Chevrolet went racing with the Corvette in 1988, producing 56 cars for the inaugural season of the Powell Development America-inspired SCCA Corvette Challenge Series. The white coupe offered here is one of those original 56.

The Challenge cars were identically outfitted with standard equipment, including the 245-hp cross-fire fuel injection engine, Doug Nash 4+3 manual transmission, Z51 Performance Handling Suspension package, AC3 6-Way Power Driver Seat, UU8 Delco-Bose Stereo, Z6A Side Window and Side Mirror Defog System, and 24S Blue Tint Glass Removable Roof Panel. After assembly in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the cars were modified for competition by Protofab of Wixom, Michigan, which installed racing seats, a full roll cage, onboard fire-extinguisher system, Bilstein shock absorbers, and special Dymag wheels.

A rare and valuable factory race Corvette, this Corvette Challenge car was campaigned as number 76 and driven by Peter Cunningham. It has 8,838 miles and features its original factory white paint with Corvette Challenge Series decals, the GM/Protofab-installed roll bar, and special-issue Challenge Series Dymag wheels.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1988 Corvette Challenge Race Car
Years Produced:1988–89
Number Produced:116 (56 in 1988, 60 in 1989)
Original List Price:$33,043
SCM Valuation:$26,500–$40,000
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:$19.99
Chassis Number Location:Lower left windshield corner
Engine Number Location:Right front cylinder head deck
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society 6291 Day Road Cincinnati, OH 45252
Alternatives:1993 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 1971 Ford Mustang Boss 351 1997–2003 Lotus Esprit V8
Investment Grade:B

This car sold for $42,200, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Original Spring Classic Auction in Indianapolis, Indiana, on May 15, 2009.

Had I attended this auction, I would have needed a sedative to keep myself from buying this car—especially at the price for which it sold. That’s because it’s a remnant of arguably the most exciting Corvette marketing program in history—the 1988–89 Corvette Challenge Series, which exposed the racing capabilities of a big field of C4 Corvettes to audiences in major demographic areas around North America.

Built Corvette’s name as a world-class sports car

The high-speed, fender-rubbing competition helped build Corvette’s reputation as a world-class sports car at a time when competition from Porsche’s evolving 911 and 944 series, BMW’s new M variants, and even the Mustang GT was heating up. Better still, the series attracted stars like Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford, Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner, future Corvette GTP driver Tommy Kendall, Juan Manuel Fangio II, future factory Corvette C5-R driver Andy Pilgrim, and this car’s driver, Peter Cunningham, among many others.

Technically, the Corvette Challenge cars weren’t all that special, with principal differences including individually dyno-tested engines, the aftermarket racing wheels and suspension dampers, a roll cage, and a racing seat. But they carried a unique (and all-important) Chevrolet motorsports connection, and of course all the VINs were known and tracked. The Corvette Challenge powertrain was known as B9P, although this code was not offered as a regular production option. The cars were priced at $33,043 ($3,354 more than a base coupe), plus $15,000 for the Protofab race-prep work.

The fourth-generation Corvette model (beginning in 1984 and ending in 1996) is generally held in low regard by collectors, with a few outstanding exceptions, including the Callaway Twin Turbo, the final 1995 version of the 32-valve ZR-1, the Grand Sport of 1996, and the Corvette Challenge race cars. With just 56 built for 1988 and another 60 built for 1989, they are about as rare as big-tank mid-years.

Unlike those cars, however, they were built by Chevrolet for the express purpose of racing. On the auction circuit today, earlier Corvettes with special racing-oriented options (such as the big-brake ’57 RPO 684, ’60 RPO 687, and ’63 RPO Z06) attract far higher bids, which makes the $42k this unit sold for seem like a relative bargain.

Since this particular car already has nearly 9,000 hard-fought miles on the clock, the new owner can show it, coddle it, or drive it in anger on the track anytime he wants for the rest of his days on earth, and he’ll scarcely degrade or damage it in any way; that is, unless he backs it into a wall.

Attention and kudos wherever it goes

Since the Challenge cars were essentially stock C4s, repair parts are readily available, and the car will attract conversation and kudos wherever it goes. Someday there may even be a vintage race just for Corvette Challenge cars, and when this happens it will likely meet with glowing success, a fond reflection of the late-’80s “Happy Days” period for Corvette.

As an account executive on Chevrolet Motorsports advertising at the time of the Corvette Challenge Series, I attended a number of races and recall that the excitement was brilliantly high. Watching the pack of cars thunder into the first turn was dramatic and exciting stuff, and with big spectator counts and the prestige of a professional title on the line (Stu Hayner won a $100,000 bonus for taking the ’88 championship), the drivers were all super-motivated.

Energy was high in Warren, Michigan, as well, as the Chevrolet division was involved with Indy Cars (via the Ilmor-built Chevy V8 racing engine), the impending launch of the ZR-1, excitement over Corvette active-suspension prototypes, and various entries in the IMSA road racing series. These were heady times, and the Corvette Challenge Series ran high on the list for two years.

About this car in particular: After learning it had been sold, I contacted Cunningham to ask his recollections. He drove the entire 1988 season in the car, which was owned by MPS Motorsports of Dayton, Ohio, and he earned one podium and finished in the top ten in all the other races, except for a mechanical DNF in the final race at St. Petersburg, Florida.

With no serious shunts during the year, the car survived the series in reasonable shape. “It was an excellent series—a lot of pretty good drivers were in it, and it was unbelievably competitive,” he recalls. “Car setup was the only thing you could do. It was so critical to qualify up front, and your wheel alignment was critical to do this.”

Cunningham knew about his old car being sold in Indy, but wasn’t particularly sad to have missed it. “I never wished to own my race cars,” he said. “Tommy Kendall had his Challenge car, and Bill Auberlen collects his old cars. Two of my World Challenge cars are in the Honda museum, and that’s enough for me.”

Two words summarize my feelings about this Corvette: Well bought

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