The L88 Corvette burst onto the scene with victories at Daytona and Sebring in 1966 and continued at the Le Mans Trials in April 1967, where, in near-stock trim, an L88 clocked 171.5 mph on the Mulsanne Straight. That same car led the GT class in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans for 11 1/2 hours before throwing a (stock Chevy) rod. Jerry Thompson and Tony DeLorenzo dominated SCCA A Production in 1969, with eleven victories in as many starts, and though production ended in 1969, L88s dominated GT and A Production racing for the next decade.
After three years of watching the 427-ci Cobras run away from the Corvettes, Chief Engineer Zora Duntov designed the L88 as a Cobra killer. In 1966, Duntov took a NASCAR-developed 427-ci big block, dropped it into a Corvette coupe fitted with optional heavy-duty brakes and suspension, and turned it over to Roger Penske. At the 24 Hours of Daytona that year, Penske’s drivers, Dick Guldstrand, George Wintersteen, and Ben Moore, came home first in the GT class and 12th overall. At Sebring, the same team earned another GT class victory, finishing 9th overall in the 12-hour enduro. All this was a tune-up for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1967.
Based on the 1966 prototype, RPO L88 was quietly added to the 1967 Corvette option list. The L88 was not just an engine, but a complete package for FIA GT and SCCA A Production racing. To meet these rules, the L88 had to be factory-built and street legal, so it came straight off the St. Louis assembly line.
Everything a racer would need
The package included all the pieces a racer would need: F41 heavy-duty suspension, J56 heavy-duty brakes, Harrison aluminum radiator, and a special forced-air hood with raised “Power Bulge.” Deleted were all the items a racer would throw away, including radio, heater, air conditioning, power steering and power windows. Duntov also dispensed with the radiator fan shroud, since he found it restricted air flow above 80 mph. Standard transmission was the M22 “Rock Crusher” 4-speed, named after the sound of its straight-cut racing-grade gears. But the real legend was under the hood.