Corvettes mean a lot of different things to different people, but no matter what your perception of them may be, they have had a pretty legendary racing history.
Zora Arkus Duntov was responsible for convincing General Motors to push the 1956 Corvette more in the direction of a true sports car with a manual transmission and larger displacement engine. It was originally a more touring-like car like the Thunderbird it was originally meant to match up against in the show rooms.
It was also Duntov that would convince General Motors to take note of the success of the Don Yenko COPO program - providing performance parts to people with racing aspirations - despite General Motors' internal prohibition on racing. He successfully convinced the factory to discretely support Corvette racing for SCCA A-Production and FIA GT events. But in order to be considered eligible for those classes, the equipment had to be available as a standard factory option, so GM quietly introduced the L88 option for the Corvette in 1967.
The L88 package was equipped with a 427 ci V8, not unlike the L71 engine option they'd introduced in 1966, but they had nearly nothing in common. The only thing they shared was the block casting. Nearly every other component in the engine was unique to the L88.
The engines, built in the Tonawanda, New York plant, utilized Can-Am spec aluminum heads with 2.19 inch intake and 1.84 inch exhaust valve diameters. The package also had a significantly beefier crankshaft, 12.5:1 compression pistons, solid lifters, cold air induction, and an 850 CFM dual feed Holley carburetor. Because of its high compression and radical timing curve, the L88 equipped Corvettes even came with a warning sticker reminding the owner that racing fuel was required. In production trim, the L88 was producing somewhere between 550 to 570 hp, despite vastly more conservative literature claims. General Motors significantly underplayed the performance of the L88 to discourage people from purchasing it. With very slight tweaking and the restrictive exhaust removed, the L88 was quite capable of 600 hp.
The L88 package was more than just the outrageously potent engine. The package also included your choice of the manual Muncie M22 Rock Crusher or M20 Hydramatic transmission, power assisted heavy duty disc brakes, the F41 heavy duty suspension with new coils and dampers, the G81 Positraction differential, and a cowl induction hood unique to the L88 package.
It also deleted air conditioning, the radio, the fan shroud, carburetor choke, and in most cases, the heating system. The L88 option was, for all intents and purposes, a race-ready car being sold off the end of an assembly line. And it cost double the price of a standard Corvette.
In 1967, the final year of the C2 body style, only 20 L88 equipped Corvettes were made. Duntov worked closely with the Sunray DX Motorsports team in that first year, and it paid off. The 1967 L88 Corvettes won their respective classes at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Those victories put the L88 option package in the spotlight, and the requests flooded in.
There were 196 of the C3 1968-69 Corvettes shipped with the L88 option before increasingly strict emissions standards forced GM to discontinue the option. But it surely left it's mark in history before it's departure.
Here are some of the teams that campaigned the L88 Corvettes:
American International Racing
American International Racing (AIR) - Led by James Garner, this Hollywood team bought three Le Mans Blue L88 roadsters. They were taken to California where Travers & Coons (TRACO) prepared the engines. One month after being prepped, the three cars were sent to the Daytona 24-Hour race and smashed the FIA competition in qualifying. Unfortunately, all three cars suffered mechanical issues, including an overheating differential. AIR sold the cars shortly afterwards and shifted to Lolas
Team M.C.D./Sunray DX
After a successful season with the 1967 C2 Stingrays, Team M.C.D. fielded the new 1968 model. Engines were prepared by Don Yenko, who also spent time behind the wheel. Three cars were sent to the Daytona 24-Hour race. Jerry Grand and Dave Morgan won their class,and finished 10th place overall. Hap Sharp and Dave Morgan also won the Sebring 12 Hours, and placed 6th overall.
One of the most famous L88s were the pair of OCF roadsters prepared for the 1969, 1970 and 1971 racing seasons. The team won their class at the 24 Hours of Daytona and placed 6th overall. In SCCA's A-Production class the L88s dominated, winning 22 of 22 national races and crowning Jerry Hansen as the National Champ.