This 1967 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible was the first Corvette produced with the RPO L88 option package. The only Tuxedo Black 1967 L88 built in convertible form, it was driven in competition by Tony DeLorenzo Jr., one of the most successful Corvette racers in history.
The son of GM Public Relations Executive Anthony G. DeLorenzo, Tony’s association with high-performance GM machinery dated back to his early youth, when the family driveway was home to an ongoing parade of factory executive demonstrators that included 389 Tri-Power Pontiacs, a customized and turbocharged 1963 Corvair from GM Styling Chief Bill Mitchell’s personal collection, and Chevrolet General Manager Ed Cole’s Silver fuel-injected 1963 Corvette split-window coupe, which he loaned to DeLorenzo Sr. before production officially began.
When Tony’s attention turned to sports car racing, he asked his father if he could order a new 1964 Corvette company car for the summer. Unaware that his son planned to take the Corvette to the SCCA’s driving school at Watkins Glen, New York, Anthony DeLorenzo Sr. agreed to place the order, which young Tony and his older brother Peter specified as a black-on-black coupe with fuel injection, an M20 4-speed manual transmission, heavy-duty finned drum brakes, knock-off aluminum wheels and radio delete. Immediately upon its arrival, the brothers prepared the Corvette for track duty, stripping it down and installing a roll bar.
As recently recounted by Peter, one day while working at his summer job with Chevrolet Sales Promotion, Tony received the phone call of a lifetime. On the other end of the line was Corvette Godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov, who after enquiring as to Tony’s plans for the Corvette, asked him to deliver the car to Chevrolet Engineering in Warren, Michigan, to “take care of a few things.” Arkus-Duntov soon presented Tony with his Corvette, which had been extensively modified, including revisions to the brakes, suspension and engine. The trip to Watkins Glen ended with the chief instructor telling Tony he didn’t need any more instruction, and his racing career began soon after at the wheel of a more affordable 1965 Corvair.
As Tony polished his driving skills in SCCA A Production competition, Arkus-Duntov’s Corvette Engineering Group back in Warren began developing the new 427 Mark IV engine for use in the Corvette as a full-bore endurance racing engine, and in 1967, their work came to fruition as the centerpiece of the racing-purposed RPO L88 option package. Using a reinforced cast-iron block with 4-bolt mains and incorporating a forged and Tuftrided steel crank, forged rods, 12.5:1 pistons, aluminum heads, a radical solid-lifter cam, a dual-feed Holley 850 CFM 4-barrel carburetor atop a plenumed aluminum intake manifold, and K66 transistorized ignition, the L88 was a formidable powerplant. While what little company literature there was rated the L88 engine at a paltry 430 HP, it could in fact be tuned to produce approximately 560 HP at its 6,400 RPM redline and 470 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 RPM.
In addition to the mighty Mark IV engine, the L88 option could only be had with a lightweight flywheel and heavy-duty clutch, a required M22 “Rock Crusher” 4-speed manual transmission, J50 special heavy-duty power brakes with J56 heavy-duty calipers, F41 suspension, the bullet-proof G81 Positraction rear end, special cross-flow radiator and radio/heater delete; it gave the Corvette almost boundless potential in competition.
The L88 instantly established its racing dominance with the Tuxedo Black 1967 convertible offered here, the very first regular-production L88 Corvette built. It was delivered to Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit, which also supplied the young DeLorenzo with all the equipment and financial backing necessary to mount a full campaign in SCCA A Production racing. Delivered into the Hanley shops directly from the transporter, the car was immediately prepped to A Production specs and then entered into its first event at Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin, which it won going away. At the next event at Elkhart Lake, the car’s 155 MPH top speed was such a shock to Anthony DeLorenzo Sr., who was watching from the pit straight, that it was two years before he would attend another of his son’s races.
That successful first season qualified the car for the SCCA Runoffs at Daytona Beach, where Tony qualified third among a snarling trio of 427 Cobras driven by pole-winner Ed Lowther, Jack Hurt and Dick Smith. Some of Tony’s strongest competitors were eliminated in an early multi-car wreck, which he avoided in driving to a second-place finish behind Dick Smith’s Cobra. Tony’s performance at the Daytona Runoffs drew considerable attention, especially after it was reported in the pages of Chevrolet’s quarterly “Corvette News.”
Teamed with Chevrolet engineer and accomplished Yenko Stinger Corvair racer Jerry Thompson, who won the 1967 SCCA National D Production Championship, they raced the car successfully through the 1968 season under sponsorship from Hanley-Dawson Chevrolet and then Owens-Corning. After the 1968 season, DeLorenzo sold the L88 to Doug Hooper, who raced the car for several years in B Production. It was subsequently campaigned by a race team in Canada throughout the 1970s with a winning record that culminated in the 1982 Canadian Road Race Championship. During its racing career, the DeLorenzo 1967 L88 received multiple body modifications that were typical for many extensively campaigned Corvette race cars of the period.
In 1982, the car was purchased by Wayne Walker of Zip Products in Virginia and expertly restored by Corvette specialists Ken and Gary Naber of Houston, Texas. The quality of the work earned Bloomington Gold certification and multiple NCRS Top Flight awards in 1984, National NCRS Top Flight award, NCRS Performance Verification and an invitation to the Bloomington Gold Special Collection in 1985. Walker featured this car on both the front cover and back cover of Zip Product’s mail-order catalog.
Steve Hendrickson of Minnesota purchased the L88 in 1986. During Hendrickson’s ownership, Franklin Mint produced a special L88 die-cast model of this car and it was invited to the Bloomington Gold Special Collection in 1988 and 1992. The car later became part of the Larry Bowman collection in 2000. In 2003, the car made a special appearance at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, where it was reunited with its first owner for one last race, an event that delighted Tony DeLorenzo Jr. and an appreciative audience. Bowman sold the L88 in 2010, and soon after, it was part of the Showcase Display at the Corvette and Muscle Car Nationals, where it earned the Triple Diamond award. More recently the L88 earned the NCRS American Heritage award in 2013 during the ownership of Chuck Ungurean.
The first of 20 L88s produced in 1967, this car boasts a very impressive racing career that has made it one of the most historically significant L88s in existence. Restored to concours-quality standards by the Naber Brothers and documented with the original title, Protect-O-Plate with Al Grenning affirmation and a Letter of Testimony from Tony DeLorenzo Jr., this L88 certainly qualifies as the centerpiece of any collection, a premier example of the most powerful and dominant production Corvette racer of its era.
This rare piece of Corvette history will cross the auction block at Mecum’s Harrisburg sale, July 31– August 3. For more information visit www.mecum.com