1996 Grand Sport History
The C4 (1984-1996) Corvette was continually improved each year, enough so that it still ranks as one of the best sports cars you can buy. And, compared to most of its upscale competitors, the Corvette continues to offer brash style, performance and image at a relative bargain.
Chevrolet decided that a very special Corvette was needed to commemorate the end of the C4 model run. It was special enough to share a moniker very familiar to Corvette aficionados; Grand Sport. Named for the awesome Corvette racer of the early ’60’s of which only 5 were built.
This new Grand Sport featured special Admiral Blue exterior with a White stripe up the hood and over the rear deck, two Red hash marks over the left front fender, Black spoke "ZR-1" style wheels, chrome badging and embroidery on the headrests. But what really made the GS grand was the one year only LT4 engine! This power plant featured 10.8:1 compression, revised aluminum heads and camshaft, Crane roller rockers and put out a "conservatively" rated 330hp. The LT4's redline was also increased to 6300 rpm (5700 rpm for LT1), so LT4-equipped models had 8000 rpm tachometers instead of the base 6000 rpm. This engine was only available with the 6-spd manual transmission and only 1000 Grand Sports (Coupe and Convertible) were built, the most coveted being the GS Convertible with red/black interior of which only 53 were produced.
The real story behind the '96 Grand Sport...
During the 2000 Gathering event at the National Corvette Museum, John Heinricy (Corvette race car driver par excellence and previous GM Corvette Engineer) spoke to a group of Grand Sport owners -- he told us how the 1996 Grand Sport and Collectors Editions were conceived.
The Corvette Design Team wanted to do a fitting 'close' for the long-running C4 body style. The 'car guys' had created the mules for the Grand Sport in 1993 and showed it to a small group of dealers and marketers that help set brand direction.
The feedback was that the design was 'too bold' and they only forecast sales of 500-1000 units. That wasn't enough sales -- they were all worried that the coming C5 would hurt the last year of the C4. But Heinricy and others were pushing hard to have GM do something different and bring the GS to the market.
At the coffee pot one day, Heinricy and Dave Hill were talking about the problem. One of them (he couldn't remember which) thought for a minute and said, "How about we have two special models? We'll make an unlimited number of commemorative specials and the limited-run GS."
In that room they set the maximum number of Grand Sports at 1,000 since that's what the marketing guys said they could sell. The Collectors Editions, on the other hand, was unlimited and eventually comprised nearly 25% of the total 1996 production.
As a result of that coffee room conversation, the planning began for something the General had never done -- two very different, special versions of the Corvette in a single model year.
One other note: Heinricy said he had a real fight on his hands for the special VIN sequencing for the GS models. After doing a special series for the ZR1s, GM wanted to ban the practice as being too costly. John said he and others felt strongly about the need to make the Grand Sports "even more special" and fought the political types to make it happen. Thankfully, he succeeded.
In case you didn't know, John Heinricy still owns 1996 GS #0001... the first off the line!
For even more details on the fascinating history of the 1996 Grand Sport development, click here
to read Corvette Online's article based on John Heinricy's presentation at the C4 Gathering event at the National Corvette Museum in May 2015.