Sports & Classics of Monterey

13-15 August 2009

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Lot 537

1968 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Coupe

  • Chassis no. 194378S410300

Sold for $572,000


454 cu. in. V8 engine, M-22 close-ratio four-speed transmission, independent suspension front and rear, four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 98"



Corvette’s road to Le Mans wound a circuitous trail around the strictures of the 1957 AMA racing ban, passing through back doors and the offices of intermediaries and straws. Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette’s spiritual father and protector of its concept, was a four-time Le Mans participant and twice class winner. Zora’s Corvettes kept coming back, quietly testing the Sarthe contest. Two generations of Corvette racers have followed the trail that he blazed.



The first, and for many the best-known, foray involved Briggs Cunningham’s 1960 three-car assault, followed in 1962 by Tony Settember and Jack Turner and in 1967 by Dick Guldstrand’s Dana Chevrolet entry co-driven by Bob Bondurant. By this time Chevrolet’s racing activities were less than a deep dark secret, but still had to abide by the form, if not the substance, of the General’s adherence to the AMA ban.



The 1968 Corvette offered here is the survivor of one such not-so-secret effort. The central figure is Henri Greder. Greder nearly won the 1963 Tour de France in a factory entered 427 Ford Galaxie. This earned him a Ford of France ride in a 4.7 liter GT40 at Le Mans in 1966 and 1967. The performance of FoMoCo’s 7-liter Mark IVs demonstrated the possibilities of powerful but lazy, 7-liter V8s at Le Mans and in preparation for the 1968 24 Heures du Mans, GM’s European promotions director (an up and coming Bob Lutz) and Greder approached Swiss racing patron Georges Filipinetti with the idea of entering a two-car Corvette team at Le Mans.



Filipinetti accepted and two of the fabled L88 Corvette coupes shortly arrived from Detroit, fully race prepared for the 24 Hours under Zora Arkus-Duntov’s supervision: one, this car, for Greder and skier Jean-Claude Killy and the other for Sylvain Garant and Jean-Michel Giorgi. In addition to the abundant horsepower of the L88, widely believe to be in the neighborhood of 550 brake horsepower, Zora slipped a coil spring front suspension into the package while retaining Corvette’s standard transverse leaf spring independent rear suspension.



At the last minute GM vetoed Killy and Umberto Maglioli stepped into the breach. Le Mans 1968 was to be Maglioli’s last race, ending a two-decade career that included a long relationship with Ferrari in both Grands Prix and sports cars, an exceptional Mille Miglia record with Lancia, Ferrari and Porsche and a win in the Carrera Panamericana. Zora, knowing the demands of 24 hours at speed at Le Mans, fitted very tall 2.56 rear end gears to take full advantage of the legendary 427 cubic inch L88 engine’s power. The combination was clocked down the Mulsanne straight at 191 mph and turned in a sub-4 minute lap in testing. The Corvettes were fast, but suffered from what the French called the “ennuis de freins”, its brakes not measuring up to the inertia of 1½ tons accelerated to nearly 200 mph by the puissance of the Big Block L88. Greder recalls having to brake for the Mulsanne turn at the 500 meter mark



In the 1968 race Greder and Maglioli dominated the Porsche competition and led the GT category until the 6th hour when a carburetion problem melted a piston. Garant wiped out the other Corvette in the Dunlop curves in the 14th hour.



Returning in 1969, now with Reine Wisell as co-driver and Ronnie Petersen as backup, Greder’s L88 Corvette’s M22 “Rock Crusher” gearbox endured 16 hours of aggressive downshifting, to use engine braking to relieve the brakes’ “ennui”, before it gave up, again while leading the GT category.



Following Le Mans Greder placed 6th overall at Magny Cours then in September reprised the Tour de France, a 5,000km marathon over nine days including 11 events at 9 different tracks. The Corvette was prepared in Greder’s shops in d’Issy-les-Moulineaux using boxes of the latest high performance parts sent to France out of Chevrolet Engineering’s back door.



