The Most Famous Corvette Tuners & Their Most Awesome Creations
There are many great Corvette tuners, but these four transcend the Corvette world and through their works have become household names among enthusiasts.
A tuner, to us at least, is a company that develops its own solutions for the cars that it sells. There are so many companies out there that design a body kit on CAD, have another company make it for them but engine upgrades from a second company and new shocks/springs/anti-roll bars from a third. That’s not tuning, that’s assembling.
Tuning involves developing a unique and proprietary solution for an engine shortcoming, or designing parts of the suspension to work better with higher grip tires. That’s what the following four gentlemen achieved in their careers.
As you’ll see, there’s a thread that ties all of the tuners together. Like all wanted to emulate Carroll Shelby and build limited production cars with their own names of the front fenders. To see if how well they succeed, you’ll have to read on …
Dick came out of an era when American drivers almost seemed to overtake European sports car racing. Among them were Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Ritchie Ginther, Carroll Shelby, Walt Hansgen, Jim Hall, and many others. After racing stock cars for a few years, Dick discovered Corvettes in 1957 and from 1963 through 1965, he won three consecutive SCCA Pacific Coast championships. In 1966, he finished first in class in a Roger Penske-run Corvette Grand Sport at the very first Daytona 24-hour race — despite a punctured radiator, a smashed front end, and makeshift headlamps fashioned from two taped-on flashlights. In 1967 he headed to Le Mans with a new team, and despite dropping out at around half distance, did set the unofficial record for a production car on the Mulsanne straight: 187 mph.
In 1968, he opened Guldstrand Engineering in Culver City, where he worked for an international clientele that included James Garner, Bruce Springsteen, Nicolas Cage and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He continued to work at the shop, designed and developing new components to improve the performance of Corvettes, until almost the day he died in 2015 at the age of 88 years old.
In recognition of his contributions to the Corvette, he was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY in 1999.
Dick Guldstand Most Significant Corvette
In 1994, Corvette racing driver and tuner, Dick Guldstrand introduced his first and only coachbuilt Corvette: the GS90. The car is based on the Corvette ZR-1 chassis and engine and designed by Steve Winter. The desire for building such a unique vehicle as the GS90 came from Guldstrand’s GS80, which was a tuned Corvette C4, and pretty much looked like a Corvette with aftermarket wheels and tires. Dick wanted a car of his own. When the ZR-1 was released, Guldstrand saw an opportunity to bring back the concept of the Grand Sport Corvette, like the one he used to race.
Guldstrand pitched the concept of his radically restyled ZR-1 to Chevrolet. He asked for 15 ZR-1s and a few million dollars. He got one car and a blessing. So he went it alone. The GS90 is a ZR-1 Corvette stripped of all its body panels, and replaced with Guldstand body parts. The engine was a V8 for the ZR-1 modified D.K. Motorsports to produce 475 hp. being Dick and the company’s forte, the suspension was modified to Gulstand specifications with thicker anti-roll bars and coil-over shocks replacing the stock mono-leaf spring. To stiffen the chassis the For significant support, the targa top was permanently affixed, and additional bracing was added between the windshield support and the halo. When the conversion was complete, the only stock Corvette body parts are the windshield, side windows and rear view mirrors.
Guldstrand’s plan was to offer a Roadster, Speedster and lightweight versions of the GS90, all to be sold through Chevrolet dealers, but GM backed-out of the deal. The GS90 cost $134,500 over the price of a $72,208 ZR-1, for a total of $206,208 (about $330,000 in today’s dollars). As a result, only six GS90s (Coupes and Roadsters) were built and sold.
John Greenwood Background
John Greenwood purchased his first Corvette while in his late teens – a silver 1964 Stingray with a 427 Big Block V8. In 1968 Greenwood purchased another Corvette and the night he brought it home he swapped the engine for a race-spec L88. His wife saw an ad for a parking lot autocross at the grocery store and dared him to enter. He did and won both his class and fastest time of the day. He went to the next autocross and did the same thing.
Greenwood went at road racing but was not a success at first. he had a difficult time adapting to road racing technique and he was fighting the handling of the car the entire time. Over the winter he modified the suspension and engine and started winning. Over the next two years, he won the SCCA A-Production National Championships back-to-back. He then turned professional and won several significant races in the 1970s, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1972, 1973, 1976), the 24 Hours of Daytona (1971), and the 12 Hours of Sebring (1971), all in a Corvette designed, built, and prepared in his shop. John died in 2015 at the age of 71.
John is not a member of the Hall of Fame at the National Corvette Museum, despite that fact that at least one of his cars has been on display at the museum.
John Greenwood’s Most Significant Corvette
There were only three cars built of the 1978 Greenwood Turbo GT This is the second of only three Turbo GTs made by Greenwood. At the time, the OEM Corvette engine was, in a word, pathetic. But Greenwood recognized that at 185 hp, he’d need more power for his planned supercar. The answer was turbocharging, which didn’t bypass any of the emissions controls, but added up to 7 psi of boost. Despite the low compression ratio of the L82 engine, water injection was needed to control combustion temperatures so the windshield washer bottle had its role reassigned. The engine produced just shy of 300 hp.
