classic in Indianapolis on Thursday. Look for Lot #T254 and watch live coverage on Velocity.