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Corvette Grand Sport Takes on the World

Corvette Grand Sport Takes on the World

The first generation Corvette was introduced late in the 1953 model year. Originally designed as a show car for the General Motors Motorama of 1953, it generated enough interest to induce GM to fast-track a production version to sell to the public. On June 30 of the same year, the first production Corvette rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan. Production was capped at 300 units, all in the now iconic Polo White/Sportsman Red exterior/interior color scheme and powered by the 150-hp, three-carb “Blue Flame” inline-six and a two-speed Powerglide transmission. The only options were a heater and an AM radio.

A man by the name of Zora Arkus-Duntov had attended the 1953 Motorama in New York. Arkus-Duntov was so struck by the beauty of this little car that he wrote a letter to Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole to compliment him on a job well done and to make a few suggestions as to how the future production model could be improved. While Arkus-Duntov was taken by the appearance of the roadster, he was somewhat disappointed by what he saw under the hood: the under-powered Blue Flame six-cylinder engine. Cole and his second-in-command Maurice Olley were so impressed with the letter that they extended an employment opportunity to him.

Arkus-Duntov began his career at Chevrolet on May 1, 1953 as an assistant staff engineer. He worked on many projects during his early days at Chevrolet but always had his eye on the Corvette and racing. On December 16, 1953, he wrote a memo to Ed Cole with the subject line of “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet” in which he touted the importance of advancing the development of the V8 engine and promoting Chevrolet to the ever-growing youth market.

These thoughts were taken seriously and were echoed by many within the Chevrolet ranks including chief engineer and future general manager Ed Cole. By 1955, Chevy V8s had found themselves into the Corvette and into the winner’s circle on the stock car circuit. By pushing for increased performance and the installation of the V8 in the Corvette, Arkus-Duntov is credited with saving that model from an early demise as sales of the first generation of Corvettes (1953-1955) were quite poor.

Arkus-Duntov was a brilliant engineer, a daring racecar driver, and became the “godfather” of the Corvette. He was the first man to hold the title of chief engineer for the Corvette program and was responsible for transforming that car from merely an attractive-looking roadster to the powerful American sports car it has become.

In 1957, Arkus-Duntov was promoted to become director of high performance vehicles. During the prior year, he boosted his performance credentials with the development of the SR-1 and SR-2 Corvettes. His next project, the magnesium-bodied Corvette Super Sport (SS), was built with the intention of competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was tested at that race’s American counterpart, the 12 Hours of Sebring. Despite setting a lap record, the Corvette SS was forced off the track after only 23 laps due to suspension and other mechanical problems. While the event was eaten up by the press and Chevrolet’s image as a builder of performance cars bolstered, Le Mans would have to wait. Shortly after the Sebring race, the GM executive leadership, along with that of Ford and Chrysler, signed on to the Automobile Manufacturer’s Association (AMA) ban of factory-supported racing thus halting all overt support for racing at Chevrolet.

However, the AMA ban on racing did not stop everyone at Chevrolet from helping privateers with racing endeavors such as the 1960 Corvettes at Le Mans. Urged by Arkus-Duntov, racer Briggs Cunningham entered three mostly stock Corvettes in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – each powered by the innovative 283 “Fuelie” mechanically fuel-injected small block V8 engine. In a race dominated by European factory teams, Cunningham’s No. 3 Corvette, driven by John Fitch and Bob Grossman, won the large-displacement GT class and finished eighth overall. In fact, the top 10 finishers included six Ferraris, two Aston Martins, a Porsche and the privateer Corvette.

The Corvette was completely restyled for the 1963 model year. Again, the car’s performance was improved and with the introduction of the famed Z06 special performance equipment package, Arkus-Duntov stated that Chevrolet had finally built a Corvette that he would be proud to drive alongside the grand sports cars of Europe. The Z06 package consisted of a 327 cid, 360 horsepower fuel injected V8 with 4 speed manual transmission, a posi-traction rear-end, a whopping 36-gallon fuel tank, heavy duty shocks and springs, and power brakes with finned drums.

To compete better on the GT-class circuit, Arkus-Duntov took the ’63 Corvette a step further with the development of the 1963 Corvette Grand Sport. The Grand Sport was a lightweight version of the 1963 model featuring an aluminum block 377 cid V8 engine that developed more than 550 horsepower. The original Corvette Grand Sport race cars were targeted for the 1963 Le Mans race. The plan was to build at least 125 ultra-light, high-powered cars to satisfy homologation rules for the GT production class.

Unfortunately, production of the Grand Sport was halted at five as GM’s management increased their enforcement of the AMA racing ban. The Grand Sport program officially died before the car made it to Le Mans. Despite GM’s racing ban, Arkus-Duntov let the original Grand Sports slip into the hands of private racers, providing the real-world evaluation and technology transfer the gifted engineer was seeking. Roger Penske, A.J. Foyt, Jim Hall and Dick Thompson were among the racing luminaries who drove them.

