For the 1996 model year, Chevrolet decided that a very special Corvette was needed to commemorate the end of the highly successful C4 generation. Dubbed the Grand Sport, this special car was named after the famous lightweight factory Corvette racers of the early ’60s.
Echoing the original, the new Grand Sport featured a special Admiral Blue exterior with an Arctic White stripe over the hood and rear deck, two red hash-mark stripes over the left front fender, black-spoke ZR-1-style wheels, chrome badging, and GS embroidery on the headrests. But what really made the car so special was the one-year-only LT4 engine with its distinctive red intake manifold, conservatively rated at 330 horsepower and available only with the 6-speed manual transmission.
Only 1,000 Grand Sports were built, the most coveted being the Grand Sport convertible with red and black interior, of which only 53 were produced.
This example is number 474, an early-delivery car that has accumulated only 11 miles from new. It is a true time-capsule example.
|1996 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport convertible
|Original List Price:
|$28,500–$52,000 with miles
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|VIN plate at base of windshield
|Engine Number Location:
|Right-front cylinder-head deck
|National Corvette Restorers Society
|1961 Chevrolet Corvette 283/315 Fuelie; 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 RS; 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454/450 LS6
This car, Lot S117, sold for $151,200, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s auction in Kissimmee, FL, on January 25, 2014.
Over the past decade-plus, we’ve all gotten pretty accustomed to certain premium-DNA Corvettes such as Fuelies and big-blocks selling for six-figure prices. So at the Mecum auction in Kissimmee, it wasn’t all that surprising to see another ’Vette do the same.
The difference here was that the car in question was a production C4, and that the price was a stunning $151k — well above even the optimistic pre-auction estimate of $100k to $125k, and a new record for the model.
The sale price beat not only Mecum’s estimate, but ACC’s own Price Guide as well, which currently lists the Grand Sport convertible, in #2 condition, at $28,500 to $52,000. It also buried some other vaunted C4 models from the era, such as the ZR-1 and factory-built Corvette Challenge race cars.
Furthermore, besides setting a record price for a 1996 Grand Sport at auction, this car also outperformed some traditionally high-value Corvettes at the same auction. These included Lot F180.1, a 1962 Big-Brake Fuelie that sold for $116,100, Lot F233, a 275-horse 1961 Fuelie that changed hands for $118,800, and Lot S206, a 1967 427/400 convertible that sold for $145,800.
So what’s the logic behind this late-model Corvette being worth $151k? That’s tough to answer simply, but I see six factors that can help explain it. Let’s take a look at them:
1. Swept along for the rise
As certain benchmark cars spiral up in value, they create a value vacuum beneath them that pulls lesser cars to new heights. When a 1967 L88 sells for $3.9m, as Lot 5035 did at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale in January (ACC# 232093), it brings other Sting Rays along in its wake, which in turn pull up the best of the Sharks and C4s. So a rising tide lifts all ’Vettes — especially low-production performance-oriented cars in fantastic original condition.
2. Arguably the best C4
The Grand Sport was arguably the best Corvette in the C4 generation. Some will strongly argue that the ZR-1 was it, but the King of the Hill was really too expensive for the performance advantages that its 32-valve powertrain offered. And it was never accepted as a “true” Corvette by the most ardent Corvette disciples. On top of that, by the time the Grand Sport arrived, the pushrod V8’s performance had substantially caught up — and that type of engine was both cheaper and simpler to produce and repair.
3. Last of the litter, and a fitting farewell
The ’96 GS was also the last of the C4 generation, and represented the end of Chief Engineer Dave McLellan’s reign. For the C5, Dave Hill took over. Absent any other defining factors, the firsts and lasts of a generation are traditionally the most valuable.
The Grand Sport was a limited-edition, performance-minded, one-year-only farewell salute, blending the most power of any pushrod C4, wide wheels and tires, unique colors, and the best history that Chevrolet Motor Division could muster at the time. And if you really want to dive deep, you can also argue that because its pushrod V8 powers through a traditional front-mounted gearbox (unlike the rear-mounted transaxle used by C5, C6 and C7), it’s the best and last “real” Corvette — although that may be a stretch.
4. Spirit of Zora
For what it’s worth, the C4 Grand Sport was named after Zora Arkus-Duntov’s Grand Sport racers of 1963. They’re the most important and most valuable Corvettes of all time. How valuable are they? When RM Auctions offered #002 for sale at its Phoenix auction in 2009, that car failed to sell at a high bid of $4.9m (ACC# 119050).
ACC’s Price Guide currently places the values of the five original Grand Sports at between $7.7m and $13.5m — and that’s assuming you could find one for sale. While the’96 GS is a different animal entirely, Chevrolet worked pretty hard to make sure it evoked the idea of the originals. It even bore hash marks on its fender to show solidarity.
5. Gen Y is awakening and times are changing
Just as the finest pre-war classics are regularly eclipsed in value by production 1950s and 1960s European sports cars, I believe the time will come when the best examples of computer-designed and robotically built late-model plastic-fascia sports cars — such as this Grand Sport — will ascend.
The 16-year-olds of 1996 who couldn’t buy a Corvette but had posters of them on their walls (right alongside Metallica and Claudia Schiffer) are now 34 years old. Many of them are out of computer or contractor or medical school, well employed, and ready to make good on past promises to themselves. These guys are entering the market, and they’re not interested in Polo White ’54s, brah. One of them may or may not have bought this car, but they most certainly are buying others in lesser condition and with more miles, and that could be helping to push prices up.
6. Limited production, minty fresh
Only 1,000 Grand Sports were built for 1996 — with just 190 of them convertibles. It’s very likely that most of these survive in respectable form. But how many have only 11 miles on the clock? I’d wager it’s a low number indeed.
We’ve seen ultra-low-mile cars bring huge money in the past — this is especially true of cars that are still as-delivered from the factory, with no miles, plastic on the seats and all delivery materials still in place. This is probably the most important point: If the Grand Sport is the best of the C4s, and a car like this one is the best of the Grand Sports (as evidenced by its condition, rare interior and convertible top), you’ve got a perfect storm of circumstances that’ll easily push its price up.
These six factors all played a part, to varying degrees, in why this GS made over $151k. The buyer’s only problem, besides having paid a world-record auction price for the model, is that driving it even 100 miles will substantially reduce its value. But it’s lovely enough to behold that just looking may be plenty fun enough.
(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.