Despite encountering a constant engine misfire which replacing the carburetor, plugs, wires and even the gas tank didn’t cure, Greder and his co-driver Vigneron captured seven of the eleven events (Nürburgring, Rouen, Le Mans, Cap Fréhel, Charade, Albi and le Tourmalet). At Clermont they finally swapped the distributor for one from a Camaro and the L88’s power returned. Starting the race at Clermont Ferrand (then known as Charade) from the back of the field, Greder (“I was very tired, and so happy to have the power back,” he recalled) passed every car on the straight after the start, went straight across the next two corners, spun and backed into a utility pole. Restarting, again at the back of the field, the rejuvenated Corvette (its driver’s enthusiasm unconstrained by the tachometer, which didn’t work after the distributor swap) charged through the field, catching Gerard Larrousse’s leading Porsche 911R at the start-finish line at the end of the first lap. “Larrousse said he thought I was out for good and was so startled when he saw me in his mirrors he almost went off,” Greder remembered. But it was too late to catch Larrousse in the overall standings. Greder and the Corvette finished second and won the GT category earning the description “La phénoménale Chevrolet Corvette” in Maurice Louche’s history of the Tour de France Automobile.



Greder went on to prepare and race a Big Block Corvette at Le Mans six more times, on this car adding oil coolers for the transmission and differential, culminating in two class wins in 1973-1974, both co-driven by Marie-Claude Beaumont.



The 1968-69 Greder car was sold to Jean-Claude Aubriet and entered by Aubriet’s “Ecurie Leopard” a further four times at Le Mans from 1970-73, finishing as high as 18th overall and 2nd in class, as well as contesting an active schedule of other races including the Tour de France in 1970 and 1971.



Six years at Le Mans, much less consecutive as in this case, is a record unequalled by any single chassis in Le Mans history. Furthermore, the record of the Greder/Aubriet Corvette overwhelms the performance of more notorious Corvettes at Le Mans and opened the door for the enthusiastic reception which later teams from the States like Greenwood, Callaway, Viper and GM have received from the A.C.O. and French race fans.



The Greder Corvette was sold in 1989 to Bob Rubin, then to Marc de Peescara. It was acquired by its present owner in 2000 and was gone through thoroughly and professionally in the owner’s own shop to prepare it for historic racing. Its first appearance was at the Monterey Historics in 2001. It received an invitation to the 2004 Le Mans Classic and was completely stripped in preparation for the competition but the team’s schedule eventually precluded attending. It subsequently has been carefully re-assembled and has been displayed several times at important events without further historic competition.



Today it is powered by the engine it had when acquired in 2000, a 70’s vintage 454 in the guise of the classic L88. It retains the coil spring front suspension developed by Zora. It is prepared for historic racing with a lightened flywheel, carbon fiber clutch, M22 “Rock Crusher” close ratio gearbox and J56 heavy duty brakes. In addition to FIA Historic Vehicle Identity and a new Historic Technical Passport, its documentation includes copies of the original A.C.O. entry forms from its six appearances at Le Mans. It also has a California Certificate of Title and non-current California registration, presenting some intriguing possibilities.



It was recently given a thorough mechanical freshening and it runs, stops and drives well. Its awesome performance and the irreplaceable nature of its history and originality dictate that a complete professional recheck and update for safety and reliability would be a prudent precaution before unleashing its neck-stretching power on the track.



The Greder Corvette 410300 holds a unique place in Le Mans history, not only as one of the most successful, and well-traveled, Corvette race cars in the world but also as the survivor of one of Chevrolet’s “back door” racing programs managed and implemented by Zora Arkus-Duntov. Corvette’s potential has been realized in recent years as Chevrolet’s Corvettes have achieved nearly complete domination of the GT1 class at Le Mans and the other important international endurance races, culminating in this year’s Corvette 1-2 finish in GT1 at La Sarthe, Corvette’s final appearance before turning its attention to the GT2 class. The path to that success began with efforts like this factory-supported and developed 1968 Scuderia Filipinetti Corvette. It is an indispensable part of Corvette’s international racing history.



The dust of thousands of racing miles and some of Europe’s most famous circuits is captured in its nooks and crannies. Its record of six consecutive competitive appearances at the 24 Heures du Mans, one of racing’s top three events, surely will never be equaled, let alone surpassed. It is a champion, in spirit if not in name, whose history and thunderous V-8 will alleviate even the most advanced symptoms of ennui.

Addendum

Please note that extra parts accompany the purchase of this car. If the successful bidder is interested in acquiring these parts from the consignor, it will be at the new owner's expense to have them shipped. Additionally, an extensive amount of paperwork is available for review in the RM Auction Office.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more