Before the cars went to private hands, GM pulled the 377 cubic inch motors. In the hands of privateers, they were mostly run with the big block 427 motor. Initially, even though the 427 was heavier than the small block 377, the Grand Sports ran with some measure of success. At Nassau in 1963, they put on an exciting show besting the Cobras and finishing third and fourth behind two prototypes. Roger Penske returned to Nassau in 1964 and won the Nassau Trophy race, serving pretty much as the Grand Sport’s swan song.

GM Media Archive staff recently uncovered home movie footage of the Grand Sports in action. This footage was shot by Zora and Elfi Arkus-Duntov, the famed Corvette engineer and his wife. It shows the Grand Sports in development at Sebring and at the Nassau race in 1963.

  • 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport (Car 38-1) in white at Sebring during December 1962 testing Firestone tires.
  • 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport (Car 38-1) in white at Sebring.
  • Zora Arkus-Duntov drives the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport coupe at the GM Milford Proving Ground in 1963.
  • Zora Arkus-Duntov accompanies the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport coupes to Nassau Speed Week in December 1963.

 

In 1996, Chevrolet introduced the Corvette Grand Sport special edition in the final year of the fourth generation. Only 1,000 were built– each with an Admiral Blue exterior featuring an Arctic White stripe down the middle and red hash marks on the left-front fender. Black wheels from the ZR1 model required flares for the rear fenders, and all models featured a 330-hp LT4 engine. Of the 1,000 built, 810 were coupes and 190 were convertibles.

 

In 2010, the Grand Sport was reintroduced in the C6 generation, offering design distinction with the wide chassis of the Z06 – including convertible models. It was unveiled at the 12th annual C5/C6 Corvette Birthday Bash, held at the National Corvette Museum. It quickly became the Corvette lineup’s most popular model, accounting for more than half of sales by the close of the sixth generation in 2013. The Grand Sport replaced the previous Z51 option. Equipped with the hand-built LS3 6.2L V8 (Coupes equipped with manual transmissions only), the Grand Sport offered enhancements including stiffer springs, revised shocks, a larger rear spoiler, unique light-weight forged aluminum 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels, wider front and rear fenders with integrated Grand Sport badges and functional front and rear brake ducts for added brake system cooling.

For 2017, the Grand Sport returns again, leveraging more than 50 years of technology transfer from the track, while incorporating the distinctive styling attributes and special-edition aura that made previous versions popular with collectors. It is also the first production model to incorporate the chassis and suspension elements of the high-performance supercharged model in addition to its wider tires and fenders.

With Corvette Racing in its DNA, the all-new 2017 Corvette Grand Sport is a pure expression of the car’s motorsports-bred pedigree. It was introduced on March 1, 2016 at the Geneva International Motor Show.

Like the 2015 Le Mans-winning Corvette C7.R GTE Pro race car, the new Grand Sport combines a lightweight architecture, a track-honed aerodynamics package, Michelin tires and a naturally aspirated engine.

The 2017 Corvette Grand Sport offers an estimated 1.05g in cornering capability – and up to 1.2g with the available Z07 package.

Heritage-inspired design cues and exclusive features acknowledge the historic Grand Sport legacy, established in 1963 to take on the world’s best sports cars.

“Racing has been part of Corvette’s essence for more than 50 years and that track experience has helped us build better, more capable cars,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president of Global Product Development and Global Purchasing and Supply Chain. “The global acclaim for the seventh-generation Corvette validates that direct link and the 2017 Grand Sport takes its track-bred technology to a new, exciting threshold.”

Content highlights for Grand Sport include:

  • Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires: 285/30ZR19 (front) and 335/25ZR20 (rear)
  • Specific Grand Sport wheel design: 19x10 inches (front) and 20x12 inches (rear)
  • Brembo brake system with (355 mm) 14-inch rotors and six-piston calipers in front and (340 mm) 13.4 inch rotors and four-piston calipers in the rear
  • Standard magnetic ride control, specific stabilizer bars and unique springs
  • Standard electronic limited-slip differential
  • LT1 V8 engine rated at (343 kW) 460 hp, with dry-sump oiling system and active exhaust
  • Seven-speed manual transmission with active rev match and available eight-speed paddle-shift automatic with specific performance calibration
  • Available Z07 package adds carbon ceramic-matrix brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport 2 Cup tires

A Collector Edition will be offered later in the model year in the U.S. and Europe. The Grand Sport Collector Edition features an exclusive Watkins Glen Gray Metallic exterior with Tension Blue hash-mark graphics, satin black full-length stripes, black wheels and a unique Tension Blue full leather and suede-wrapped interior.

The Tension Blue color is a bold, modern take on the hue historically associated with the Grand Sport. Inside, a three-dimensional representation of an original Grand Sport race car is embossed in the headrests and that shape is also used on an instrument panel plaque that carries a unique build sequence number.