Any story on this iconic piece of true American automotive history must begin with an account of its origin. A description or chronicle, if you will, of the top secret project, known to only a select few within the halls of the ivory tower in Detroit known as General Motors, to design and manufacture a purpose built race car to compete in the FIA sanctioned, endurance GT class. This top secret purpose built race car was the Corvette Grand Sport.
In the early 1960’s the most dominating American sports car without question, was the Shelby Cobra, powered by Ford. Although there were a number of independent teams running a modified version of the production based Corvette, these cars proved to be at a great disadvantage when compared to the Cobra. They were 50 percent heavier, didn’t have the needed horsepower, were difficult to drive, and the drum and shoe brakes were very unpredictable, and even more so, grossly ineffective.
In 1957, the president of General Motors, Red Curtice, instituted a corporate policy stating there would be no factory based participation or assistance in any racing events. With this in mind, Zora Arkus-Duntov, the chief engineer of the Corvette division of Chevrolet – referred to by many as the father of the Corvette, gained approval of the Chevrolet president, Bunkie Knudson, and began the top secret project known simply as “The Lightweight.”
Initial plans called for production of 125 Grand Sports Corvettes, this was to meet the requirements to enter the car in the FIA endurance GT class. The car would feature an aluminum birdcage in place of the standard steel cage to reduce overall weight, a 550 hp, 377 cubic inch aluminum V8 would provide the power, a four speed manual transmission, four wheel independent suspension and four wheel disc brakes were also installed.
Initial testing showed the cars had great potential, and ran very well early on at race tracks like Sebring, Watkins Glen, and Nassau. However, when the brass at GM discovered the project, it was immediately shuttered, and the first and only five Grand Sports in existence were ordered destroyed. Fortunately, all five cars were hustled off to private race teams and collectors. And amazingly, all five original Grand Sport Corvettes still exist today.
These original examples of automotive history are all museum pieces today valued (according to Haggerty) somewhere between five to seven million dollars each. There are a few outlets that still build, and sell replicas of the car; the most notable is Mongoose Motorsports in Ohio, the average cost of a replica, depending on engine and drive train combinations ranges from $80,000 to $150,000.
With these figures in mind, it’s easy to see that even a replica of this iconic automobile is out of reach for most enthusiasts. So what does a lifelong Corvette purist do in this situation? Easy, you recreate your own Grand Sport, and that is exactly what a retired master mechanic from New York accomplished in his own back yard, two car garage.
Upon first meeting, you will find Ron Bauer is a very personable gentleman with a broad smile, and engaging personality.
He is proud of his German heritage, and totally devoted to his wife Linda, but he will also readily admit, there is another love in his life, an entity brought to life by his own hands, a beautifully crafted, classic example of automotive history recreated to its original glory, a 1963 Grand Sport Corvette.
Bauer was born in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1954. He spent his younger years in the boroughs of Brooklyn, and received his education at an all boy’s school in Manhattan. This school is where Bauer was taught his trade, the school featured a unique curriculum that not only taught the common basics, but also schooled the students in both aviation and automotive mechanics.
Bauer did very well with his lessons as this program of study aligned directly with one of his primary interests in life, fast cars. Shortly after graduation Bauer relocated to long Island and secured employment with Republic Aviation, he also worked at the family’s deli, and is said to prepare a mean hoagie.
Bauer’s love for the Corvette began when he and a fellow co-worker decided to go to lunch one afternoon. “My partner had a 1957 Vette with duel quads on it,” Bauer recalled. “We drove it to lunch that day, and after that I knew someday, somewhere, somehow I was going to own one of these things.” And Bauer did just that, in 1963 Bauer had saved a bit over one thousand dollars to use as a down payment to purchase his first car.
He had his eye on a new Impala, however, his father would not co-sign a loan for him leaving young Mr. Bauer searching for an alternative, that alternative came in the form of a 1957 Corvette convertible that he found used, with a price tag of just nine hundred dollars. Papers were signed, money was exchanged and Bauer was the proud owner of his first Corvette.
