1969 Corvette Art Prints
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Expectations were high when it was announced that the No. 49 Greenwood BF Goodrich “Stars and Stripes” Corvette was going on the block at the 2011 RM Auction Monterey event. Some estimated that the car would sell for $750,000 to $950,000. In ‘09 the Gulf One ‘63 Z06 Corvette racer went for an astonishing $1.113 Million! So there was quite a buzz in the Corvette community.
John and Burt Greenwood knew all about Duntov’s “racer kits” and like many others, took maximum advantage of the special hardware. The Greenwood boys had another advantage. Sr. Greenwood had been a WW II fighter pilot and worked at the GM Tech Center. Their Dad would sometimes take young John and Burt to work on Saturdays, to let the lads see the experimentals and prototypes. It was better than an invitation to Elvis’ house!
John started his lone wolf street racing in ‘60 with a 55 Pontiac and by ‘64 had a hot ‘64 Corvette. He had one of the first big-block transplants in his ‘64, before buying an new ‘68 L71 427/435 Corvette, quickly replacing the L71 with an L88. John’s wife coaxed him into trying autocross racing. He did well and soon took professional driving lessons, developing his street racer-derived, aggressive driving style. About the same time, John formed his company, Automotive Research Engineering, and was pouring everything he was learning from his customer cars into his own Corvette, eventually winning the A/Production Championship in ‘71 and ‘72.
Zora always wanted to race cars and was following John’s career. Chevy engineer and racer, Gib Hufstader introduced Greenwood to Duntov and soon John was “field testing” special drive train parts. His mega-horsepower engines were breaking everything from the flywheel back. When John and Zora learned that BF Goodrich wanted big exposure for their new radial tires, Zora added his clout for Greenwood and contacted Gerard Axelrod, president of BF Goodrich. A contract was drawn for a two-year deal to race two cars and a replica race car for promotional use.
Cars #48 and #50 were examples of Duntov’s racer kits taken to the max and the team did well for an independent going against factory teams. The cars set track records, qualified on the poll many times, won a lot of races, and broke a lot of parts. Speed was their strong suit, with durability often a distant second. Car #50 seriously crashed in ‘72 and since the contract called for two cars racing, the #49 show car was quickly converted to racer level. The Greenwood cars struck terror in the hearts of the competition because they were so bloody fast and John was quite a character too. He was the big tall guy with the big mustache, part goof-ball, part Attila the Hun. But it was #49 car that became the legend. At the ‘73 Le Mans race, John set the GT speed record with a 215-mph blast on the Mulsanne Straight. Rumors abounded that Greenwood had an 800-horsepower engine. He didn’t, it just seemed like he did.
To go to the next level, a full tube chassis was needed, so the used up, tired old race cars were sold off. Here’s where cars can get lost. Sometimes cars are so cut up and modified they’re no longer recognizable. Fortunately, #49 didn’t drift too far. Bruce Morton and Phil Currin became the second owners in ‘73 and kept the car until ‘95 before selling it to Ed Mueller. Then in 2000, Carlisle Productions Chip Miller bought the car. Owner #5 acquired the car in ‘06 and hired Corvette Repair, in Valley Stream, NY to do a total restoration. As a show car, #49 was a big success, winning the 2008 Quail Motorsports “Best in Class,” a 2009 Amelia Award, was in the 2009 Bloomington Gold Grand Finale, received the 2009 “American Heritage Award” by the National Corvette Restorers Society, was on display in ‘09 at the National Corvette Museum, and invited to Corvettes first Le Mans win at the Laguna Seca ALMS race. The car has become a solid member of a growing club of beautifully restored, historic Corvette race cars.
Cars such as this are now valuable commodities. The Greenwood #49 car was the 48th car on the block at the AM Auctions Monterey event. Most cars are hand pushed to the turntable block, but before the auctioneer could announce the car, there was THUNDER!. It was the open headered 427 ZR-1 being driven on stage. The auctioneer said, “It doesn’t get any cooler than that! 750-horsepower, ladies and gentlemen!” Bidding started at $250,000 with the auctioneer making $50,000 jumps. Quickly the price was up to $400,000, then up quickly to $475,000. Bidding was slugish-to-slow up to $560,000. Then there was a quick $575,000 to $580,000 and it was SOLD! When the gavel came down and the auctioneer said, “SOLD!” both the seller and the buyer were not known.
