It’s time for Throwback Thursday where we feature vintage photos of Corvettes. Today we are featuring a few throwback photos from 1963 when the Corvette Grand Sports took it to the Shelby Cobras in the Bahamas during the 1963 Speed Week races.
But first, the set-up to this story:
In early 1963 Carroll Shelby’s new Cobras were tearing up the tracks and had beaten the new 1963 Corvette Z06 handily despite Chevrolet putting the cars into the hands of some of the most capable drivers of the time. With the Cobras weighing nearly 1,100 pounds less than the fuel-injected Sting Ray, the Z06 would never have a power-to-weight advantage enjoyed by Shelby’s racecars.
Zora had already been thinking about the Sting Ray’s weight issue even before the Cobra’s thrashing of the Corvette Z06s in early 1963 and his plan called for a “Lightweight” racing version of the Sting Ray. Zora’s vision for a lightweight factory-built race car was the 1963 Grand Sport and five prototypes were built over 1962-63 with the goal of competing at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. GM’s boardroom found about the Grand Sports after a test session at Sebring in December 1962 and they squashed any more development of the cars (or so they thought).
Zora arranged for the final three cars (chassis nos 003, 004, 005) to be put into the hands of private racers who campaigned the cars in SCCA events extensively throughout the year. As the cars were prototypes and had not been homologated with the planned 125 retail versions, they were forced to run in the C-Modified class. Only the No 004 Grand Sport would see a checkered flag in the year with Dick Thompson as the driver for the Grady Davis-led Gulf Oil team.
Following the end of SCCA events in September 1963, the cars were recalled to Chevrolet’s tech center and they were further modified. Zora equipped each “lightweight” with a 377-cubic inch aluminium race engine featuring the distinctive 58-mm Weber carburetors mounted on top. The three Grand Sport Coupes were sent to John Mecom who put together a top-notch team of drivers for the 1963 Nassau Speed Week.
The racecars were delivered to the islands by the Bahama Star where they were unloaded on the docks. When Shelby showed up to pick up his cars, he was reportedly shocked at seeing the Grand Sports there. He would spend a considerable amount of time inspecting the cars under the watchful eyes of Mecom and Roger Penske. Following the unloading of the Grand Sports, Mecom – along with Penske and Augie Pabst – drove the cars from the loading docks to a communal garage across the island.
Despite the cars being prototypes, organizers allowed them into the race events where they handily beat the Cobras (the Corvettes did not win any of the three major Speed Week races, but they did finish considerably higher than the Shelbys). The Grand Sports did have some problems, including differential cooling issues. As luck would have it, a Chevrolet engineer who booked a last minute vacation to the Bahamas just happened to be traveling with several external passenger-car transmission coolers in his suitcase that were fitted to the rear decks of the Grand Sports to cool the rear differentials. Another Chevrolet engineer who was asked about the cars from a member of the press is said to have replied “You realize, of course, that you are talking to a man who isn’t here”.
The Corvette Grand Sport would find success in the Bahamas (if you call not winning any of the races a success) with Zora “handing it” to Carroll Shelby and his Cobras. The cars would be raced for another couple of years but they would have mediocre results at best. After GM found out about the racing efforts in Nassau, this time they made sure that all the tooling for the Grand Sports was destroyed, effectively orphaning the five original lightweight racers.
A big thanks to our friend Mike Furman who recently loaned us his copy of the now out-of-print book titled “Corvette Grand Sports” by Dave Friedman and Lowell C. Paddok.
[VIDEO] Original 1963 Corvette Grand Sport Driven at the Simeone Museum
[VIDEO] The Revs Institute’s Original #004 1963 Corvette Grand Sport
[PIC] Throwback Thursday: One of the Original 1963 Corvette Grand Sports for Sale