Unabashedly American: The Stars And Stripes Greenwood Corvette Tribute
Photography by Bary R. Seldon
Deep in an underground garage sits a tribute car like no other. A car that pays homage to three legendary Corvettes built by a man named John Greenwood. A Michigan native, Greenwood was an expert engine and suspension builder who got into racing because of a dare from his wife. His success in the sport came almost as fast as his cars, moving his efforts from local autocross and small track events around the state to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Though Greenwood raced, and created, many Corvettes throughout his lifetime, the ones that are the most memorable with enthusiasts and competitors are the 1971 to 1973 season BF. Goodrich (BFG) “Stars and Stripes” racers #48, #49, and #50.
Though the cars almost look identical, there are some variations among them. To start, the #49 car was never intended to be raced. The car was made last minute, after the number 48 and 50 car, to be used for display at sponsored events and to be photographed for print ads. Because of this, the car is based on a t-top body rather than a roadster like numbers 48 and 50. Once the “PR” business was done, the car received all of the same goodies the 48 and 50 cars had already; the front and rear body panels were replaced with one-piece, molded body sections that were lighter in weight and widened to accommodate the much larger tires stuffed underneath the car. The standard pop-up headlights were also replaced with fixed Plexi headlamp covers that increased visibility when driving at night and also allowed the car’s sight-seeing appendages to slide through the air rather than ram through it like a moving refrigerator. Also, the car’s original t-top panels were replaced with lighter ones. The car was then painted in its famous “Stars and Stripes” livery that is reminiscent of Greenwood’s previous race cars and was designed by Randy Wittine.
The Corvette was placed on much larger than stock tires and, as part of the contract with BFG, it raced with the new “Lifesaver” radial street tire. This posed a major issue when it came to competition because of the lack of additional traction that a standard slick would have supplied, but Greenwood worked with what he was given. The new radial tires were wrapped around a set of Minilites that were never made to be used on a Corvette. The wheels were originally produced for Penske’s Javelin program, so they were made with 4-lug patterns. This might not seem like an issue, but the Corvette uses a 5-lug pattern and not a 4-lug. To make them fit the Corvette the original holes were plugged, freeze-pressed, and then re-machined to match the 5-lug bolt pattern. This seems like a lot to go through just for a set of wheels, but the Minilites had the offset Greenwood was looking for and the price was very to hard to turn down. The wheels were 15 inches in diameter, with the fronts being eight inches wide and the rears being 10 inches wide. On some occasions, 10-inch-wide wheels were put under each corner of the car for added grip.
Because of the extra rubber, the rear frame was sectioned so the wheels could clear the chassis and the trailing arms were notched to help make additional room. Due to the lack of slicks being used, Greenwood had to become creative with the suspension set ups. He had the front suspension fitted with special in-house A-arm bushings, double-adjustable KONI shocks were put in place of the standard ones, and the springs were replaced depending on the race track. Much of the car’s suspension setup was kept secret to help keep an edge in the racing scene and to add some mystery to boot. The Corvette also had a roll cage fabricated into it, but by today’s standards it lacked much in the way of safety.
For example, it is required that roll cages used in racing today must have bars that cross in front of the driver side and passenger side doors to help protect the driver from side impacts But because this car was built before that was a requirement it lacks this feature. The interior was stripped of anything that was deemed unnecessary, and in place of the standard foam dash were aluminum panels fitted with gauges that kept the driver up to date on the status of the engine, as well as switches for ignition and pumps and various lights on the car.
Of course, the most important part of this car is the heart of it. Under the fiberglass hood is an all-aluminum Chevrolet ZL1 L88 427 cubic-inch V8. The engines were bought from Chevrolet, brand new, and then rebuilt by Greenwood. He focused on making the engines more reliable, using his previous experiences working with all-aluminum engines, and, surely, making it much more powerful too. Once put together again, the engine cranked out near 780 HP at 6,200 RPM. Today, aluminum engines are common, being found in practically every race car and almost every performance car on the road. Back in the ‘70s though this was a rare sight. Other racers were convinced that aluminum engines couldn’t hold up to the strain that came with endurance and the loads, and thus used iron blocks. Greenwood took advantage of the aluminum blocks because of their light weight and ability to dissipate heat at a much quicker rate than a standard iron block. Because of it’s lightweight and high horsepower, the engine pushed the Corvette down the back straight of Le Mans at a blistering 215 mph. Insane when you think that the entire car’s body is made out of fiberglass and that one false move can result in death.
Though this car you see in the images before you is a tribute, it’s fitted with a lot of parts Greenwood used on the originals. The engine, is an actual ZL1 L88 built by Greenwood. The wheels and tires are new old stock (NOS), as well as the suspension. Even the livery is as close as possible to original race cars. But there are somethings incorrect too. The interior for instance doesn’t match how Greenwood had his set up; the car still includes the standard passenger seat, standard dash, and standard steering wheel, all things you wouldn’t find on the real one. Side impact bars were also added in the event the car is raced. And though this isn’t the real thing, it is still a tribute worth sharing. A tribute to three Corvettes and a man named John Greenwood.