The Jalopy Journal
Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by KING CHASSIS, Jan 1, 2011.
Roger Penske, Corvette Grand Sport, Nassau Speed Week, 1964
John Mecom had three Grand Sports at Nassau in 1964. Car numbers 50, 65 and 80. John Mecom is at far right in the photo. IIRC the others are John Cannon, Augie Pabst and most likely Penske in the driver's seat. I worked on those cars (chassis numbers 003, 004 and 005) at Carroll Shelby Sports Cars in Dallas when Delmo Johnson, Ed Sevadjian and Jim Hall bought them from Mecom.
That's Penske driving Jim Hall's car. Same car they co-drove at Sebring in 1964.
Here's a rendering of two of the Dallas Grand Sports at Sebring in 1964. Delmo Johnson/Dave Morgan car in front of Hall/Penske. Ed Sevadjian was not there as he had put his Grand Sport up on the driver's side at Green Valley Raceway the month before.
Oops, here's a pic of the Sevadjian Grand Sport on its side at Green Valley
And here's Delmo Johnson in his Grand Sport at Sebring 1965 - The Deluge
Delmo led the first lap at Sebring that year. Here is leading eventual winner Richie Ginther in the Ford GT40
Boodlum thanks for your responses on the Grand Sports-they are welcomed by others than myself I assume. I have always been a fan of the Grand Sports but have never done any real dig into the history of the cars. I also have read a few things here and there on Delmo Johnson and have read he was quite talented behind the wheel but was a colorful character to boot. I understand that articles can get carried away with the truth here and there, but there was an article called "Just for the Fun of it" in a Corvette magazine where Johnson was interviewed and the following always threw me-
"In 1964 Johnson continued racing his Corvette as well as various other cars. “I drove quite a bit for John Mecom in 1964 and ’65. I drove his DeTomaso…it had an Alfa engine and it was a good little car. In addition I drove a Formula Junior for Mecom, and once in a while I’d drive his Indy car in a sports-car race just for fun. I also drove his Grand Sport Corvette, which we called the ‘Lightweight.’” Johnson subsequently purchased his own GS. “At first I wasn’t really interested in the Grand Sport. I had driven Mecom’s and it was a very fast car in a straight line, but overall they were pretty shitty cars. It wouldn’t steer, stop or turn. It was really better suited to a drag strip. It was a 200-mph car, but by 160 mph it was already unpredictable as to where it was going to go."
I always assumed they were quite the car on a road course but this statement made me wonder. Any real substance to this or is this Delmo being Delmo?
Gotta run a couple Friday errands but will get back to you this evening.
I was born in Dallas and raised in Rockwall. As a teenager I hopped Katy freight trains at the top of the "Rockwall Grade" and rode them into Dallas where the Katy track ran between Shelby's shop at 5611 Yale Blvd. (now SMU Blvd) and Delmo Johnson's older brother Tom Johnson's Precision Motors/Performance Incorporated located at 5608 E. Mockingbird Lane (now a parking lot for Campisi's Italian Restaurant) in Dallas. It was a block either way from the Katy tracks to Shelby's and Tom Johnson's shops. I really worked for Tom Johnson building Vetta Venturas but got gypsy'ed out to Shelby's shop when business was slow. (Looking out the front door of Tom's shop, if you could see through the old Dr. Pepper bottling plant and Shamburger Building Supply you would look straight into Shelby's front door).
Jim, I love the GSs. I recently went to special deal at the Simeone that featured Penske employees. George Winterstein said he had the chance to buy Penske's GS and thought $10,000 was too much at the time.
We will be waiting right here too Boodlum, ready to soak up any of the history you are willing to share.
George Wintersteen got one of the first two Grand Sports directly from Zora Duntov. Chassis number 001 or 002. Dr. Dick Thompson got the other of those two. Zora Duntov subsequently took those two cars back to Chevrolet, cut the tops off and installed big-block Chevrolet engines. I only once touched one of the convertibles at Lee Coleman's shop in Austin around 1972. Ownership of those two cars bounced around between Mickey Thompson, Roger Penske and several others. At the time, ownership, location, paint jobs etc was a shell game to keep GM from re-capturing them and destroying them.
