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						1963 Corvette Grand Sport Replica 1

'63 Corvette Grand Sport track car and weekend driver

As Told By Mike Bell

Photos by Steve Temple

Back in 1987 I found a little 1:64 scale model of 1963 Corvette Grand Sport. Impressed by its racy lines, I thought to myself, “When I retire I would like to build me one of these cars.”

Of course, once I did retire, like most folks I knew I couldn’t afford one of the five cars that Roger Penske and others raced against Carroll Shelby’s Cobras. (After all, they’re basically built of “unobtanium”.) So I decided to see if I could find a replica of a ‘63 Grand Sport. 

In late 2011 I moved to Cape Coral Florida for the winter months. I took my truck trailer, Harley and 1996 Corvette to the warm country. In Florida I rode my Harley and met several Harley guys. One day I was talking to one of my friends and I was telling him about a car that I would like to build or have. He told me that he knew a friend in Pennsylvania who had a ‘63 Grand Sport replica for sale. 

In April of 2012, I came back to Indy and called the man, hoping the car was available. The guy told me it was still for sale. I went to Pennsylvania and purchased it, and then brought the car back to Indiana and drove it on the street for about six months. It was just a street ride at the time, but had all the makings of a race car.  

Rather than consisting of all replica parts, this conversion uses a real ‘63 Sting Ray body and chassis, titled with a serial number of 30837S120399. The Grand Sport conversion was initially done was built in 2002 at Mid America Industries in Milan Illinois. 

The first owner of the car was Jim Prather. While there were two project cars leading up to this one, this third, special Vette was to be very unusual and unique. The builders wanted the Grand Sport configuration to be closer the real thing this time. 

They were able to purchase a GM LT-4 engine and 6-speed transmission. Since they were using the 1996 engine and transmission, they decided to go the complete route and paint the ‘63 grand sport to match the recent 1996 Grand Sport: Admiral Blue, Red Fender Hash Marks, White Center Racing Stripes and Torch Red Interior. Once it was finished, Vette Vues Magazine ran a cover feature on it July 2002.

After acquiring it, though, I decided to take the car apart, completely gutting it. I took out the stock LT-4 engine and transmission and installed a racing engine, a 427 cubic-inch stroker Dart block, backed by a heavy-duty T-56 six-speed transmission. It has a 10.7:1 compression ratio, and runs on 93 octane.

What really sets it apart is the custom, one-of-a-kind Holley induction system, a side-draft EFI with a MSD Digital-6 Plus computer system that plugs into a Dominator V2 vehicle management system.

This setup took several months to make, with a hand-welded intake plenum. Since it was the first one done by the Holley technicians, they weren’t sure how well it would work. On the dyno it ran fine, but once installed in the car the engine spit, sputtered, banged, and popped. But after some laptop tuning and 300 miles of driving, the computer “read” my driving style and took over. With the fuel management all settled in, this mill delivered 770hp (690 lb/ft) at the flywheel, and 680hp to rear wheels at 7900rpm (9500 peak). It’s got all the power in the world (way more than the original Grand Sport had back in the early Sixties).

The chassis has the factory four-inch tube frame with a 1989 Z51 Corvette heavy-duty suspension, except for Alden coil-overs up front and VBP monoleaf rear suspension. I also added Z26 Warrior slotted and drilled rotors from Summit Racing.

Next I sent the car to a welder and had an 18-point roll cage installed, along with safety equipment that includes front and rear drive-shaft loops, and a skid plate under the engine. After about a year of work, the car was now a full-blown vintage road racing car, certified to drive on the track. But it can also be driven on the street.          

I have also taken this car to several car shows and won Best of Show a half-dozen times, among many other awards. I have raced it with the SCCA on the track and done very well, beating everybody in class at Roebling Road roadcourse in Savannah, Georgia. Although it’s really not intended to be a dragster, on the strip I’ve run 11.70 @ 128 mph. And I also cruise on the highway with no problems at all.

On the street, everybody always wants to play with me, especially those guys in their turbo imports, but I don’t get into street racing. I just smile and wave, as I don’t need to prove anything. I know what’s under the hood, and what this car can do. And that’s plenty good enough for me.

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Corvette Grand Sport