1969 Daytona Yellow Corvette L88

With the proliferation of modern daily driver 500hp plus hot cars such as the Z06, ZR1, Ford GT, GT500 and the Viper to mention a few, 500horse power has lost some of the awe that it did 40 years ago. The name L88 has always held an almost mythical allure to anyone familiar with the hot cars of the 60’s. The car was under advertised and as can be seen in the following article secrecy was part of the plan. Chevrolet thought they produced the only truly “American sportscar” and the AC Cobra produced by Shelby was causing them no end of grief. While races at the dragstrip were being waged by all the American manufacturers road racing was the pinnacle of sports car racing. The new Trans Am series featuring somewhat stock appearing Detroit cars was gaining popularity for the road racing tracks that had been the overrun by smallish European cars. Following is part of the L88 legend and a bit about one of the 3 cars to have been imported into Canada.

 In the mid ‘60s the racing scene was being dominated by 427 racing Cobras and Chevrolet was trying hard to make the Corvette competitive knowing full well that “what wins at the track on Sunday, sells on Monday”. Endurance racing was the top form of sports car racing and Chevrolet engineering realized that for the Corvette, success against its competition would require a well-developed and well-tested full-race program based at its core on a cutting-edge power plant. Corvette had to have more horsepower to compensate for the additional weight over the Cobra. Zora Arkus-Duntov (Corvette Godfather) and his crew started working on a program that could dominate on the world stage and in the fall of 1965 an engine code-named L88 was being tested. It was an evolvement of the Mark II 427 “mystery” motor and Duntov saw to it that this state-of-the-art dynamo was combined with a complete package of race-ready components to make the Corvette a top-rank winner. 

The first L88 equipped car was a ’66; it went to Roger Penske who hired Dick Guldstrand to prepare it for racing. The car had a 36 gallon gas tank, prototype 2:73 G81 positraction rearend and although it had not radio or heater it did have a teakwood steering wheel and telescopic column. Picking the car up from the St Louis plant, the car idled at a wild 1500rpm and Guldstrand wrapped himself in a blanket for the cold drive to Penske’s shop. The first attempt at Daytona proved the L88 was up to the challenge and at practice it had some of the quickest laps at Daytona. The car showed immediate success in its initial tackling of Daytona, finishing 11th overall and 1st in the GT class. A minor on-track incident called for a spectator’s car having its radiator removed and installed in the race car. Racing next at Sebring the L88 achieved 9th overall and 1st in class again. Following the Sebring race Chevrolet reinstated its ban on factory-supported racing but behind the scenes the L88 program continued.

The return of the L88 Corvette to FIA GT and SCCA A-Production racing required the car to be factory-built and street legal so the L88 became a regular production option (RPO) in 1967. The ‘67 L88 debuted at Le Mans and reached speeds of 171.5 mph on the famed-Mulsanne straight and was co-driven by Guldstrand, Bob Bondurant and Don Yenko. The following 2 years of L88 production saw the “Cobra killers” in the hands of driving icons like Jerry Thompson, Tony DeLorenzo, George Wintersteen, Ben Moore and race teams like Owens-Corning and actor James Garner’s American International Racing team. Considerable aerodynamic improvements in Corvette’s third generation design meant the L88 dominated SCCA A-Production in 1969 with victories in all eleven races it entered. 1969 was the final year of production for the L88 but they continued to prevail in GT and A-Production racing for the next decade. Drivers including John Greenwood, Dave Heinz and Dick Smothers added to the legend of the L88. Road courses saw the L88s achieving well over 200mph while Duntov himself was able to streak down the quarter-mile strip in 10.60 @ 132mph.

Although the L88 was only intended for the track its required availability to the general public meant some showed up on the street as well. This worried GM greatly; the L88 contained all their race-engineered technologies, wrapped in a fiberglass shell. Safety considerations and the resulting legal ramifications could not be ignored. This was not the weapon to put in the control of the overly-brash car buff or spoiled rich kid. Therefore company policy was to make it as difficult as possible for anyone other than an actual racer to get ahold of the L-88. A high sticker price, under-rated power numbers and other tricks could not be counted on to dissuade the unqualified from getting their hands on this race car. Requests were simply ignored, substitutions suggested, order sheets “lost”. A “yes” rarely meant “yes”; more than likely it was a stall tactic. Many hopeful customers, in utter frustration, abandoned the order altogether. The tactic worked, for the most part; extremely low production numbers (20 in ’67, 80 in ’68 and 116 in ’69) resulted, to the delight of collectors today and the disappointment of the many that were victim of these necessary tactics. 