ETA: Some people say John Mecom bought all five Grand Sports from Zora Duntov. I don't know the truth about that. John Mecom had plenty of Houston oil money to do that kind of thing and he was the kind of high-profile personality that Duntov liked. All the Zerex Special racers from Indianapolis to Le Mans were Mecom cars. John Mecom maintained an amazing stable of race cars. I've been at races where Mecom had seven different marques of cars in competition, some against each other in the same class. John Mecom's three main drivers were Augie Pabst, Walt Hansgen and John Cannon. There are more Mecom stories than one person can tell. (ie. my SCUBA C-card is signed by John Cannon)
From left: John Mecom, Augie Pabst, Roger Penske, Dick Thompson and Jim Hall at Nassau
John Cannon in driver's seat of Mecom Lola T-70 Ford (notice Mecom Racing Team sricker)
Jim Hall, Augie and John Cannon (again notice the Mecom Racing Team sticker)
Here's the pic I was looking for
John Mecom's first line drivers circa 1963
l to r: Augie Pabst, Walt Hansgen and John Cannon
(besides the Grand Sport the other car is a Lola Mk 6 GT, the predecessor of the Ford GT40, the only one Henry Ford II could not buy - that is another legendary John Mecom story)
In my experience the Grand Sport Corvette was from the get-go a purpose-built, tube framed road racer. I guess you could drag race one but I haven't seen many drag cars equipped with oil coolers on the exterior etc. I never saw a GS on a drag strip unless you count places like Green Valley Raceway in Smithfield Texas where the drag strip was the straight section of the road course. Of course the road course ran clockwise so the drag strip part had cars entering at the shutdown area of the drag strip, going backwards on that track and ending in the drag strip staging area then a hard right across Mustang Creek bridge.
All C2 Corvettes want to fly the front end over 145 mph. Only people like Delmo Johnson would go 165.
Grand Sport Corvettes had not had time to be fully developed before Zora Duntov had to get them off GM property before GM brass had them destroyed (remember this was part of the 1964 Automobile Manufacturers Association racing ban) so lots of work was left to do to them to get them race-ready.
Gotta say one of the funniest things I ever saw was Delmo Johnson ferociously driving a little Renault sedan at Green Valley. He was taking no prisoners.
I saw an indicated 140 in mine once when it had the L88, at sea level on hwy 37 between Novato and Sears Point. Accurate or not, it did in fact feel like the front end was coming off the ground. Even the iron big block couldn't hold it down. Used both lanes. Didn't try it again.
This is great stuff Boodlum!
Tell us more about the L-88s please.... Thanks!
Like the behind the scenes details I also like seeing the GM works cars "in the flesh".
From the link below:
There wasn’t much under the thin fiberglass body. The car had magnesium Hallibrand knock-off wheels, an aluminum bell housing, transmission case, and rear differential, plus a 36-gallon fuel tank. Note how the side pipes came off the stock cast iron exhaust manifolds. FIA rules mandated that the cars carry a spare tire. (GM photo from the book “Corvette Grand Sport” by Lowell C. Paddock
Boodlum , I too had never seen a picture of a GS on a drag strip and would think it was much better suited to road racing-maybe that is why the article on Delmo and his somewhat negative statements on the GS threw me. I guess it may be a better question to Delmo himself.
You are correct on Green Valley as later in the same article he related:
"Later in 1964 Johnson did a different kind of racing with the GS. “There was a guy named Jack Ferrill. He owned a Chevrolet dealership, and he had an AHRA champion Corvette. He was the fast guy, and he challenged the Grand Sport to a drag race over at Green Valley. The Grand Sport was not set up for drag racing, and I was not a drag racer, but I still managed to wax his ass five times. His driver, a guy by the name of Phil Mote, drove the first three races, [after which] Jack said, ‘Get out of the car and let me show you how to beat him.’ His car beat me off the line, and I didn’t get rolling until halfway down the track. My car had 3.55:1 gears and by halfway I had a head of steam, and by the end it was not even close. I waxed Jack’s ass too.”
I know a GS may have certain qualities but I surely would like to know more of the particulars of that day of drag racing, including ETs and what class the AHRA champion ran. Stories about Delmo though are a good read though.