Over the years Bauer can count 25 Corvettes that he has had the privilege of owning. Most have been show cars that Bauer built from start to finish; he’s even competed for a coveted Duntov award for one of his cars, a 1967 coupe. Unfortunately, not having the original side exhaust pipes on the car cost Bauer the opportunity to secure the award. Bauer’s current conception is this beautifully recreated 1963 Grand Sport.
This project started as a result of a conversation with members of the local Corvette club that Bauer is involved with. “A bunch of us were sitting around talking about the Grand Sport, and the possibility of putting one together.” Bauer recalls. “One of the guys had a Pro Team catalog, and pointed out that they had a Grand Sport body for sale, and as they say, the rest is history.”
Bauer purchased the body and had it delivered to his Mobile Service Station in Largo, Florida. Bauer, like many other New Yorkers, migrated to the warm confines of the Sunshine State in 1978.
When Bauer received the body, although the Pro Team catalog did list the condition as “needing work,” the body was really rough. Bauer loaded the body on a trailer and delivered it to Keith Mastrifort and Jim Calandra, owners of Special Cars Only in nearby Oldsmar, Florida. Keith and Jim specialize in custom paint and fabrication.
“When we got the Grand Sport body, rough was not the word to describe this thing.” Keith chuckled. The body required extensive work, the hood louvers were completely missing, the windshield posts were wrong, the rear fender flares were broken. Effectively, there was very little on the body that did not require some form of repair or fabrication. Keith and Jim worked their magic on the body over a nine month period, and the results of their labors are now evident.
During this period Bauer was searching for a suitable chassis to go under his Grand Sport body, but was having little success. Everything he found that was to the proper era was just not worth the time and money that would be needed to restore it. He really wanted to upgrade the chassis with disc brakes, power steering, and that sort of thing, as he planned to use the Grand Sport as an occasional driver/show car. As Bauer’s frustration continued to mount, what he had been searching for, literally, came to him.
On a typical hot, muggy, summer day in Florida, a customer rolled into Bauer’s Service station with a 1977 Corvette that the customer had thoughts of restoring. He brought the car to Bauer because he had been told if anyone can restore the car, Bauer was the guy to do it. After hearing what his customer had in mind, Bauer compiled a preliminary estimate of what he could expect to spend on a project of this type.
He explained that it was also very common with a complete frame up restoration that the costs would most likely well exceed the estimate. Thinking this car would fit nicely into his plans for his Grand Sport, Bauer offered to buy the car. After considering what it would cost to restore the car, the customer accepted Bauer’s offer.
Bauer was now in possession of the chassis that would become his Grand Sport. He removed, and promptly sold the body to a fellow Corvette enthusiast, and began the restoration process.
Of course the first step was to take the chassis down to the bare frame, once the frame had been cleaned and painted, Bauer began replacing both front and rear suspension components. For ride quality Bauer stayed with the OEM independent, unequal-length control arms and ball joints, coil springs, and stabilizer bar on the front. The rear suspension is comprised of independent, trailing link, transverse semi-elliptical leaf springs. The brakes installed are GM hydraulic, vented, four wheel 11.75-inch diameter discs with single piston calipers.
Hooker Headers with side pipe collectors handle the exhaust duties. The motor is paired to an OEM Borg Warner, four speed, close ration transmission with a short throw Hurst shifter. An OEM differential housing with a 3.36 gear completes the drive train. The chassis sits on reproduction Halibrand wheels and Goodyear rubber.
The seats, carpeting, and interior panels were entrusted to Rudy Bailey Interiors in Tampa Florida, for the custom white leather work. The doors feature a carpeted kick panel below the custom hand stitched white leather panel. The instrument panel retains the original gauge package consistent with the era with the exception of the 160 mph speedometer, and the 7,000 rpm tachometer.
When the entire package was completed, Bauer had accomplished exactly what he set out to do. Granted it’s not one of the original five, and some will argue the car should be classed a resto-mod, call it what you will, however, this beautiful red and white recreation of an iconic piece of automotive history is truly a tribute to the legacy of the Corvette, and the American ingenuity that went into the creation of America’s Sports Car.