Besides the completely revised body and the turbocharged engine, there were a number of other extensive changes. The automatic transmission was disassembled and rebuilt to handle the higher power of the turbo engine, while the rear suspension was completely revised to John’s design, which required a new floor section be fabricated to accommodate the brackets and linkage. Not until the C6 would a Corvette come from the factory with a rear suspension as sophisticated.
John Ligenfelter Background
Beyond his skills as an engine builder extraordinaire, John Lingenfelter was a highly successful drag racers who won 13 NHRA national event titles – nine in Comp, three in Super Stock and one in Pro Stock Truck. John’s racing career spanned more than four decades where John raced everything from Super Stock and Comp door cars to Econo dragsters, Pro Stock Trucks and Sport Compact. Not suprisingly, John was the first Comp driver to break the six-second quarter-mile barrier. After taking a break to manage his growing engineering business, he returned to NHRA drag racing in 1997, competing in exhibition races in NHRA’s fledgling Pro Stock Truck class. He finished second in the Pro Stock Truck points standings in 1998, its first official year. John’s Pro Stock Truck was powered by a normally aspirated Chevrolet V8 that was capable of 7.617 at 175.91 mph in the quarter mile.
In 2002, John took on a new challenge: sport compact racing. He fielded a GM ECOTEC 4-cylinder GMC Sonoma and later a Chevy Cavalier in the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series. In his first year racing in this series, he won one national event and had two runner-up finishes. The Cavalier was powered by a turbocharged Ecotec 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine that was capable of quarter-mile speeds in excess of 187 mph.
Sadly, at the October 2002 Mazda NHRA Sport Compact World Finals in Pomona, California, John lost control of his Cavalier and crashed into the concrete retaining wall. He sustained serious injuries in the accident and passed away as a result of complications from subsequent surgeries on December 25, 2003 at the age of 58.
In recognition of his contributions to the Corvette, he was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY in 2006.
John Lingenfelter’s Most Significant Corvette
The Lingenfelter team has developed many fine vehicles and components since John’s passing, but to honor his memory, we wanted to focus on one of his last great efforts: creating a 427 CID V8 out of a LS1 Chevrolet small block. Ever the drag racer, the goal was to up the displacement as far as possible. First it was long stroke cranks and then Lingenfelter developed thin wall cylinder liners that allowed an increased engine bore, a voila, a 427.8 CID Small Block Chevy (calling it a 427 for obvious reasons). Add twin turbos to the motor and install it in a 2001 Corvette and it yielded 800 hp and could achieve a 1.97 second 0-60 run, and a 8.95 quarter mile at 153.6 mph.
Reeves Callaway Background
In 1973, Reeves Callaway went to work as a driving instructor for Bob Bondurant’s racing school. His job was to ride alongside BMW dealers as they (badly) drove the 320i around the race track. He asked for, and received a 320i to borrow to fiddle around with.
With that car Callaway constructed his first prototype turbocharger system and after driving it, Car and Driver print a brief but persuasive article. Callaway realized that he could make a living selling turbocharger kits to the BMW community. But first he’s have to buy some basic equipment – like a drill press.
Over the years, Callaway developed turbocharger kits for BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. He also developed the stillborn HH IndyCar V8 engine and later a OEM approved, dealer-installed twin turbo package for the Alfa Romeo GTV6. The company would become famous in 1987 when they developed a twin turbo kit for the Corvette. Built under Regular Production Option (RPO) B2K, the Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette was available through Chevrolet dealers as a factory option. Callaway sold 510 of them over a period of five years. Callaway is also the factory-authorized constructor of the Corvette for FIA GT3 racing.
In recognition of his contributions to the Corvette, he was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY in 2008.
Reeves Callaway Most Significant Corvette
Reeves drove a specially modified Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette (C4), known as the “Top Gun” to a speed of 231 mph on a large oval test track. At the time a production Callaway managed a best of 188 mph. But Callaway wanted to take the record further and surpass 250 mph with a car still being docile during traffic. For this task he developed the SledgeHammer Corvette. He commissioned Paul Deutschman of Deutschman Design to develop the Callaway AeroBody for stability. The engine was built with microscopic precision and its turbo intercoolers being relocated from either side of the intake manifold to the cooler area in the front of the car, behind the bumper. Engine power was rated at 898 horsepower, though Callaway has hinted it was actually higher than that. The car retained its road car amenities such as power windows and locks, Bose radio, electronic air conditioning and, power sport seats with all necessary race car modifications such as roll cage. Driven by John Lingenfelter, the car reached 254.76 mph mph on the 7.5 mile oval at the Transportation Research Center, Ohio and was driven back on the street to Callaway’s shops in Connecticut..
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