1968 Corvette L88 James Garner
1968 Corvette L88 James Garner
This Corvette is one of the earliest production 1968 L88 Corvettes, and one of the first-ever L88s with “cabin heaters.” Race-prepared in 1967/1968 by Guldstrand Engineering. It was the Pole Winner of the GT class for the 1968 Daytona 24 Hours. The history of the three 1968 Corvette L88 James Garner American International Racing (AIR) cars is unique in automotive history. James Garner’s AIR team sponsored three cars under one banner. The three cars were all brand new L88 Corvettes. This James Garner Corvette is one of three factory-built L88 cars that left the St. Louis plant for delivery to James Garner’s American International Racing (AIR) team in November 1967. These three LeMans Blue convertibles were the first 1968 production models featuring the L88 engine with first-generation closed-chamber aluminum heads.
Of course, the cars were all Central Office Production Orders (COPO) a system that provided for an incredible range of production specifications. These three cars sold to the AIR team were effectively part of GM’s strategy to manage the release of its most powerful cars to a carefully controlled list of approved customers. Dick Guldstrand, Bob McDonald (Herb Caplan’s crew chief) and Perry Moore (a former Caplan employee) drove the three brand new L88 Corvettes from St. Louis Missouri cross country to Los Angeles California. Although delivery was recorded as being at Fred Gledhill Chevrolet, it is much more likely that the cars were driven directly to the first AIR shop in Culver City, just two doors down from Dick Guldstrand’s new shop. As soon as the Garner cars arrived, the engines were taken to Travers & Coons (TRACO), just up the street, to be prepared for racing.
Upon arrival at Daytona, the two cars out-qualified all other FIA competition in their class. As a result, the two 1968 Corvette L88 James Garner AIR team cars filled out the front-row positions for their class at the start of the race. Unfortunately, endurance races are the true test of all things mechanical, so it may not have been a surprise that these new cars could not keep up the qualifying pace. The #45 car (driven by Scooter Patrick, Dave Jordan and Herb Caplan) dropped out with a blown head gasket. The #44 car (driven by Dick Guldstrand and Ed Leslie) suffered through numerous problems with the rear differential. After changing differentials four times in that race, the team finished 29th, well down the field.
The cars returned to Culver City and were rebuilt in anticipation of Sebring. However, the James Garner AIR team did not race their L88 Corvettes at the 1968 12 Hours of Sebring. The Corvettes were replaced by Lola T-70s and the L88 Corvettes were sold to local racers in the Los Angeles area.
The Story of the James Garner L88 AIR Corvettes is covered in detail in the book: Corvette Racing Legends, the story of the L88 option package by Dr. Peter Gimenez.
photos and edited text courtesy of Barrett-Jackson Auctions