The Corvette Grand Sport started as a secret project. The Corvette’s first Chief Engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov, wanted to get Chevrolet into racing. It was Duntov who was responsible for the first V8 Corvettes in 1956, and it was he who encouraged Briggs Cunningham to enter three Corvettes at Le Mans in 1960.
So after noting some promising wins by Corvettes, and excited about the performance potential of the new second-generation chassis with independent rear suspension, Duntov started a secret “skunk works” project to build 125 Corvettes specially outfitted for racing. The Grand Sport project didn’t go far, however, because when GM top executives found out, they squashed the project. Racing had been deemed too dangerous to be associated with GM’s brand.
But Duntov did manage to build five cars, which he quickly sent off to racers before the executives could destroy them. The result of that bold action was historic. The five original 1963 Grand Sport cars are worth millions today, and they spawned a new era for Chevrolet’s involvement in racing.
The Grand Sport name made a comeback in 1996, when Chevrolet introduced a limited edition in the last year of the fourth generation Corvette. Just 1,000 Grand Sports were built, with Corvette’s most advanced handling package and a 330-horsepower LT4 engine under the hood.
Another 14 years went by before the next Corvette Grand Sport was released – this time with the powerful and advanced sixth-generation Corvette. This era used the wide-body Z06 bodywork and again, the very best suspension and handling available. The Grand Sport quickly became the most popular Corvette, accounting for more than half of sales by 2013.
Now the seventh generation Corvette has its own Grand Sport model – again following the winning combination of the basic engine, but the most advantageous suspension and brake package available. The Grand Sport is designed to hit the “sweet spot” of Corvette performance – a true purist’s sports car for the driver with well above average skills.
“The racing DNA of the original Grand Sport race cars is in the 2017 model, adding greater dimensions of capability and driver involvement to the Corvette’s award-winning architecture, for a purer driving experience,” said Harlan Charles, Corvette product marketing manager. “It is a worthy successor to the spirit of the originals.”
Specs and Prices
At first glance, a Corvette enthusiast might think the Grand Sport would be disappointing. After all, it uses the engine from the standard Corvette, rather than the supercharged powerhouse of the Z06. But the Grand Sport’s 6.2-liter dry sump direct-injected LT1 engine is good for 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, which is close to the previous generation Z06 specs. What’s more, you get an 8-speed automatic or 7-speed manual transmission with automatic rev-matching downshifts on demand.
Plus, the real appeal of the Grand Sport is that you’re getting the very best magnetic ride suspension, and custom-tuned springs and sways, an active exhaust that changes its damping in response to your throttle inputs, and a Brembo brake system with 6-pot calipers in front and 4-pots in the rear. Oh yeah, you also get a superfast electronic limited slip differential for torque vectoring at the millisecond level.
Even better, if you spring for the available Z07 package, you get extra large carbon ceramic-matrix brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport 2 Cup tires. When the Grand Sport is kitted out with that package, Chevy estimates 1.2g cornering and 60-0-mph performance of less than 100 feet. The new Grand Sport also offers estimated 0-60-mph performance of 3.6 seconds and quarter-mile capability of 11.8 seconds at 118 mph, with the available Z07 performance package and available paddle-shift eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 2017 Corvette Grand Sport will be priced starting at $66,445 for coupe models and $70,445 for convertibles, including destination fees.
On the Road
The Corvette Grand Sport is delightfully easy to drive – until you lay into the throttle, at which point your heart wants to pound its way out of your chest because the car is so damned fast. Yet even when your adrenaline is up, the Grand Sport stays in perfect poised control, because frankly, most of us could never drive the Grand Sport to its limit. One thing to note is the magnetic ride. When you switch the driving modes on the Grand Sport, you’re getting more than a change in shift points and throttle response.
- Eco mode keeps the exhaust quiet and fuel economy up. Use this mode when sneaking away from your lover’s house at 5 AM so you don’t wake the neighbors. That’s all.
- Touring mode is a nice compromise – the Corvette Grand Sport rides silky smooth and keeps the exhaust note under control until you romp on the gas. Then it’s ready to move out. Great for highway driving and listening to tunes.
- Sport mode is where things start to get interesting. This sharpens up the throttle response, gives a better shifting map in the automatic, and delivers a better exhaust note. Plus, it stiffens up the suspension a bit, so the bumps that you were gliding over in Touring mode now give you some feedback.
- At the top of the dial is Track mode. This turns down the electronic stability control (though the Corvette will still save you if you run out of talent) and stiffens the suspension up to the point that you can tell the difference between running over a dime or a nickel. Your exhaust is loud and proud, and the Grand Sport is ready for any race track in the world.
You can get your Grand Sport as a coupe (with removable top section) or as a convertible. I liked the lines of the convertible better, although the coupe is likely to be faster because it has less wind resistance. Plus I just love to put the top down at every opportunity. Seats are comfortable, interior is nice. There’s a stereo and you can get navigation. You can also get heated and ventilated seat upholstery, and so on and so forth. Really, if you’re obsessing over the size of the touch screen, you’re missing the point of the Grand Sport – and really, of the Corvette totally. This is not your grocery getter or commute wagon. This is an exotic performance car being sold at a fraction of the price (and a multiple of the reliability) of a European supercar. The radio plays tunes. Now shut up and drive.