 Nothing about the L88 made it a desirable street car; it did not operate effectively at low speeds. A fan shroud was found to be a hindrance to air flow at high speed and its unavailability meant anything other than track use only added to its overheating tendencies. This and other “creature comforts” were discarded, deemed unnecessary in a race-only vehicle. The car did not come with any badges or special trim to indicate its special significance; the only visible signs being its bulging functional hood and the lack of an antenna. The L88 package did not include a heater/defrost (1967 only), A/C, radio, power steering and power windows. What was included was Chevy’s full array of heavy-duty race components:

 -F-41 heavy-duty suspension

-G-81 posi-traction axle

-J-50 power brakes

-J-56 racing brake system                   

-K-66 transistorized ignition

-M-22 heavy-duty 4-speed close ratio transmission (ratios from 2.73-4.56), or

-Heavy-duty Turbo-400 automatic transmission (’68 and ’69 only)

-Special ducted fresh air hood


All this in addition to the namesake factory “blueprinted” power plant itself with its 850CFM Holley 4-barrel carburetor sitting atop a high-rise aluminum intake and feeding forged pistons with 12.5:1 compression. A radical solid lifter camshaft and special aluminum heads were part of this monster motor; the culmination of Chevrolet’s racing experiences.

 There was a strict adherence to this race package; no deviation from this mandatory list was permitted. The L88 427 was deliberately underrated at 430hp (to make it less desirable than the 435hp L71 427) but in reality 560+hp was attainable with use of a header/open pipe exhaust system specifically designed for this otherwise over-cammed and over-carbureted race engine. Compliance with federal emission standards prevented GM from installing this racing exhaust system at the factory, but its use released the L88’s full power potential. The L88 was not simply a hot engine; it was a complete factory-built race machine!

 The story of our featured 1969 L88, a dazzling Daytona Yellow 4-speed coupe begins with a man named Hugh Whitlock from Windsor, Ontario. Working at Don Webster Chevrolet as sales manager, he had a long history of ordering and selling vehicles with special engine/trans/differential combinations. He envisioned the ultimate Chevrolet sports car; a brilliant high-speed Corvette. Knowing this would require low rear-end gearing coupled with Chevy’s most potent power plant, he painstakingly set about to bring in Canada’s 1st L88 Corvette. Finally, after 15 months of diehard persistence, he received his “dream-car”. Unfortunately, the dealer owner did not share in Hugh’s passion for this supercar; he was terrified this expensive, aviation-fueled Vette would be impossible to sell. At that time Central Chevrolet in London, Ontario (referred to as Canada’s #1 Supercar dealer) arranged to acquire the car through a dealer trade. They had little trouble finding a buyer despite tearing off the original window sticker and jacking the price up to a whopping $9650! The first owner  traded it in after not owning it too long and the head salesman at Central Chev installed 4.56 gears and went racing himself.  The L88 was soon up for sale again and he sold it to a lady school teacher , who cared for it very well and never had any accidents with it and never raced it. During the 70’s the car was shipped West and was eventually purchased by George P. Although the first owners only put 29,000 miles on it the car was restored and driven across country to a Corvette meet and along the way reached 150mph.

 This was the first L88 Corvette delivered to Canada (of only 3 in total) and the only one to remain here today! This ultimate shark (serial #194379S707456), featured recently in Bloomington Gold’s L88 Invasion Special Collection carries one of the rarest L88 colours and is 1 of only 99 1969 4-speeds and 1 of only 4 known L88s 4-speeds sold with the superfast 3.08 rear-end. This all numbers-matching car is documented with its original tank sheet, POP and bill of sale in addition to its coveted GM Canada paperwork. A true Canadian classic!