Thanks for all of the good info.
GREAT HISTORY Boodlum. I never knew Green Valley also had road racing LOL all I have seen have been drag racing photos. THANKS for the lesson.
GREAT HISTORY Boodlum. I never knew Green Valley also had road racing LOL all I have seen have been drag racing photos. THANKS for the lesson.
Green Valley Raceway had a 1.6 mile road course that opened in 1960. Green Valley ran two big road races each year, one in January and one in June. The January event was called "The Polar Prix" and the June race was "The Sunburn Nationals". The January race was a World Manufacturer's Championship event and you got as many points for winning there as you did for Sebring. That's why so much exotic equipment and drivers showed up. (There used to be a whole series of small-town road race tracks across the South in the 1950's and 1960's. Places like Smithfield TX, Enid OK, Stuttgart AR and several others. There is a rare and expensive out of print book written about those tracks, people and events. I wish I had a copy.)
Ken Miles driving one of the first five Shelby GT350 R cars at Green Valley. This was Carroll Shelby's home track. Notice the two corner workers standing right at the edge of the racing surface, one facing each way to keep lookout for their own safety and one hay bale to hide behind. Would never see that today. Toxic masculinity lol.
This car is an early production GT350 R as it doesn't have any side-scoops but does have short, bent down plexiglass rear window. I don't remember if this car was built in Venice CA or Dallas. But this was the first race win for the Shelby Mustang team.
Ferrill Chevrolet was located in Weatherford TX west of Ft Worth.
Delmo and Tom Johnson's father owned Johnson Chevrolet on Ross Avenue in Dallas. This was the dealership Delmo raced his Corvettes out of.
In the early 1960's there was a small group of wild men at Ross Avenue car dealerships in Dallas. Two dealerships in particular. Johnson Chevrolet and Hine Pontiac (Hine Pontiac got two of the twelve 1963 Super-Duty 421 Tempests, one coupe and one station wagon). At Hine Pontiac, Monk King was service manager and 6'9" Ted Cassidy was a Pontiac salesman. The same Ted Cassidy that later moved to Los Angeles and played "Lurch" on The Addams Family. Ted used to play piano at parties while his lovely wife played guitar. Ted was also an on-air television personality and was one of the television newscasters covering the Kennedy assassination.
Being around those guys was like being in an alternate heaven.
Here's a link to Jerry Melton's photo library of racing photos taken at Green Valley, Watkins Glen, Mosport and others. It's an amazing collection.
Not a lot to tell I'm afraid, came in my running Vette when I bought it. Drove it with high octane and occasional valve adjustments for a couple of years. Over revved it on one of my late night excursions and lost compression. Pulled it out and opened it up. 12:1, closed chamber square ports, now with a bent valve, solid lifter, 4 bolt main... The gas crisis had hit and it made sense to put in a milder 327, what the car had originally. Sold the 427 for $600 still in pieces to a very happy and wiser buyer. 327 was nice, car handled way better, less finicky but lacked the previous oats. Put a milder 454 back in, still has it today.
Enjoy the weekend
I love this place. So much history for me to learn. The coolest part is that it's the same people who made it. I'm honored just to be in the same room. Thanks guys.
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Boodlum just to get your take, I have never really bought into the modern day hype about which car was faster as I appreciate both Ford and Chevrolet (and Mopar as well) and all of their diehard fans,but you certainly had a front row seat. Corvette had some success with their 56-62 road racing program but it was not a Ford vs Chevy deal anyways. I believe the Z06 was quite respectable and Delmo Johnson seemed to have good things to say about it and he drove other makes. Of course it was heavier than the Cobra and the Cobra was definitely a force to be reckoned with and was quite fast in its own right. I always thought the Grand Sport was more of an even affair as they were both quite powerful American V-8s and both lightweights as well. I have read that the Corvettes did quite well at Nassau on their debut and were actually faster than the Cobras in that event (although there may be reasons if one was to talk to the blue oval brigade).
I realize that the Grand Sports had lift issues (and why some replicas have made some styling changes with the nose) but I would have thought they overall were a pretty decent car for a somewhat untested design.
