“What’s in that damn dinosaur? It went by me like I was stopped.” A.J. Foyt, driving their latest 500 horsepower prototype at Sebring, was not the first Ford racer to be stunned by the sheer acceleration of a Grand Sport.
Intended as a series of 125, the “Lightweight,” at a thousand pounds less than the production Sting Ray, was supposed to counter Carroll Shelby’s brand new Cobras in GT World Championship races. But the Grand Sport program died almost the day it was born, killed by G.M.’s refusal to lift its ban on racing. When the ax fell at year-end 1962, only five cars existed at Chevrolet’s Research Center. Two were quickly “sold” to private teams. Alas, the orphaned cars could not be homologated as production GTs like the Cobras, and consequently had to run in C Modified, a class for which they were never intended.
Vindication came at the December, 1963 Nassau Speed Week, a week long party punctuated by races run to promoter Red Crise’s own rules. For the first time, the Grand Sports were allowed to compete directly with the Cobras. Earlier, the two privateer Lightweights had been recalled by Chevrolet and, along with a third, extensively improved. Now fitted with 377 cubic inch aluminum engines, the cars were entered by “owner” John Mecom. Conveniently, a group of Chevrolet engineers chose Nassau for a one week vacation.
Driven during the week by Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Dick Thompson, John Cannon, and Augie Pabst, the Corvettes simply demolished their Cobra rivals. Wrote Leo Levine, “The Chevrolet equipment won so easily, there was even some embarrassment on the part of the factory personnel, who had hoped the journey south would escape unnoticed. But at the same time, they were smirking.” Even three years later, now hopelessly obsolete, an extinct Chevrolet was able to awe A.J. Foyt, at least for a moment.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more