As told by Henry Nimitz Younger

Photos by Steve Temple

I bought my replica because I’ve always liked the 1963 Grand Sport (GS) race cars. I just think they are one of the coolest cars ever built and something you don’t see very often, since only five originals were built.

There were a lot of issues back then, as with any new car, competing against its biggest competitor, the Shelby Cobra. The GS was an extremely fast race car when all the bugs got worked out, beating all in its class multiple times — including the Cobra. All five of the original race cars are still in existence, either in the hands of collectors or a museum. 

Knowing I could never own an original, I decided that one day I’d try and build a Grand Sport replica in tribute to the original race car, but one I could also drive on the street, take to car shows, drive and enjoy. I kept looking for a good replica to build for about 10 years, when I ran across the car that I now have on eBay. It was a real ’66 coupe that had been put together in Canada and bought by an individual in the Chicago area who had owned the car about three years.

The car had the Mid-America Industries flares, dash, door bezels, headlights and grille installed on it. The owner had put a 427 motor in it, and had a 36-gallon homemade gas tank enclosed in diamond plate metal.

The chassis was a stock C3 chassis that had been cut in the rear to allow for the body to sit correctly on it. A composite transverse mono-leaf had also been retrofitted in the rear. 

I drove the car as purchased for the summer of 2006, but wasn’t happy with it, even though it looked good and drew a lot of attention. The diamond plate on the gas tank squeaked like crazy and I didn’t like having to fill the gas tank on the inside of the car.

I started ripping everything out of the car in the fall of 2006, and decided I wanted to go with a custom chassis for a more modern ride and handling, have a big block built to spec, custom interior, five-speed transmission, custom paint and do the bodywork to make the car like I wanted it and had envisioned for over 10 years.

In addition to the flares being reworked, the doors at the top had to be to be reworked, as they had a huge gap and wouldn’t seal. I cut the whole rear floor from the rear of the seats and wheel wells out to allow the body to sit on a C6 transaxle framework. I used a 36-gallon tank cover to reseal the rear flooring, which left no room for a fuel tank behind the seats as on the original GS, so I had an 18-gallon stainless steel gas tank made to fit in the trunk area.

The work began in late fall of 2006 and finished May 2009, with most of the work done on weekends, as we had other jobs at my shop.  

My favorite moment in the GS was the first time taking it to the National Corvette Museum. My son and I were taking it up for an event there called The Gathering, featuring the C4 ZR1s and 1996 GS Corvettes. Having owned two 1996 GS Corvettes, I was finally going to see what other GS friends at the Grand Sport Registry thought of the two years’ hard work we had put in on the car.

When we went in to register, our good friend John “Hutch” Hutchinson, leader of the Grand Sport Registry, spotted us and wanted to know if we brought the GS. Once off the trailer, the crowds began to swarm around and Hutch then asked if I would put it on the museum boulevard with the ZR-1 and other GS display cars to represent the ’63 GS race cars.

I said OK, and I drove it around the museum to the entry door and noticed out of the corner of my eye Mike Brantley, the mechanic who built my engine, walking up. He’d been to Louisville, Kentucky and stopped by the museum not knowing I was going to be there with my GS. He was smiling almost as big as I was!

I had purchased a 502 Chevy big block that had been completely rebuilt to run in a Camaro drag car, with a 13.5:1 compression ratio with a 3800 stall cam setup. I added Brodix custom-flow aluminum heads, and had Mike rework the pistons to lower the compression to 9.75:1 compression for street use, and install a custom-grind Crane Cam. Before, the displacement was 502, but 509 afterward.

The torque is really something else. The driveshaft included with the TREMEC TKO 600 Conversion Kit was for a C2 Corvette. But Corvette C7 half-shafts were installed after the C6 half-shafts twisted at Beech Bend Drag Strip during the Run and Fun event in 2012.

Anyway, getting back to my museum experience, Bob Hellmann from the NCM opened the door and I had to back the car all the way down the hall to the boulevard, revving the motor every so often, the sound bouncing off the walls and people coming out of offices to see what was pulling into the boulevard. Needless to say my heart was pounding and I was on cloud nine as my GS replica was a big hit all weekend! But my biggest surprise was yet to come.

When I went back Sunday to pick it up, Bob ask if I could leave it on display there through the museum 15th anniversary event. This was mid-May, next time I saw my GSR was when my son, his girlfriend and I were coming back from the Woodward Dream Cruise in August 2009, two weeks before the 15th anniversary event. I couldn’t believe what my eyes saw next: My GS replica was sitting on the revolving turnstile show window of the museum, with the lights bouncing off the custom-blue metallic paint, making it look like sparklers. That is one moment I will never forget: The GS looked gorgeous and quite at home on the turnstile.

I picked up my GS in October to take her home and finally get to drive her on the road. That first drive was on a sunny Saturday afternoon. My son came with me, as he had done a tremendous amount of work on the car and was as proud of it as I was. We got in the car, I hit the starter and that big block roared to life, sounding sinister as it talked through those 4-inch side pipes. 

Everyone watched as I pulled out on the highway, and of course I had to get on it a little — but not enough to draw the attention of the local police. We drove for about 5 miles, and while running about 70, I nailed the throttle to the floor. The car leaped like it was shot out of a cannon, no hesitation, pushing us in the seat with the torque and the side pipes blaring.

I looked down at the speedometer and it was on 100 and climbing fast. I ran her up to 120 and backed off, looked at my son who was smiling as big as I was. I knew then all the hard work had been worth it. My dream of one day owning a Corvette that paid homage to the famous ’63 Corvette Grand Sport race car with my replica was now a roaring reality.