Source: AutoWeek Magazine
(08:30 Nov. 27, 2003)
By WILLIAM JEANES
Jim Champlin, 71, a retired employee of what was once called Plant Protection at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, says he destroyed the sixth Grand Sport, probably in late 1964 or early 1965. AUTOWEEK'S SEARCH FOR the rumored sixth Grand Sport Corvette has borne fruit yet again—in unexpected fashion.
When we suggested the existence of a sixth Grand Sport Corvette (AW, July 21), a howl went up from the keepers of conventional wisdom.
"Everyone knows there were only five," cried the faithful.
According to a reputable restorer who asked not to be named, the original long-running rumor likely owes its existence to a set of factory blueprints for a sixth GS, reputable sources say. The restorer does not believe a sixth one exists--absent incontrovertible proof.
Readers will recall from our original article that Texas oilman John Mecom, who campaigned the Grand Sport Vettes in the early 1960s, claims that he bought not five but six Grand Sports from General Motors. Dallas artist Bill Neale, a longtime friend of Mecom, maintains with no equivocation that a photograph in the Mecom trophy room showed six GS Corvettes in the Mecom Racing shop.
Seeking further confirmation, Mecom called Barry Smyth, a former Mecom Racing employee. Smyth, who had also worked with Corvette patriarch Zora Arkus-Duntov's racing group, stated categorically that there were six Grand Sports.
"He told me," said Mecom, "that the sixth car went back to Detroit [to the shadowy Corvette racing headquarters] and never came back here [to Houston]."
Ed Welburn, GM's new design boss, was intrigued by our story and instituted a search for the car (AW, Oct. 13). The search met with failure, and we may now know why: There is no sixth Grand Sport to find—but not necessarily because one never existed.
On a reader's tip, we called Jim Champlin, 71, a retired employee of what was once called Plant Protection at GM's Milford Proving Grounds. Champlin says he destroyed the sixth Grand Sport, probably in late 1964 or early 1965.
"The car had come back from the Bahamas, and the word came down to make it disappear," Champlin recalled.
Champlin wasn't privy to the source of the order, but he described taking the lightweight Corvette to an area where GM tested military vehicles, putting two tires inside it, dousing them with gasoline and setting it afire. His supervisor, Bob Cameron, witnessed the destruction.
"He [Cameron] knew I was a racing fan and said he didn't think I should be left alone with the car or I'd keep its whole drivetrain," Champlin said. "And I would have."
Champlin described the car's many aluminum components "turning into a big puddle," but he was unsure of the car's color. "I think either white or silver," he said. He is also unable to recall whether it was a roadster or a coupe, but he does remember his emotions.
"It just tore me up to do it," Champlin said.
In some ways it tears us up to report that the sixth Grand Sport Corvette, like Arkus-Duntov's plans for racing it, may have gone up in smoke. Mecom recalls a GS painted white for Jim Hall at Nassau, and photos of several 1964 races show both Hall and Roger Penske at the wheel of a white GS coupe—but this car is usually identified as GS 005 and still exists. Robert Ash told us that all the GS Vettes were originally white, broadening the potential for confusion.
Whatever its origin, Jim Champlin is certain that he burned a racing Corvette that had returned from the Bahamas. This would have reflected GM management's anti-racing mood at the time and allows us to say—with at least some confidence—that here ends the search for the sixth GS.
Unless, of course, there were seven.