But a few days later, it was announced that the proud new owner of the Greenwood ZL-1 Corvette race car was Terry Michaelis of Pro Team Corvettes, in Napoleon, Ohio. The historic race car will be the centerpiece of Michaelis’ collection of seven L88 Corvettes. That’s a NICE herd of L88s, I’d say! Congrats Terry! - KST
We have come a long way since the hey-days of the muscle car era - in fact, much farther that we realize. Through the ‘50s and ’60s, all-aluminum high-performance were the province of small, exotic, European sports car companies, such as Ferrari, Porsche, and Jaguar. Zora Arkus-Duntov was fully aware of the advantages of lightweight engines and started pushing aluminum engine parts into production Corvettes by ‘56. An all-aluminum small-block Chevy engine and a trans-axle were part of the proposed 1960 Q-Corvette. The first version of the ’63 Grand Sport was supposed to have an all-aluminum engine. One version had hemi heads and double overhead cams! But “durability” was always an issue.
While Duntov was busy playing with his aluminum blocks, Chevy NASCAR racers were getting clobbered by the big-block Fords, Mopars, and Pontiacs. Even after being opened up to 427 ci, the 348/409 “W” truck engine just couldn’t cut it. A totally new engine was needed, something similar to—but bigger and more advanced than—the W-based motor. The Mark II 427 big-block was first unleashed in early 1964 in one of Smokey Yunick’s specially prepared Chevelles. Nicknamed “The Mystery Motor” by car magazines, the experimental engine touched off a fire storm of anticipation among Chevy fans.
The rest, as they say, is history. The big-block was released into production in 1965 as a 396 and grew into a 427 the following year. But Duntov wasn’t keen on the big engine. Zora was a racer first, and he always wanted the Corvette to be leaner so it would be meaner on the race track. He felt that the extra weight over the front wheels was wrong, but he sure liked the extra horsepower and torque. Being the “big picture” man he was, Duntov immediately began working to introduce aluminum into the new engine. By 1966, a preproduction aluminum-headed L88 was released to Roger Penske for “field testing” at the ‘66 Daytona race. The L88 racer kit performed so well that plans were set into motion to make the L88 an option in 1967. But as Gib Hufstader once said, “Zora always wanted more.”
Creating an aluminum block was more involved than simply substituting material. The larger-displacement engine created all sorts of heat-related problems not experienced with smaller aluminum engines, such as those used in the air-cooled Corvair and VW Beetle. A beast like the big-block Chevy was a completely different animal. Since the new ZL-1 engine was specifically designed for racing, Duntov started where the L88 ended. The block was cast with 356 T-6 heat-treated aluminum alloy. To compensate for the softer material, the main-bearing bulkheads were beefed up, two additional hold-down bolts were included, and longer bolts were used where possible. Cast-iron sleeves were used for the cylinder bores, and provisions were added for a dry-sump oil system. The L88 combustion chambers were opened up to be as close to a hemi configuration as they would ever be. The new “open chamber” heads were worth about 40 horsepower. The rest of the engine was made up of stout L88 hardware. Packing 12.5:1 compression with a big 850-cfm Holley double-pumper carburetor, the basic ZL1 generated between 550 and 585 horsepower. Chevy engineer Tom Langdon built a special ZL1 for a ’69 mule Corvette commissioned by Gib Hufstader. The car would be used to make drag-strip passes at a ‘69 press review. Langdon’s ZL1 cranked out 710 horsepower!
The ZL1 package was released for ‘69 as an option on top of RPO L88, making it, on paper, as unstreetable as any L88 Corvette. Worse, the 100-pound weight savings was hardly noticeable on the street. The official published horsepower figure was 430—the same as the L88—so to the uninitiated, the ZL1 didn’t look like anything special. And if that wasn’t enough of a turn-off, the $4,718 price tag sure was. A Corvette already cost twice as much as a regular Chevy, and the complete ZL1/L88 package pushed the bill to almost $11,000! That’s why only two ZL1 Corvettes were officially sold. But there’s more to the story.According to former VETTE editor Marty Schorr, about 20 or so ZL1 Corvettes were built for the press, factory officials, Duntov, and GM exec Vince Piggins. In fact, the ZL1 that Schorr drove in ‘69 was not one of the three currently identified surviving ZL1 Vettes. Schorr nailed it when he wrote that due to the ZL1’s extreme price, the car was a street-performance machine. But the car and engine were never intended for street use. The yellow Roger Judski and the white Kevin Suydam ZL1s were almost totally unwanted in their day. The Judski car once sat at a gas station for two years with a $3,000 price tag and no engine. Both cars were bought, raced, abused, and resold many times before finally being restored.
