Way back in 1962, Zora Arkus-Duntov, head of the Corvette engineering department, began development of an all-out race car based on the upcoming 1963 model Corvette, to compete with the Shelby Cobra and Ferrari GTO. The car was to be called the Grand Sport.
Five cars were built of the 100 that were planned, but they were without the official blessing of General Motors, as the company was still holding to the corporate non-racing edict it had adopted back in 1957. The Corvette engineers had to develop the cars in the back rooms of GM facilities, and when it came time to race them, they were campaigned by private teams, with Corvette engineers just happening to be at the race tracks with suitcases full of newly developed parts.
The cars were raced for a few years in America, successfully but without any major international triumphs, and they all still exist and remain among the most valuable and legendary Corvettes to collectors and fans of the car.
It should be no surprise, then, that Chevrolet would want to build on that heritage by offering a commemorative edition of the modern-day Corvette. Actually, this was done once before, in 1996, the last year of the C4 generation, and that model is somewhat collectible, if only in the sense that limited numbers of them were made.
Now, in 2011, with so many retro and heritage cars out there, Chevrolet is once again offering a Corvette Grand Sport, and it’s more than just a few trim pieces and nameplates. A little background here. The “basic” Corvette and the performance version Z06 (an option code that also saw its beginnings in 1963) have been steadily improved and given more powerful engines over the last several years, to the point where the base model, with 430 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque, should realistically be perfectly adequate for all but the most hard-core speed freak.
Having said that, the Z06, besides its 505-horsepower LS7 engine, has a bunch of serious performance hardware on it. So, Chevy reasoned, maybe there would be a market for an LS3-engined Vette with most everything but the engine and drivetrain from the Z06, and priced in between them. Enter the Grand Sport, which, reportedly, has already become the best-selling Corvette model, at least in the States.
Like the regular Corvette, Grand Sport is available as removable-roof Coupe or Convertible, and with manual or automatic, so there is more choice than with Z06, which is a fixed-roof manual coupe only. The Grand Sport coupe with six-speed manual comes closest to approximating the capabilities, if not the outright speed, of the Z06, as it is equipped with dry sump oil system, rear-mounted battery and differential cooler, all features that enable the GS to be a capable and reliable track-day performer.
Other gear on all Grand Sports includes limited-slip differential, heavy-duty cooling system, Z06-size brakes including 14-inch (355 mm) front rotors with six-piston calipers and 13.4-inch (340 mm) rear rotors with four-piston calipers, P275/35ZR18 front / P325/30ZR19 rear Extended Mobility tires, and specific shock absorbers, stiffer springs and stabilizer bars. It’s quite a package of hardware that essentially replaces the previous Z51 option package on basic Corvettes.
The optional and innovative Magnetic Selective Ride Control damper system is a treat in this vehicle. It allows the driver to choose between the more comfortable, touring ride of the basic Corvette, and the rock hard ultimate handling package some track racers will appreciate.
The GS we drove was the automatic convertible, and with the paddle shifters, the driver is able to have a bit of fun going up and down through the gears. Still, it is a torque converter automatic, and a Corvette buyer enthusiastic enough to want all the premium running gear is pretty likely going to go with the manual. For those who just can’t bring themselves to admit that their GS has the same power as a basic Corvette, an optional dual-mode exhaust system brings a power rating increase to 436 horses and 428 lb-ft of torque, and an even throatier roar.
To distinguish the Grand Sport further from regular Corvettes, the body features wider fenders, unique wheels, functional rear brake ducts and Z06-style front splitter and tall rear spoiler. A custom leather-wrapped interior package is offered, and the Grand Sport Heritage Package includes a Fender Stripe Package and two-tone bucket seats with Grand Sport-embroidered head restraints.
So just what is the attraction of the Grand Sport to someone looking to buy a new Corvette? It may just be the best of all Corvette worlds. The basic Vette is certainly a worthy version of this iconic model. But it is still the base model, and therefore, for many people, a look up-market is necessary. The Z06 used to be that next level up, and to the performance aficionado, there are few better values on the market. But, it is a harder-edged car with limited choices.
Now, the Grand Sport gives the Corvette buyer a choice of body styles and transmissions, with much of the Z06’s running gear, plus the civility and more-than-adequate performance of the basic LS3 V8. A combination of 0-100 km/h performance in the four-second range and cornering prowess of 1.0 g is plenty potent for most people. Also not bad are 7.7L/100 km highway fuel consumption, and regular gasoline being acceptable if not recommended.
As if the overall Corvette heritage isn’t strong enough, the Grand Sport takes you back to that first factory-built Corvette race car almost half-a-century ago – and GM even allows it this time!
Base MSRP (Coupe): $75,255
Vehicle Layout: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-door coupe
Engine: 6.2L OHV V8
Transmission: 6-speed, manual or automatic
Horsepower: 430 @ 5,900 rpm
Torque: 424 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
Brakes: 4-wheel disc, ABS, EBD
Curb Weight: 1,502 kg (3,311 lb)
Fuel Economy: (L/100 km, city/hwy – manual) 12.9/7.7