The Greder Corvette, s/n 410300, holds a unique place in Le Mans history, not only as one of the most successful, and well-traveled, Corvette race cars in the world, but also as the survivor of one of Chevrolet’s “back door” racing programs, managed and implemented by Zora Arkus-Duntov. The central figure is Henri Greder.
Greder nearly won the 1963 Tour de France in a factory-entered 427 Ford Galaxie. This earned him a Ford of France ride in a 4.7-liter GT40 at Le Mans in 1966 and 1967. In preparation for the 1968 24 Heures du Mans, GM’s European promotions director (and up-and-coming chairman) Bob Lutz and Greder approached Swiss racing patron Georges Filipinetti with the idea of entering a two-car Corvette team at Le Mans.
Filipinetti accepted, and two L88 Corvette coupes shortly arrived from Detroit, fully race-prepared for the 24 Hours under Zora Arkus-Duntov’s supervision—this car, for Greder and Umberto Maglioli, and the other for Sylvain Garant and Jean-Michel Giorgi. Zora, knowing the demands of 24 hours at speed at Le Mans, fitted very tall 2.56 rear end gears to take full advantage of the legendary 427-ci L88 engine’s power. The combination was clocked down the Mulsanne straight at 191 mph and turned in a sub-four-minute lap in testing.
The Corvettes were fast but suffered from what the French called the “ennuis de freins”—brakes not measuring up to the inertia of one and a half tons accelerated to nearly 200 mph by th big-block L88. Greder recalls having to brake for the Mulsanne turn at the 500-meter mark.
In the 1968 race, Greder and Maglioli dominated the Porsche competition and led the GT category until the sixth hour, when a carburetion problem melted a piston. Garant wiped out the other Corvette in the Dunlop Curves in the 14th hour.
Returning in 1969, now with Reine Wisell as co-driver and Ronnie Petersen as backup, Greder’s L88 Corvette endured 16 hours of aggressive downshifting, using engine braking to relieve the brakes’ “ennui,” before the gearbox gave up, again while leading the GT category. Following Le Mans, Greder placed 6th overall at Magny Cours, then in September reprised the Tour de France, a 5,000-km marathon over nine days, including eleven events at nine different tracks. Greder and the Corvette finished 2nd and won the GT category, earning the description “La phénoménale Chevrolet Corvette” in Maurice Louche’s history of the Tour de France Automobile.
The 1968–69 Greder car was sold to Jean-Claude Aubriet and entered by Aubriet’s Ecurie Leopard a further four times at Le Mans from 1970 to 1973, finishing as high as 18th overall and 2nd in class, as well as contesting an active schedule of other races, including the Tour de France in 1970 and 1971. Six years at Le Mans, much less consecutive, as in this case, is a record unequalled by any single chassis in Le Mans history.
The Greder Corvette was sold in 1989 to Bob Rubin, then to Marc de Peescara. It was acquired by its present owner in 2000 and was gone through thoroughly and professionally in the owner’s own shop to prepare it for historic racing. Its first appearance was at the Monterey Historics in 2001. It subsequently has been displayed several times at important events without further historic competition.
Today it is powered by the engine it had when acquired in 2000, a 1970s vintage 454 in the guise of the classic L88. It is prepared for historic racing with a lightened flywheel, carbon fiber clutch, M22 “Rock Crusher” close-ratio gearbox, and J56 heavy-duty brakes. In addition to FIA Historic Vehicle Identity and a new Historic Technical Passport, its documentation includes copies of the original ACO entry forms from its six appearances at Le Mans.
|1968 Scuderia Filipinetti L88 Coupe
|80 in 1968
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Plate on top of instrument panel at base of windshield
|Engine Number Location:
|Pad on front of block below right cylinder head
|National Corvette Restorers Society 6291 Day Road Cincinnati, OH 45252
|1965–67 Shelby Cobra 427 1955–57 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing 1965–66 Shelby GT350
This car sold for $572,000, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Auction in Monterey, California, on August 15, 2009.
There is no better international stage for an auto manufacturer than the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A class victory for the Chevrolet Corvette at Le Mans would surely show the rest of the world that the U.S. could build a real sports car. Many Americans have tried their luck at Le Mans with Corvettes, but they learned a harsh lesson: Success at home was no guarantee of success at Le Mans.
Briggs Cunningham made the first attempt in 1960 with a factory-supported team of three Corvettes. Only one finished, and the engine had to be packed with ice to nurse it home, but they earned a surprise GT class victory. In 1962, Californian Hugh Powell’s Corvette, with drivers Tony Settember and Jack Turner, was as high as 3rd in class when the transmission failed in the 13th hour. Corvette legends Dick Guldstrand and Bob Bondurant were leading the GT class in 1967 with their thundering L88 when the near-stock Chevrolet-built engine failed in the eleventh hour.
In 1972, David Heinz, with the “backdoor” support of Goodyear and Chevrolet, built his “Rebel” ’68 L88 Le Mans car in just eight weeks and finished 15th overall and 7th in the GT class.
Even John Greenwood failed in three tries in the 1970s
But Heinz’s entry was initially rejected by l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), and it took the influence of U.S. Ferrari distributor Luigi Chinetti to eventually get the entry approved. Ironically, the ACO invited Heinz to return the next year, but the ’72 effort was far more expensive than anticipated and the team never went back. Even the great John Greenwood and his well-funded Stars-n-Stripes cars failed in three attempts in the 1970s. It would be another 20 years before a serious challenge was mounted, this time by Reeves Callaway, who earned a 2nd in GT2 in 1995 with his Corvette-based creations.
Cunningham’s first-in-class in 1960 wasn’t duplicated until 2001, when the Pratt & Miller Corvette Racing juggernaut began its string of Le Mans class victories (and an incredible 4th overall in 2006). Yet within that 41-year drought, it was the French-based Corvette of Henri Greder and Jean-Claude Aubriet that performed as well as any American team.
Brakes have traditionally been the Corvette’s Achilles heel at Le Mans, and Greder’s more aerodynamic third-generation car was fully 20 mph faster than Guldstrand’s ’67 car, which further strained the brakes, yet somehow Aubriet was able to temper speed with endurance to at least finish the ’73 event. The Frenchmen understood the unique challenge of the 8.36-mile Le Mans course, their French-based operation avoided the massive expense and logistical nightmare the American teams faced in getting their cars, supplies, and crews across the Atlantic, and their nationality skirted the insular nature ACO scrutineers sometimes showed to American entries.
Many Corvette histories fail to mention this French Corvette connection, perhaps because it was not an American team and so had no real visibility in the States. But Henri Greder and Jean-Claude Aubriet admirably carried the Corvette torch at Le Mans from 1968 to 1973 with this car. And it could have been equally ignored on the auction block. But it wasn’t.
Even the restoration—geared toward vintage racing, rather than museum quality —did little to dampen the bidding enthusiasm, which reflects Greder and Aubriet’s accomplishment. Even without a correct L88 engine, I call this very well sold indeed; it is perhaps the most successful European-raced Corvette in history, and has a story that deserves to be told