As told by Doug and Delora Hanner

Photos by Steve Temple

As president of the Corvette Club of Illinois, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my wife, Delora Hanner, and I have owned eight production Corvettes since February 1973. But one model in particular is my favorite, and I have always wanted a Grand Sport tribute. I even built models of this legendary racer back when I was in high school. At one point, I considered building my own, and I test-drove some completed kits with custom tubular frames and late-model suspension.

I opted instead to purchase this Mid America tribute for a few different reasons. To be frank, it was a lot cheaper and was also ready to go, so I did not have to wait for it. Also, the car is based on a production chassis with a regular VIN, making registration a lot easier. Lastly, this particular replica has a lengthy history. It’s been featured in a few magazines and displayed in a famous ad campaign for BFGoodrich in 1993, where the body and background were painted orange for a monochromatic layout. So it’s a celebrity of sorts. But even so, I added my own custom touches.

In May of 2010, I was surfing the internet and found this Grand Sport tribute for sale by Jim Lewis outside of Philadelphia. It took weeks to talk my wife into the Grand Sport because at the time, we had a white 1997 Corvette coupe and our 1965 Corvette drum-brake coupe. She said I did not need it, but I responded, “Need wasn’t the issue. I’ve dreamed of owning a Grand Sport tribute for 40 years!”

She finally gave me the OK to buy it — I am the club president, after all, since 1973. It took me a day to get the money and trailer ready, and off we went to Philly. We even missed a major club trip for the Corvette Club of Illinois to purchase my pinnacle Corvette.

As I researched the car further, I found that the foundation was a 1964 Chevrolet Corvette coupe bought as a drag car in California with body modifications. The first thing that the previous owner, Anthony Cordia, had done was change all the suspension to 1968 Corvette equipment. The new setup included disc brakes, a Muncie M22 rock crusher four-speed transmission, a Hurst competition shifter and triple-disc clutch. Bringing up the rear is a 3.70 Positraction. There’s also a suspension stiffener between the A-frames to help with handling, which makes this Corvette drive like a go-cart — loads of fun!

After that, the body was modified to conform to all the original Grand Sport specifications with the appropriate doors, fender flares, rear section and fuel filler. Scoops were also added to direct air to the differential and rear brakes, a feature now used on the latest C7 Stingray.

Other changes we made include a new hood to accommodate the four Weber side-draft carburetors, a nose with nonhideaway headlights, and plexiglass side windows that are raised and lowered with a strap. The body was then painted in 1986 Admiral Blue with an Arctic White full-body stripe. Racing livery decals are like those seen on the original No. 003 Grand Sport.

When I first drove the car, it was sporting a ’72 LT-1 with a Holley carburetor and intake. After some drag racing, the engine blew up on the way home. No matter, as I really wanted more power, so I dropped in a 1970 LT-1 that wasn’t strangled by emissions equipment. It’s good for 400 horses or so, thanks in part to Hooker headers and the four Weber 45 DCOE side-draft carburetors that I added to a polished Moon cross-ram intake. It took some sorting out to get rid of the flat spot in the midrange, but fortunately I have a background as a machinist, and I fixed things by shortening the throttle cable and lengthening the bracket.

Other items I added include an oil cooler, a second fuel filter, and aircraft switches under the dash for controlling the radiator fan and fuel pump. I also converted the lap belts to four-point racing harnesses.

After upgrading the engine, I was able to nail a 0-60 mph time of just 3.5 seconds, and run through the 1/8-mile in 9.5 seconds. The car’s looks are a huge attention grabber too. At a local Corvette show, a ’96 Grand Sport came to a screeching halt near my Grand Sport — the driver thought it was one of the ultrarare originals!

That was no fluke, as famed Corvette C4 engineer Dave McLellan spotted my GS at the Corvette Funfest held by Mid America Motorworks (not related to the manufacturer of my Mid America replica). He told his seminar audience that “It’s as close to an original Grand Sport as you’ll ever see” — a fine compliment indeed.

The car received similar praise at Elkhart Lake’s Road America in 2011. After being awarded a trophy, I was allowed to take five parade laps on the track. Well, I actually hit 120 mph in third gear and had no trouble keeping up with all the late-model Corvettes on the track. Now that’s a presidential prerogative — and just what you’d expect from a tribute to one of the greatest Corvettes ever.