It took 25 years to create their first “special edition” Corvette. Although the Silver Anniversary Paint was a $399 paint-only option in 1978, when combined with Aluminum Wheels shod with the White Letter P255/60R-15 SBR tires, this combo made for a fine-looking Corvette. Four years later, Chevrolet rolled out the 1982 Collector Edition Hatchback option, followed by the 1986 Pace Car Replica, the 1988 35th Special Edition Package, the 1993 40th Anniversary Package, and the 1995 Indy 500 Pace Car Replica.
1996 would be the last year for the C4, so some kind of “special edition” was expected. What wasn’t expected was TWO special edition Corvettes: the Collector Edition and the Grand Sport. And to sweeten the deal even more, Corvette engineers released the final version of the classic small-block Chevy engine the conservatively-rated 330-horsepower LT4 that was available on any 1996 Corvette and was standard in the Grand Sport. The Grand Sport was a salute to the ultimate “could have been” racing Corvette.
The Collector Edition was an open-order option – meaning that all orders for the Collector Edition option would be filled. The Grand Sport was a 1,000 units, limited edition option – 810 Coupes and 190 Convertibles. Here’s a breakdown of the “special edition” (including the pace car replicas) Corvettes up to 1996.
1978 Pace Car Replica – 6,502
1978 Silver Anniversary – 15,283
1982 Collector Edition – 6,759
1986 Pace Car Replica (all 1986 Convertibles) – 7,315
1988 35th Special Edition Package – 2,050
1993 Pace Car Replica – 6,749
1995 Pace Car Replica – 527
1996 Collector Edition – 5,412
1996 Grand Sport Coupe – 810
1996 Grand Sport Convertible – 190
The 1996 Grand Sport option listed for $3,250 for the coupe and $2,880 for the convertible. Here’s what was included: dedicated Admiral Blue paint with white center stripes, special details, 17-inch ZR-1-style 5-spoke wheels with painted black spokes shod with P275/40ZR17 tires on the front and P315/35ZR17 rear tires, rear wheel flares, all-black interior or black/red interior, iconic red fender hash marks, and sequential serial numbers. The convertible Grand Sports had slightly smaller tires – P255/45ZR17 on the front and P285/40ZR17 on the rear and no rear fender flares. The reason the convertible had the slightly less wide tires was because engineering felt that the convertible owners would not be happy with a more grip with a less rigid chassis structure.
Except for the red accents on the throttle body and the “Grand Sport” lettering, the LT4 looked identical to the LT1. Inside the LT4 it was hot rod heaven and included increased compression (10.8:1 vs 10.4:1) improved aluminum heads, Crane roller rocker arms, revised camshaft, stronger crank and revised pistons. All LT4-equipped ’96 Corvettes had 8,000 rpm tachometers. The Grand Sport option was a beautiful way to celebrate the end of the C4 Corvette line.
Now lets talk about the little known jewel of Florida, Lake Placid, is located 15 miles south of Sebring in Highlands County. The town was chartered by Melvil Dewey, the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System and is the sister city of Lake Placid, New York. The town is best known for several things: it is the “Town of Murals (there are 46 murals painted on downtown businesses), the “Toby The Clown Foundation” Clown College, the “Caladium Capital of the World,” 27 freshwater lakes, and in 2012 Reader’s Digest Magazine voted Lake Placid as “The Most Interesting Town in America.”
With only 2.84 square-miles and a population of around 2,000, the best way to describe the town is; think “Mayberry” as in “The Andy Griffith Show.” Between Sebring and Lake Placid there are orange orchards and cow pastures and to the south of the town there are pine trees and more cows.
Lake Placid is also home to two of the rarest special edition Corvettes, a 1996 Grand Sport Coupe and Convertible. And here’s the kicker – they both reside within two blocks of one another! Ron Ellerman is the original owner of the 1996 Grand Sport Corvette Coupe and John Meyerhoff is the owner of the 1996 Grand Sport Convertible.