Since you were there, what did the guys in Shelby’s shop and Dallas think about the cars when they made their debut? I understand the AMA racing ban threw some cold water on the project but there had to have been some reaction to the cars initially. I believe they had a good day against the Cobras and the Ferraris at Nassau and I would hate to think they were as bad as Delmo may have claimed. Thanks for your input on all of this-well appreciated-Jim
Does anyone have pics of Apricot Brandy’s Mid Year Vette he ran at Edgewater and Tristate in the 70/80s?
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From where I was working, the events that unfolded just seemed the way things were, unaffected by any brand loyalty. My primary job was assembling Vetta Ventura cars at Tom Johnson's shop. Tom had a contract with Vanguard Industries (a local aftermarket auto air-conditioning company of which Dallas had several) to build Vetta Venturas and we completed around a dozen. Vettas had Buick engines and suspension parts attached to a body/chassis designed by Franco Scaglione and built in Modena Italy by a company called Intermeccanica that was owned by a couple from Canada. We finished-out the cars mechanicals and installed interiors etc. That was what I got paid for.
Tom Johnson driving the "factory" Vetta racer at Green Valley in 1965. Notice the fender flares look a lot like Grand Sport flares. That's because we copied the flares on Tom's brother Delmo's GS.
Now to better address your question, both the small-block Cobras and Grand Sport Corvettes seemed to be on equal terms on the track. It seemed to come down to the drivers involved.
Couple years later when Shelby got established in California and had access to talents like Phil Remington, Pete Brock and Doane Spencer, they re-invented the Cobra into a big-block FE 427 car with different frame, suspension and body panels. Those cars have more potential and that's when Zora Duntov pulled Grand Sport Corvettes chassis numbers 001 and 002 back to Detroit, cut the roofs off and installed big-block Chevrolet engines.
I would be unappreciative and disrespectful if I didn't credit a man named Bill Fritts with taking the time to mentor a teenager from small-town Texas into the racing fraternity. Bill Fritts was a furniture salesman from Midland Texas who in 1960 rented a big fuel tank fuel-injected Corvette from Augie Pabst, tuned it for speed on straight Highway 87 that connects Midland and Lubbock then took the car to Sebring in 1960 and co-driving with Chuck Hall drove it to Corvette's first GT class win at Sebring (both guys were members of the "River Rat Road Racers" that included Augie Pabst, Dave Morgan and Hap Sharp from Tulsa, Lloyd Ruby from Wichita Falls TX and an ever changing cast of other drivers).
Thank you always "Papa Bear".
This story is kind'a right and kind'a wrong http://gmauthority.com/blog/2015/01...ded-to-amelia-island-2015-concours-delegance/
Boodlum, thanks for the response and information on the Race Rat. I have always felt that the Corvette history has been woefully inadequate (just my opinion). I have written a couple of articles on racing that goes way back (the teens in the last century) where cars and the men behind them were not given the proper credit they deserved. I have always fancied that if I accumulate enough info that one day I could make an attempt to clarify a few things here and there, on Corvettes overall, but with a heavier influence on drag racing (more to the fact it has been mostly ignored). That is why first hand information such as yours is appreciated.
I continue to add to files on road racing of the Corvette, moreso the time prior to the Grand Sports in that only a few contest have been covered in Corvette circles (in my opinion of course). I have a rather thin file on Race Rat but know little of the car-thanks for what you have added. The 60 Corvette overall was probably the most successful road racer up to the present, with its success here and abroad. If you have any knowledge or stories on the cars I am sure many of us would appreciate your input. I have learned to appreciate the HAMB for its historical aspect and it seems when I try to research a topic, the HAMB comes up repeatedly. Thanks for your additions to the thread and don't feel shy about holding back if you want to inform us on any other aspects of the good times you had.
I remember maybe a dozen or so years ago when a Vetta Ventura came up for auction. Thought it was a stunning car that sold for little money IMO. Cool car and I am sure they will continue to go up in value with the exquisite coachwork.
What do you remember if anything on the Scaglietti Corvettes that had some similar lines around the same period (and Shelby was reputed to be involved)?
Separate names with a comma.