The culmination of the Corvette’s early development came in 1963 with the five Grand Sports. These were emblematic of the Corvette’s potential and fired public imagination that a production-based sports car could hold its own with European marques at Le Mans, Daytona, the Targa Florio, Sebring, and Monza.

The first hint of ambitions came with the 1957 Corvette SS, a lightweight front-engine race car. GM turned thumbs down on any racing program, but Dr. Dick Thompson raced it in the SCCA in 1959–60.

Five Grand Sports were begun in 1962 with twin tube frames, beefy cross-members, and fully independent suspension. The engines were 377-ci aluminum masterpieces with hemi heads, dry-sump lubrication, and four side-draft Webers. The brakes were vented discs.

Tests were made at Sebring, but the racing ban was reimposed. However, Zora Arkus-Duntov sneaked two cars out to Chevy dealer Dick Doane and Grady Davis of Gulf Oil, and Dick Thompson won SCCA C/Modified at Watkins Glen. Duntov then sent three cars to Nassau for Speed Week and they finished 3rd, 4th, and 6th. He planned on Daytona and cut down two cars into roadsters, but management intervened again and Chevrolet backed out of racing for good.

Corvette Grand Sport s/n 002 has had several sympathetic owners over the years, including Roger Penske, and wound up with John Jaeger in 1990, still largely original. Jaeger exactly copied the body but replaced the 427-ci engine with a copy of the original 377-ci unit. Configured as it was in 1966, the car currently has a 427-ci engine and its replacement body, but the correct body and the 377-ci come with it.

{analysis}This car was a no-sale at $4.9m at RM’s Automobiles of Arizona auction, held in Phoenix on January 16, 2009.

Early on Friday afternoon at the auction, 002, one of the most famous Corvettes built, and arguably the most valuable one ever to be sold at public auction, crossed the block. The crowd of several hundred was very quiet as the Grand Sport was pushed on stage.

Standing with me in the back were Publisher Martin, Bloomington Gold Supremo David Burroughs, NCRS Senior Judging Chairman Roy Sinor, and noted collectors John Zupan, Dennis Clark, and Ken Gratteri; seats up front were for serious bidders only. We anxiously discussed what the car might sell for and the range of $6m–$10m was our collective best guess. Bidding opened at $2m and went slowly through several large jumps. The auctioneer mentioned an Internet bid and several phone bids.

The large video display at the front of the room indicated the last bid we heard—$4.9 million. At that point, the screen flashed that the reserve was off and the car was “for sale”. There was a small cheer and then... silence. Someone walked up on stage and said something to the auctioneer, the auction abruptly ended, and the car was pushed off the stage without explanation.

Audio-visual malfunction? Sudden change of heart by the seller? We may never know what happened that day at the Arizona Biltmore, but the car is still for sale through RM Auctions.

Why is this Corvette so unique, and why will it surely bring many times the total value of the Million-Dollar Corvette Challenge the panelists at the CM Seminar picked as their collections?

In early 1962, Zora Duntov convinced Bunkie Knudsen (GM of GM) that he had a viable “work around” to skirt the 1957 AMA ban on racing. His plan was to build a series of 125 “Lightweight” Corvettes to qualify for FIA homologation in the GT Class. Remember, Carroll Shelby had already been to GM and asked for a dozen 327s for his Cobra project but had been turned away. Shelby’s next stop was Ford, which signed on.

It always comes down to horsepower-to-weight

The need for high-performance stop and go was clearly demonstrated at the Three Hour Enduro prior to the L.A. Times Grand Prix at Riverside on October 14, 1962. Ironically, it was the introduction of the early-production 1963 Z06 and the first outing of the Cobra. The Cobra weighed 2,200 lb, the Corvettes 3,100 lb.

It almost always comes down to horsepower-to-weight ratios, and it was painfully obvious the Corvettes were in serious trouble. A lack of horsepower, braking capacity, and rear-end durability, plus poor aerodynamics and too much weight were the engineering issues. In this case, it was the car, not the driver.

Five Corvette Grand Sport coupes were built under Duntov’s tutelage in the GM Skunk Works. Before any more could be built, the powers that be at GM figured out what was going on, and his Lightweight project was absolutely stopped by GM’s adherence to the AMA racing ban.

For the next several years, the Grand Sports had limited success. The first engines used were 327/360 fuel-injected motors, just like those found in the Z06. Next came a hemispherical-head, multi-plug, SOHC, 377-ci engine with four double-barrel 58-mm Webers on a Cross Ram intake; a slightly modified version actually made it into several of the Grand Sports.

In 1964, GM converted GS 001 and 002 into roadsters. The power of Cobra’s new, dual-quad 427 models far surpassed the original 260 and 289 and made them even more formidable. Between the Cobras, GT40s, and Ferraris, the Grand Sports had little chance of success on the road racing circuit.

Sold for the princely sum of $6,700 in 1967

GS 002 was one of the last of the five to race. After receiving the haircut, it remained at GM until Roger Penske, who owned 001 and 002 (the roadsters) sold 002 to his friend and backer, George Wintersteen. Wintersteen went to Detroit and picked up the car directly from Duntov. He had it transported back to his shop in Pennsylvania, took the small-block out and installed a Traco L88, built for durability, not absolute horsepower.

When I spoke to Wintersteen about his car, he could not recall what he paid Penske for it, but does remember selling it for the princely sum of $6,700 in 1967. He also owned GS 005 but was the only competition driver ever to race 002 in the 1960s. He is alive and well, living in Pennsylvania and speaks very enthusiastically about the glory days.

As you can imagine, nearly every high-end Corvette junkie in the world was in the room to watch the Grand Sport, and every one of them was pulling for it to set a new record price. After all, rumor has it that the last Cobra Daytona coupe to change hands went for $11m, and if you’re a Corvette guy, shouldn’t GS 002 be worth as much?

Maybe, but then again maybe not. What the Cobras have going for them is an extensive international racing history. They were tested in anger, against Ferrari, around the world, and earned their stripes. Due to the wrong-headedness of GM management, the Grand Sports were still-born, and we’ll never really know just how good they could have been if Duntov had been let loose to develop them.

It’s safe to say that we were all disappointed the Grand Sport didn’t sell. But on this day, in this location, $4.9m was the most anyone would bid, and that wasn’t enough for the owner to cut it loose.

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