The words “Greenwood Corvette” carry a certain reverence for fans of America’s favorite sports car and sports car racing in general.

John Greenwood’s Corvette love affair blossomed with the introduction of the C3 generation in 1968. Within a couple of years, Greenwood was winning SCCA championships in Corvettes he prepared in conjunction with his brother, Burt, out of a Michigan engine rebuild shop called Auto Research Engineering. With co-driver Dick Smothers, Greenwood claimed his first IMSA victory by winning the GTO class in the 1972 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

As the ‘70s progressed, the Greenwood brothers’ operation grew into a secret “skunkworks” for General Motors racing activities similar to how Jim Hall and Chapparal operated in the previous decade. The big-block Corvettes that Greenwood fielded in IMSA with a patriotic stars-and-stripes livery got increasingly more outrageous, soon adding “widebody” flared fenders to accommodate massive rear tires.

Greenwood also stepped up to provide the financial support that kept the Twelve Hours of Sebring running from 1975 to ’77 in the wake of the energy crisis, a period when Sebring promoter Alec Ulmann was under pressure to move the event to an alternate venue.

The 1976 Greenwood “Spirit of Le Mans” Corvette is currently owned by Florida collector Steve Goldin. Last weekend, it received the International Motor Sports Association Award at the 2023 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance as the most significant historic IMSA car entered. Two other Corvettes that participated at Le Mans a 1960 C1 and a 2001 C5, the first year of modern era Corvette Racing participation – also claimed class awards at Amelia Island.

Zora Arkus-Duntov, the GM engineer long known as “Father of the Corvette” – who was this week inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America – took a special interest in Greenwood’s racing exploits. GM designer Randy Wittine penned the aerodynamic body modifications and created Greenwood’s memorable liveries, while renowned engineer Bob Riley (famous at the time for the Coyote Indy cars he drew for A.J. Foyt and later for the dominant Riley & Scott Mk III IMSA prototype) handled the chassis dynamics.

The Greenwood team won twice in 1974, at Talladega with driver Milt Minter and with Greenwood himself in the season finale at Daytona. Greenwood repeated his ‘74 Daytona triumph to conclude the ’75 season. The 1975 Daytona winner, known as the “Spirit of Sebring” Greenwood Corvette, was later briefly owned by actor/racer Paul Newman.

“The IMSA rules didn’t say anything about the fender flares, so we shaped them to add downforce and left the back ends open,” recalled Greenwood, who passed away in 2015. “After our wins in 1974, the Porsches and BMWs adopted our flared and open wheel well style, but we still kept winning.

“We took class again in 1975, but I never got those cars sorted out as much as I would have liked. They were truly awesome cars for full-frame cars, though probably the very last of the (competitive) full-frame cars. We sold quite a few of these cars to customers.”

Arguably the most famous Greenwood Corvette was the one commissioned by Rick Mancuso prior to the 1976 season, intended for competition in IMSA and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “The Spirit of Le Mans” car was one of two built that maintained a lightened stock Corvette frame, adapted for full coil-over suspension front and rear by Riley.

At Le Mans, Greenwood qualified the No. 76 Corvette ninth overall, but the car ran just 29 laps in the race before being eliminated by a fuel leak.
Mark Raffauf, IMSA’s senior director of competition, was present at Le Mans in 1976. He has vivid memories of the impact the Greenwood Corvette (and Michael Keyser’s Chevrolet Monza) made on the French crowd.

“IMSA and the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organizer and promoter of Le Mans) maintained an IMSA-specific class at the 24 Hours for over a decade,” Raffauf said.
The Greenwood Corvette had a 494-cubic-inch V-8, 700 horsepower, and a top speed of 222 miles per hour down the Mulsanne Straight. It was the fastest car there that year and for a number of years following, over all others including Group 6 prototypes.

“Though it did not finish, the car had a massive presence in real life, and it left a lasting mark there up to even today, 47 years later,” he added. “An IMSA-created All-American GT car all the way!”

IMSA President John Doonan paid tribute to the Spirit of Le Mans Greenwood Corvette in 2021 when it was briefly loaned to the Motorsports Hall of Fame at Daytona International Speedway for display.

“It’s a real beast,” Doonan said. “What Bill France Sr. and John Bishop did with IMSA, in terms of its original mission, was to provide a platform for people like John Greenwood and others, who had a dream to go racing, that allowed them to do that at a cost-effective level.”

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