On the track, however, the ZL1 was a tremendous success. John Greenwood’s BFGoodrich ZL1 Corvette was almost unstoppable in road racing. Grumpy Jenkins took Pro Stock drag racing by storm in 1970 with his ZL1 Camaro. The most successful use of the ZL1 was in the McLaren Can-Am cars, which dominated the series for five years. The most unusual use of the ZL1 was found in Jim Butcher’s ultra-lightweight Top Fuel dragster. The car set the NHRA national e.t. record at the ‘73 Gatornationals, with a 6.09, and scored a Top Fuel win at the ’74 Summernationals. Of the 20 or so ZL1 Corvettes that were actually built, only three have been accounted for. It’s too bad the ZL1 package didn’t get a few more years of development time. But who knew that 28 years later, all Corvettes would have aluminum engines? The cars that no one wanted would some day become some of the most valuable Corvettes of all time. - KST
Zora Arkus-Duntov was the perfect man for his time at GM. As his friend and coworker Gib Hufstader explained, “Zora was always anxious for more of everything.” Had Duntov come along 20 years later, it’s unlikely he could have gotten away with building the kinds of cars he did. But while only a small percentage of Corvettes ever get close to a race track, we all get to enjoy the fruits of Duntov’s automotive passions. Most of his test, or “mule,” Corvettes were never seen by the public, but those that were made long lasting impressions of what a Corvette could be.
The introduction of the L88 in ‘67 floored everyone. This was as close to an all-out, factory-built racing Corvette as the public would ever see. America had moved from the jet age to the space age, and race cars were using more and more exotic lightweight materials such as magnesium and aluminum. Duntov had been wanting an all-aluminum engine for the Corvette since 1956. (Engineers were even working on an all-magnesium engine for the car. Can you imagine how much that would have cost?) Bolt-on aluminum chassis and engine components were one thing, but an all-aluminum engine was another. The alloy-headed L88 was definitely a step in the right direction, but it would take 30 years for the all-aluminum LS1 to arrive.
When the automotive press arrived at the Milford test facility in the summer of 1968 to preview the ’69 models, they weren’t prepared for Duntov’s latest toy: the ZL1-powered Corvette. The only things missing from Zora’s white ZL1 car were sponsor graphics and numbers. The car had killer looks and grunt to match. The objective was simple: take one Corvette roadster, all the latest performance parts, and build it like a racer would. Everything that didn’t belong on a race car was removed. By the time they were done, Duntov and his crew had reduced the weight of the car by about 400 pounds, to approximately 2,965 pounds. The ZL1 engine alone was worth a 175-pound reduction. Missing production items included the radio, heater, insulation, headlights, radiator shroud, upholstery, rear bumpers, and cast-iron exhaust manifolds. Racing equipment included 15 x 9.5-inch magnesium wheels with 10.5-inch front and 12.5-inch rear Goodyear racing tires, a ZL2 cold-air-induction hood with hood pins, and L88 fender flares. Header side pipes really opened up the breathing of the radical ZL1 engine.
Duntov himself gave journalists “believer” rides. When coaxed to make a drag-strip run, Duntov clicked off a 12.1-second e.t. at 116 mph, this despite the car’s tallish 3.60 gearing. Lower 4.11 or 4.88 gearing would surely have put the car into the low 11s. Earlier, Duntov had the hood blow off while performing speed test at 180 mph! Later, at GM’s Phoenix test track, journalists got to drive the white mule ZL1 on a short road course. Road & Track writers described its performance as being close to that of a Group 7 race car they had driven shortly before. Duntov’s quasi-ZL1 racer was a shining example of the engine’s potential.
