The Legendary 1963 Corvette Grand Sport
By Austin Spencer
Consistently on the short list of the most valuable and significant Corvettes ever built, the 1963 Grand Sport’s story is equal parts technical excellence and colorful racing lore. That is why some consider it the ultimate automotive tease. One of the biggest “what ifs” in sports car history….
Sixty years ago, Chevrolet hatched a car so fierce that in its very limited time on the track, it proved itself capable of knocking off the most successful sports cars in the world.
2023 marks the centennial of the 24 hours of Le Mans, considered the greatest sports car endurance race in the world. The 1950s and 1960s have often been dubbed the golden age of racing there, when it was the crucible of competition that manufacturers used to turn wins on the track into sales in the showroom.
Despite GM’s ban on racing, Chevrolet chief engineer Zora Arkus Duntov decided to build a production run of purpose-built Corvette race cars to win FIA endurance races, especially the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1962. Duntov called the project the "Lightweight"; Chevrolet marketing later christened it the Corvette "Grand Sport."
Intended as a series of 125 total cars, the “Lightweight” crossed the scales at roughly a thousand pounds less than the production Stingray. Duntov wanted the Grand Sports to face off against the seemingly unstoppable Shelby Cobras, among other GT-class cars and racing prototypes.
Each “Cobra-killer” boasted a small-block and weighed at around 1,800 pounds thanks to thinner fiberglass body panels, handcrafted aluminum components and a super-light tubular frame. Such a radically skewed power-to-weight ratio was a proven formula that Duntov would use in later designs.
But the Grand Sport program died almost the day it was born, killed by GM’s refusal to lift its ban on racing. After a pilot run of vehicles, GM management cancelled the project and ordered the cars destroyed.
When the ax fell at Chevrolet’s Research Center, Zora hid the first two cars and sent serial numbers 003, 004 and 005 to Texan John Mecom. Two were quickly “sold” to private teams owned by fellow Texans Alan Sevadjian, Delmo Johnson and Jim Hall.
The orphaned cars could not be homologated as production GTs like the Shelby Cobras. This meant they had to run in C Modified, a class for which they were never intended.
Vindication came at the December 1963 Nassau Speed Week, a weeklong party punctuated by races run under promoter Red Crise’s own rules. For the first time, the Grand Sports were allowed to compete directly with the Shelby Cobras.
Before the race, Chevrolet recalled the two privateer Lightweights and, along with a third, extensively improved the cars. Now fitted with 377 cubic inch aluminum engines, the cars were entered by John Mecom. Conveniently, a group of Chevrolet engineers chose Nassau for a one-week vacation.
Driven that week by Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Dr. Dick Thompson, John Cannon, and Augie Pabst, the Corvettes demolished their rivals. The three coupes proved decisively that Carroll Shelby’s Cobras were not invincible. The Ferraris competing there went home embarrassed as well.
Even though the Grand Sports stomped Shelby’s snakes, that domination proved to be short lived. GM yet again put a hold on racing and Duntov had to get them back into the itchy palms of privateers.
During their short life span, Grand Sports competed on some of the most prestigious road courses and were driven by a litany of legendary drivers. Chevrolet demonstrated the heavy-hitting capabilities of the Lightweight’s design. The Grand Sport’s impact is undeniable and enduring, as this ultra-rare racer still resonates with enthusiasts six decades later. And many feel the car’s potential heavily contributed to Duntov’s induction into numerous automotive halls of fame.
Only five of the Corvettes were completed when Duntov was ordered to destroy them. Miraculously, all of them escaped destruction orders, falling into the hands of private racers who preserved their heritage for future generations. Today, the cars are very rare and command almost $1 million.
Sixty years after the car was created, fans can own an authentic continuation version of the spectacular Grand Sport race car, authorized and approved by GM.
Superformance painstakingly reproduced the chassis, body panels and accessories required to replicate this extraordinary car. The Corvette Grand Sport by Superformance is offered as a complete TKM (turnkey minus) unit ready to accept a thunderous Chevy V8 and transmission.
The Corvette Grand Sport originally raced with several different engines and Borg Warner T-10 4-speed manual transmissions. In its racing debut early in 1963, the car sported a production 360 HP, 327 CID fuel injected motor. The most serious factory engine was a 377 cubic inch displacement, all-aluminum small-block with four Weber side draft carburetors, rated 550 hp at 6400 rpm. Superformance built the chassis to allow the engines and transmissions of the past or to accommodate any of the newer LS-series or E-Rod series of engines and transmissions from GM Performance Parts.
While the “what if” question still lingers six decades later about the stillborn racing program, Superformance has answered it for those who longed to drive one of the Lightweights on the street. Just as Zoro Duntov dreamed….