Many car manufacturers offer multiple versions of each car differing with an alternative engine or luxury and convenience package. Yet amongst the performance arena that the Corvette proudly resides in, manufacturers will sometimes produce a special edition for those of us that prefer our cars gain some extra muscle, and trim off the fat.
Beginning in 1963, Chevrolet has at times, produced limited runs of the Corvette identified as the “Grand Sport.” This designation has meant a number of things throughout the years for the Corvette and is considered rather iconic by some Corvette fanatics. Let us take a look at the evolution of the Grand Sport and get a more in-depth look at what it has become.
The Grand Sport Then…
Nearing the end of 1962, in an attempt to end Carol Shelby’s reign on the racing circuits, Zora Arkus-Duntov and his colleagues issued a plan to build 125 ultra-light, high performance Corvettes. The 125-unit production number was selected so that the special Corvettes would qualify as “GT production cars” per the racing rules of their organization. Sadly, General Motors put the brakes on the idea and canceled the program; but not before Mr. Duntov and his team were able to produce five cars – the Grand Sport was born.
Due to the 125 minimum never being produced, the Grand Sport would never make its planned debut at the 1963 Le Mans race in France. That was not the end of the road for these natural born racers. Although GM never gave factory support to the prototypes, they still brought plenty of thunder to road race circuits around the country, often outfitted with the 427 cubic inch motor in the hands of private racing teams.
5 of 5 1963 Grand Sports at Amelia Island Concours, Florida Image: GrandSportVettes
These five, first generation, Grand Sport models were equipped with 377 cubic inch aluminum V8s putting out an impressive 550 horsepower, four-speed manuals, four-wheel independent suspension, and proudly sat on the scales at 1,900 pounds. The massive weight reduction can be attributed to swapping many of the steel and iron parts for aluminum and magnesium. The special project team for the Grand Sport even went as far as not using any gel coat on the special hand-laid fiberglass bodies which gives the paint an odd translucent effect.
These beautiful machines are surprisingly all accounted for and have been fully restored to their former glory. Only one time since creation have they been brought back together, shown here at the 2003 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance event in Florida. This was a remarkable showing of the original five Grand Sports and made quite the photo opportunity for those lucky enough to witness it. It is hard to assess the true value of these cars due to a lack of frequent sales, but between auction rumors and purported insurance values, they are estimated to be worth around $5 million each.
Thirty-three years later in 1996, the Grand Sport reappeared as a production car limited to a run of 1,000. The car would mark the end of the C4 and do so with an attitude. The cars were fashioned only with a striking Admiral Blue paint color, wide Arctic White stripe on center, and finished with the signature diagonal stripes in red, on the driver-side front fender. Both coupes and convertibles were fitted with a set of black spoke ZR-1 style wheels.
The C4 Grand Sport came equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox and the most powerful small-block engine Chevrolet had produced to date. The LT4 had a 10.8:1 compression ratio, aluminum heads and camshaft, and an increased rev limiter set to a crisp 6,300 rpm. Among other changes, the new motor was able to produce, a conservatively rated, 330 horsepower.
The Grand Sport Now…
Luckily for the Grand Sport fans among us, we didn’t have to wait another thirty-some years for the Grand Sport to reemerge. The Grand Sport was reintroduced to the public with the C6 from 2010 to 2013, and with a much higher level of production then in previous years. Across the four years of production, 18,883 coupes and 9,121 convertibles were built – bringing the C6 Grand Sport production total to 28,004.
The C6 Grand Sport was offered with either a six-speed manual or the paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission. This option was paired to the same LS3 6.2-liter engine equipped on the base Corvette putting out a healthy 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque, although an optional two-mode exhaust tuning system was available increasing performance to 436 hp and 428 lb-ft with the help of an exhaust butterfly activated by specific RPM and percentage of throttle conditions. For means of comparison, the ZO6 was built with the 7-liter LS7 producing 505 hp and 470 lb-ft. These numbers are only to be topped by the face-melting ZR1, which belted out 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque thanks to the supercharged LS9.
As far as the body is concerned, the C6 Grand Sport is equipped with wider front and rear fenders partially made possible by different front fenders, ZO6 type front splitter and rear spoiler, and fully functioning brake ducts. The car sits atop 18 and 19-inch wheels front and rear making room for the much needed grip of the factory 275/35 and 325/30 rubber. The brakes are also borrowed from the ZO6 which is a six-pistion caliper on a 14-inch rotor up front and a four-piston caliper on a 13.4-inch rotor in the rear.
If the car is ordered with an automatic transmission, it is fitted with a specific rear axle ratio compared to the standard Corvette gear ratios in the manual gear box. These gearing changes allow for slightly improved acceleration, and a better setup for aggressive driving. All of the Grand Sports built as coupes with manual transmissions, come standard with a dry-sump oiling system, differential cooler, and rear-mounted battery; making them a great factory platform for a street/track car. Also adorning the Grand Sport are the front fender badges as well as a number of special styling features. There was even an interior package available in 2013 with black leather, carbon fiber accent panels, and blue stitching reminiscent of the ZR1, which makes for a rather stunning cockpit.
The suspension is also enhanced with different shocks, stiffer anti-sway bars, and stiffer springs. These improvements enable the C6 Grand Sport a cornering capability of 1.0 G on the skidpad and a 0-60 time of 3.95 seconds, a 0.2 second improvement over the standard Corvette. The C6 GS crosses the quarter mile mark in 12.2 seconds at 117 mph.
What to Expect…
Driving impressions of the Grand Sport seemed to be somewhat mixed. While some drivers appreciate the handling and ride improvements compared to a base model Corvette, others seem to be a bit critical of the car as in, “why wouldn’t you just buy a ZO6.” While a ZO6 is certainly a force in its own right, the Grand Sport could be acquired for a reasonable $4,510 over the previous comparable Z51 package. The ZO6 is nearly $20,000 more then a base Grand Sport, which should highlight the place for the Grand Sport in the Corvette market. Many Corvette owners can’t wait to make changes to their cars, for more aggressive styling, lighter and/or wider wheels, and suspension improvements; whether they are tearing up mountain roads or trying to shave time at a local track. The Grand Sport already has many of the sought after modifications complete, and is done so with factory care and support. Performance aside, the C6 GS just has a look about it that screams performance.
While there is currently no Grand Sport model available in the new C7 Corvette line, one may notice there is a sizable price and performance gap between the base model Corvette and the yet to be released ZO6 version. Chevrolet states there is no current plan for a C7 ZR1 as it would require a large investment for minimal performance gain over the new ZO6. Combine that with potential C7 Grand Sport “spy photographs” floating around the internet and we may have yet another Grand Sport to add to the already stellar lineup.
After four years of production, starting in 2010, nearly 30,000 C6 Grand Sport Corvettes were produced. The line came to an end in 2013 along with the end of the 6th generation Corvette, marking the 60th anniversary of the Corvette since its inception in 1953. The long history of the Corvette Grand Sport is a proud one, and while it has meant a number of different things on a build sheet, the Grand Sport has always been a symbol of what it means to be a true American sports car.
60th anniversary Grand Sport, Image: Chevrolet