I met John Meyerhoff in 2015 after a man tipped me off about “… a guy in Lake Placid that has one of EVERY generation Corvette!” Before the C7 came out, Meyerhoff had one of each generation. John sold his C1 to make room for his future C7, but it gets even better. John’s lady, Mary Carol Plott also has four Corvettes! Now THAT’S a “Corvette couple”! John and Mary Carol appropriately met at a car show in Lake Placid. How’s that for Fate?
John got the Corvette bug back in the mid-‘60s thanks to a fellow Navy officer and bought his first Vette, a ’66 427/425, 4-speed Mosport Green Roadster, around Christmas 1965. After John settled down and started a family, the Corvette was exchanged for a down-payment on a house. By the late ‘70s John got into a ’73 350/250 L82 roadster that fell casualty to a divorce and there were no Corvettes in John’s life for 15 years. John eventually remarried and by 2001, bought a new Magnetic Red roadster. John found the ’01 Roadster to be a very comfortable road car and started racking up lots of miles. He was also getting close to retirement time.
Most of us have a soft spot for our “first Vette,” so John began searching for another ’66 427/425 roadster. Finding another Mosport Green ’66 big-block roadster, but he finally found one that was close enough, a super sano Sunfire yellow 427/425 Roadster. With no power steering or brakes and a very heavy clutch, this is NOT a daily driver, but it makes for a great show car.
After full retirement, John’s wife passed and he decided that “Corvettes” would be his retirement. “I came up with a new goal. I wanted one Corvette of each generation and I happened to find the ’96 Grand Sport Convertible. It was really dumb luck because although I had owned many Corvettes, I didn’t follow the special editions, so I really didn’t know what I had, I just liked the color scheme and the fact that it’s a convertible. It turns out that it’s one of four other Grand Sports with the exact same combo of options. Then to fill up the collection, I got the ’69 427 Roadster, then got a red-on-red 1960 Corvette. Before the C7 came out, I had one of every generation!” Except for the Grand Sport Convertible, John’s five Corvettes are mildly modified. He doesn’t race them, but he does enjoy them with an occasional blast. John’s attitude when it comes to his Corvettes is that if a modification will improve the car’s performance or durability and drivability, he doesn’t mind making changes.
Ron Ellerman’s story is quite different. Ron was a boilermaker by trade and eventually owned a very successful, full-service car wash in Ohio. Over the years Ron had numerous interesting cars and motorcycles, but in his heart, he always wanted a Vette. He got his first Corvette bite when his older brother let him borrow his ’66 427 Roadster while Ron was in high school. “I was always good at working on cars. As long as I could get something apart, I could reassemble it. In 1996 my local Chevrolet dealer had one Grand Sport Coupe on the showroom floor that he was using as an attraction. I kept looking at the car and thinking how much I wanted it, but the dealer wouldn’t sell! He was hoping to be able to keep it for himself, but I kept working on him. Eventually, he called me and we made the deal.”
Ron was having some health issues and recounts; “I decided that I couldn’t put it off any longer. I let my business buy the car as a “company car,” paid it off, took the depreciation, and eventually sold the car to myself. The car is totally stock, and has run perfectly for the most part for 20 years. I took the car to a Mecum auction to sell, but couldn’t get what I know the car is worth (’96 Grand Sports are currently very undervalued), so I decided to keep it, probably for good. The car now has just over 10,000 miles on it. I recently noticed a small oil leak at the rear main seal – not bad for a 20 year old car, I suppose. Since getting the Grand Sport I’ve had lots of “fix up” cars that I worked on and sold. I had VW Bugs, old Cadillacs, a hot rod Nova, street rods, a few boats and three Harleys. I like working on and fixing cars, and I love driving my Grand Sport Corvette.”
John Meyerhoff and Ron Ellerman are perfect examples of people the get the “Corvette Fever” that never goes away. Zora Arkus-Duntov always wanted his customer to “enjoy their Corvette.” And what an amazing thing that two of the rarest Corvettes would reside just two blocks from one another in the little sleepy town of Lake Placid, Florida.