Also on hand at the ‘69 press preview was a menacing-looking Monaco Orange ZL1 wearing 9-inch drag slicks. Although Corvettes were never developed for drag racing, many were quite successful, including the Astoria-Chas L88 and several other Vettes built and raced by Bo Laws. The pumpkin-colored beast at the press event was set up with open headers, a Turbo-400 automatic with a high-stall torque converter, and 4.88:1 gearing. Those lucky enough to be on hand couldn’t have been prepared for the awesome power of the uncorked, big-block ZL1. According to Gib Hufstader, who did the transmission work, powertrain engineer Tom Langdon had tuned this particular ZL1 to produce 710 hp!
So how good was the quarter-mile ride? About 30 guys clicked off 11-second-flat runs, with a best time of 10.89 at 130 mph. Trap speeds are an indicator of plenty of power. Several guys even did neutral starts by revving the engine up to 6,000 rpm and dropping it into gear. Proving grounds PR man Bob Clift said, “We all enjoyed driving that car. Zora used to keep us all excited back then. That was back in the good ol’ days.” A similarly equipped ZL1 Camaro prepared by Dick Harrell went on to run a 10.21 at 133 mph at Kansas City International Raceway.
Duntov turned 65 on December 25, 1974, and a month later he retired from GM. But just six months before retirement, he was thundering around the GM test track in the wildest-looking Corvette mule ever: his wide-body “silhouette racer.” Corvettes were doing quite well in Trans-Am and IMSA racing at the time, with John Greenwood leading the charge. Working with Hufstader and Greenwood, Duntov‘s team developed a body kit to cover the ever-wider racing tires being used in the mid-’70s. Chassis and suspension mods on road-racing Corvettes had progressed far beyond the Z07 off-road suspension and brake packages, but racers were still using variations of the ZL1 and L88 engines.
The silhouette mule was based on a production ‘74 Corvette but was powered by a balanced-and-blueprinted cast-iron ZL1 variant with open-chamber heads, header side pipes, a big Holley double-pumper carb, and an L88 cold-air-induction hood. Clear plastic headlight covers over quartz-iodine headlights were employed, and oil coolers were installed behind the mesh-covered front grille openings. The body-kit parts were riveted on and covered over with 200-mph duct tape. Lowered and wearing magnesium racing wheels, this was one bad-looking Corvette. CARS Magazine editor Marty Schorr got a ride in Zora’s beast and reported, “One day, he took me out on the high-speed oval test track. We were going full tilt, with the tail slightly out, while he had a cigarette in his mouth and was explaining suspension geometry and big-block engine development. He had great control of this animal car.”
As we stated in the beginning of this two-part story, mule Corvettes live hard lives. After tests and evaluations are completed, they always end up in the crusher. Sadly, you just can’t save everything. - KST
The term “GT” is arguably one of the most misused automotive designations. The term dates back to the ‘30s in Europe and is an abbreviation for the words “grand touring,” or as they say in Italy, “grand turismo.” In the classic sense, a GT car was a road going , lightweight, semi-luxurious coupe, built on a high performance chassis. If your plan was to take a big trip, you needed a performance car with enough power, a strong chassis to deal with the rough roads, and creature comforts to make the journey more pleasant. Car makers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Austin-Martin and others, all offered GT cars for their affluent customers.
In the ‘60s, American car makers started to apply the GT term to their new pony and intermediate-size cars. But some enthusiasts wanted more from their cars. Some sought out the help of specialty shops that would super tune or build a package car for a price. The original Shelby Mustangs were the most noticeable of the turn-key super cars. But at a small shop in Baldwin, New York on Long Island, Motion Performance speedshop owner, Joel Rosen was making his own brand of performance cars called the Baldwin-Motion SS and Phase III Supercars.
Rosen was a successful drag racer and turner with a proven reputation for building dependable, high-horsepower big-block Chevy engines. He partnered with local Baldwin Chevrolet to build brand new, under warranty, enhanced versions of Chevy muscle cars. A few others were making similar cars, but Rosen’s cars were much more extreme. And Baldwin-Motion was the only brand building Corvette Supercars.
