This Is What It’s Like To Drive Superformance’s Greatest Recreations
When someone offers you the chance to get behind the wheel of a Chevrolet-licensed replica of one of the rarest Corvettes ever built, the 1963 Grand Sport, you say yes—a word that saw me quickly tearing up the PCH in one of the fastest cars I’ve yet driven.
The “Yes” not only had me in the Corvette Grand Sport by Superformance, but also the chance to compare it to one of the company’s legendary 289 MKII FIA Cobras—the very car that the Corvette Grand Sport was designed to tackle before being dominated by the Ford GT40’s mid engine masterclass at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The first thing you notice about the Grand Sport is how remarkably haunchy it is. The car is downright intimidating: its gills are aggressive, the wheels are massive, and the gas pedal is a light switch…attached to a nuclear launch button. This particular one is owned by Ken Lingenfelter, and is, much like its owner, totally mental under the hood. I was told that the reason I would later be handed a $700 speeding ticket by the Sheriff of Malibu was largely due to the fact that Ken had this bad boy set up for drag racing. “Yeah, Ken likes his cars set-up for drag racing.”
The beauty of a Superformance is that you’re driving as close to the original thing as possible, with air conditioning. More importantly, air conditioning that works.
The Cobra, on the other hand, has no use for A/C. It’s a pure, faithful recreation of the original 289 FIA that brought Carroll so much notoriety. The drive is raw, the brakes are faithful throwbacks, and the experience is downright silly fun. Few cars get the eyeball attention of a properly blue Cobra, and after two minutes behind the wheel, I fully understood the appeal.
Before jumping in the driver’s seat, I had a chance to sit down and talk with the CEO of Superformance, a boisterous South African bloke who goes by the name Lance Stander.
Ted Gushue: Lance, tell me a bit about the cars we see here.
Lance Stander: Well, Zora Arkus-Duntov at Chevy wanted to build a Corvette that could compete against the Cobras that were cleaning up in 1962-’63. They were just taking away everything. He went to [his bosses at] Chevrolet and they weren’t terribly interested, so he sort of did it in the back of the shop, quietly. They ended up finishing five of them, but had plans to build 100. Once Chevrolet corporate got wind of them, they shut the whole program down. They were supposed to be crushed, but they got permission to keep the five that they made and sent them out to a few Corvette dealers who raced.
The cars were remarkable because he took the Corvette, which was originally 3,800 pounds and got the car down to roughly 2,000 lbs. Replaced the body with a superlight, incredibly thin fiberglass body, lightened everything, anything that was steel became aluminum, glass was replaced with plastic.
The car became so much faster and lighter that when they would get up around 140 mph the front end effectively became a wing, they wanted to fly. So he started experimenting with aerodynamics, cut a whole bunch of holes in the car, all of the gills you see there. Shaved down the door handles, trying to get the air out from underneath the car.
The cars ultimately were semi successful, but were killed off by Ford releasing the GT40. There was just no way to run a front engined car against a mid-engine.
One of the five routinely comes up to auction, and they fetch north of $12 million Usd., I believe. That’s why we saw the opportunity to create a faithful, licensed replica of the original, to help others share in that car’s special history at a much more reasonable price. And with air conditioning.
Penske took two of the five and chopped off the roofs, made them convertibles and put big block engines in them. They were monsters, they raced really fast.
TG: Do you think you guys will be making a convertible version?
LS: Yes. The convertible version will probably come in about a year’s time. The coupes are remarkably popular so far, we’ve built nine but there are orders for more than 50.
TG: How long does it take to build each one?
LS: It’s about a 4-6 week process, but they do have to ship the full rolling car from South Africa minus the engine and transmission. The new “Low Volume Manufacturers” bill is going to change a lot of that, we’re going to ramp up our US production. Hire a ton more people here in the States.
TG: What cars do you find that you’re not currently reproducing that people request from you.
LS: We get some crazy people who want the 917K Porsche, but we’re not going to sell 10 of those a month, so it won’t work for us. We love that car, but the economics of scale just aren’t there based on market research we’ve done. We get many Porsche requests.
TG: How does all of this work with the companies that hold the trademarks?
LS: That’s the special difference with Superformance. Every single product we make has been licensed and certified by the original manufacturer, and in some cases the designers as well. For instance, our GT40’s are technically considered a continuation of the original production line, it’s not a replica or a kit. It’s an all-steel monocoque, identical to the original car. We’re licensed by GM to build the Grand Sport, our agreement even states that we’re legally obligated not to call it a Superformance reproduction, we have to call it a “Corvette Grand Sport by Superformance”.
TG: Would you be able to get the same level of certification from companies that historically have been against or at least unsupportive of what companies like yours do?
LS: General Motors didn’t come easy. I knocked on their door for eight years. Nothing. Then finally I wore them down I think, and they took the meeting. We have engineers at all of the major manufacturers currently driving Superformance cars, a handful of design heads own one of our cars.
With Porsche, I believe we’re at the point where we can honestly approach them, letting us legally put a Porsche badge on our car. A 356 would be the first product that we’d be looking to build there.
In about five years time, though, I’m hopeful that we’ll crack the big nut.
TG: Which is?
LS: Ferrari. By then I imagine GTOs are fetching $60-70million dollars. But if we put the package together properly, and proved to them that we could build something really special, I think they might be open to the conversation. The car would be our most expensive offering by far, probably around $1m. It will be something special. It would have to have a Ferrari engine. It would have to be done really right. Which is why I don’t believe a truly special Superformance Ferrari GTO would bring the value of the original GTOs down.