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						Wintersteen Gs11
Wintersteen Dream

Building a Wintersteen-inspired Corvette Grand Sport roadster

As told by Luke Lukens

Photos by Mark Wolfman Messmore

I can tell you the exact moment when I fell head over heels in love with the Chevrolet Corvette. I was just a kid and my oldest bother came home from the Navy after an Antarctic tour in 1966, and went out shopping for a car. He brought home a used 1957 Corvette 283 four-barrel automatic. It needed a little TLC, but I'm sure my brother was able to get it for a fairly sweet price. I was about 8 years old at the time, and I knew it was the coolest car I had ever seen and ridden in. A few years later our family had an Eldon 1/32 slot car racing set. One of the cars was a blue C2 Corvette coupe, and that was the next Corvette that I fell in love with. A little later during the mid-1960s, I became aware of the rare 1963 Corvette Grand Sport from magazine articles with photos. These cars seemed like a distant dream to me, as I never saw one in person, but I did see a classified listing for Grand Sport chassis 002 in “Hot Rod Mart” in the May 1967 Hot Rod Magazine.

The summer I turned 14, my oldest brother again purchased a Corvette. This time it was a brand new Targa Blue 1972 C3 L48 four-speed convertible. He drove it home for a visit that summer and we took it out to a paved country road where he let me drive it! I thought that was so cool. The very first time I actually drove a Corvette! Needless to say, the Corvette had become my dream car in a very short time, and I knew that someday, when I had the chance, I would buy my own.

16 years after driving my brother's new 1972 C3, I sold my first house and was between jobs while returning to school for a career change. Since I was not planning to make another home purchase in the near future, I had a little nest egg burning a hole in my pocket. Coincidentally I was itching to by my all-American dream car as well. I spent a few weeks shopping around and settled on, you guessed it, a 1972 C3 Corvette L48 four-speed convertible, which also needed a little TLC in its 16th year.

A few years later, as I started into a new career in the 1990s, I became aware of at least two companies that were producing kits and components for 1963 Corvette Grand Sport replicas. The first one was D&D Corvette in Akron, Ohio, and I was very interested in their products, but for some reason I did not feel it was the best time for me to pursue such a project. A few years later I contacted Jeff Leach's Mid America Industries in Milan, Illinois. Again I ended up holding off on the project, as the timing still wasn’t right, but I still hung onto my dream of someday owning a ’63 Corvette Grand Sport.

The 1972 C3 would not be my last Corvette, and my next several cars were C4 models. After finishing a graduate program in 2002, I decided to reward myself, and found my first early C4. It was a fixer-upper, a 1987 4+3 manual transmission coupe, and I didn’t spend much money on it. Within the first year, while installing a new clutch, I upgraded the transmission with a ZF six-speed from a wrecked 1994 C4. It ended up being great swap, and I also opted for a lightweight aluminum flywheel and performance clutch.

Unfortunately, shortly after that swap upgrade, I was rear-ended and the insurance company totaled my C4. Fortunately the insurance payment allowed me to keep the wrecked ’87 and purchase a 1995 Corvette convertible. I parted out my old C4, but saved the front and rear suspension systems, brakes, steering, ZF six-speed, 5.7-liter TPI and the heavy duty Dana 44 rear differential.

I finally decided to pull the trigger on a Grand Sport in 2008. At that time, the one that best fit my needs was from Mongoose Motorsports, now located in Ravenna, Ohio. I purchased a basic roadster kit in early 2009, but had only the tube chassis shipped to my home in Virginia Beach. I had the chassis painted by a local body shop, and soon was working on making it a roller. But the front and rear suspension systems from the parted out 1987 C4 were one year too early for the Mongoose chassis, so I purchased complete front and rear suspension systems from a Corvette specific salvage yard in Pennsylvania. These components came from a 1995 C4 automatic, which included complete brakes, rack-and-pinion steering, sway bars and a Dana 36 rear differential. I got a good deal on the parts, and was still able to use the heavy duty Dana 44 from the wrecked ’87. I reconditioned all the ’95 suspension components, including pressing out the old factory rubber bushings and replacing them with new polyurethane bushings.

I decided on the roadster body style for my build, and more specifically, I wanted to go with a George Wintersteen chassis 002 tribute theme, especially since it was powered by a 427 ci big-block while being raced in the mid-’60s. I had never owned a big-block Chevrolet Corvette, so I figured this would be my best opportunity to finally experience one. After completing the rolling chassis at home in Virginia Beach, it was shipped to the Mongoose Motorsports facility in Ohio, where the roadster body was still located, to complete the body and paint work to replicate the Wintersteen roadster.

While in Ohio, the Grand Sport roadster was completed as a turn-key vehicle, using a ZZ502/502 Deluxe Performance big-block crate engine, TREMEC TKO-600 five-speed transmission and the Dana 44, which had already been installed in the rolling chassis. The wheels are from Vintage Wheel Works Inc., with the fronts sized 17 x 9.5 and rears at 17 x 11, similar in style to the Torq Thrust D wheels on the original Wintersteen roadster. The tires are Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 (275/40ZR17 in the front and 335/35ZR17 in the rear).

Driving my finished Wintersteen Grand Sport tribute is a thrill that could only come from the realization of a lifelong dream, made even better by the hand I had in its completion. It’s exhilarating to get behind the wheel every time, just like my brother’s Corvettes all those years ago, only a little better, since this one’s mine.

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