Phase III Supercars were reasonably priced for a turn-key car that was guaranteed to run 11.5 in the quarter-mile, or quicker with a Motion-approved driver at a NHRA or AHRA drag strip. In Joel’s limited spare time, he was dreaming of his own GT car, a machine that would put a hurt’n on Europe’s best. Within the Chevrolet lineup, there was one obvious place to start - the L71 427/435 big-block Corvette.
Rosen’s Phase III GT began where the regular Phase III Corvette ended. Since every car was built to the customer’s specs, we’ll examine Joel’s prototype GT. First the engine was disassembled and blueprinted. A low-restriction air filter was used with a 1,050-cfm Holley three-barrel carb on an aluminum high-rise manifold. The engine had tube headers, a Motion Super/Spark CD ignition, and M/T finned valve covers. The exhaust was a factory side-pipe system with chambered pipes. Horsepower was rated at 500 on Rosen’s dyno. The suspension received special shocks, bushings, and springs, along with a single traction bar. The wheels were 15-inch slotted alloy on wide Goodyear Polyglass tires.
What rocked everyone at the GT’s ‘69 New York International Auto Show debut was it’s stunning, muscular good looks. The Monza red ‘68 donor car had a distinctive black stripe that wrapped around the back end of the car, up the rear deck, over the roof and ended on the ’67 427-style scoop. All four wheel opening were flared to cover the wide tires, the side vents were reversed, and remote controlled mirrors were used. Most noticeable was the fastback rear window that opened up the rear storage area and a Le Mans quick-fill gas cap replaced the stock gas cap door.
Zora Arkus-Duntov was at the show and spent time with Rosen talking about big-block engines and gave the GT his blessings. Rosen’s promotion literature quickly ran out, but he got two deposits to build cars. The starting price for the GT was $10,500, over double the cost of a stock ‘69 Vette. When Rosen started building GTs, two major body changes were incorporated. The stock pop-up headlights were replaced with single, fixed headlights that were faired into the front fenders. And at the back end, the classic four round Corvette taillights were replaced with two sets of three slotted taillights.
The Phase III GT Corvettes were only built from ’69 to ‘71. Rosen anticipated building 10-to-12 cars per year, but it turned out that he only made approximately 12 cars total and no two cars were alike. No doubt, the maga-buck price was a major factor back then. A 1970 Phase III GT turned out to be one of the most expensive, costing a mind-bending $13,000 in ’70. The car was Daytona Yellow and packed a 535-horsepower 454 engine with open-chamber heads, a modified automatic trans with a Hone overdrive, 4.88 gears, and air conditioning.
In the late ‘80s Rosen began looking for one of his old GT cars. He was able to locate the ‘70 Daytona Yellow GT , had the car fully restored and displayed it at the ’93 New York Auto Show. Joel later sold the car to a private collector in ‘01. Specialty Corvettes have come a long way since ’69 and many others have applied the same concept to their dream machines. Only five of the Phase III GT cars are known to still exist, making this one of the rarest of all the specialty Corvettes ever made. - KST
After all the brouhaha over the new Corvette's Mako Shark styling, reality set in and the magazine testers and customers figured out that the 1968 model wasn't really done. Quality, fit, and finish were a major concerns. There was a lot that wasn't right - so much so that the 1968 Corvette never enjoyed the same status as the first 1963 Sting Ray.
Imagine having a new Corvette with more power than a big-block, and the weight of a small-block. That was the basic idea behind the all-aluminum, 427 ZL-1 Corvette. The idea of an all-aluminum engined Corvette was first outlined in 1957 as the "Q-Corvette." What finally emerged was more than anyone ever expected.
Being Chief of Engineering for the Corvette surely had its perks. In 1969, Zora Arkus-Duntov showed the press his latest "mule car", a completely optioned-out for road-racing ZL-1 Corvette. The public finally had a glimpse of what it was like being in the beast.
The 1965 Mako Shark II may well have been the most exciting Corvette show car of all time. This one show car had more direct impact on future production Corvettes than any other. The car was a world traveler as General Motors trotted the Mako Shark II all over the automotive globe, wowing car lovers everywhere it went.
From 1967 to 1969, the hottest street Corvette was the 427/435 L71. Not a bad ride for most folks. But Joel Rosen isn't "most folks."