By Kevin Mackay, Walt Thurn and Matt Stone
An amateur Corvette L88 team beat the world’s best GT cars in this world record holding No. 57 “Rebel” L88 Corvette. The story about how this amazing Corvette became a world- beater begins with two Tampa, Fla., businessmen, Dave Heinz and Or Costanzo. Heinz owned Dave Heinz Imports, a Tampa dealership that sold new Jaguars. Costanzo was the new car sales manager for Ferman Chevrolet.
On weekends both shared a common passion — racing Corvettes. Zora Arkus-Duntov, the famous General Motors engineer turned high-performance department director, was always on the lookout for ways to support successful Corvette teams, including the Heinz and Costanzo Corvette. The fact that Costanzo worked at Ferman Chevrolet helped, giving him open communication to GM.
In mid-1968 Duntov told Costanzo that his engineering team was upgrading the L88 option to make it more competitive. This included trimming weight and adding “open chamber” heads to the L88 engine. Only four would be available in early 1969 to teams that held Corvette Engineering buyer’s key passes, which included Costanzo. Costanzo placed a special order for one of these L88 Corvettes through Ferman Chevrolet, and his 1969 Daytona Yellow hardtop Corvette convertible with black interior and L88 equipment group arrived at Ferman in January 1969. It had radio delete, M22 “Rock Crusher” 4-speed transmission, J56 HD brakes, K66 transistor ignition, F41 HD suspension and MA6 HD clutch.
The new L88 also came with a “distance group” package in the storage compartment. It included Plexiglas headlight covers, headlight buckets, fender flares, wheel adapters and Harrison engine oil cooler. Duntov’s team shipped GM-approved OK Custom Headers with sidepipes and Magnesium American Racing Torque thrust D wheels that were installed when the car was delivered. This L88 was equipped with a dual disc clutch and is the only known example with this factory option.
Costanzo’s crew prepared the car for the 1969 12 Hours of Sebring. From 1969-1971, Costanzo and Heinz shared driving responsibilities including consecutive appearances at the Sebring 12-hour race and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Heinz tried to obtain sponsorship from the Heinz Ketchup company, so they put “57” on the Corvette. The company was never a sponsor, but the number remained.
The No. 57 Corvette team went on to win four of the five of the new IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) series in 1971. They won the Over 2 Liter Championship, and Heinz secured the IMSA Driver’s Championship. Midway through the 1971 season, Costanzo sold the car to Toye English, who formed Race Enterprises and Development (RED). English repainted the car with a “Rebel” flag paint scheme to poke fun at Greenwood’s Stars and Stripes painted Corvettes. However, the No. 57 remained.
Don Yenko joined the team to co-drive with Heinz for the rest of the season. Their first race was the
Six Hours of Watkins Glen, and they finished second in class/sixth overall after starting 26th.
In 1972 “Marietta” Bob Johnson joined Heinz to drive for the RED team. Their first 1972 race was the Six Hours of Daytona. Before the race, Leo Mehl, Goodyear’s worldwide racing director, asked the Rebel team to use special unmarked experimental racing tires. Heinz and Johnson won the GT class and beat the Greenwood BF Goodrich team. The next day Goodyear ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal announcing Corvette’s victory on the “first set of Goodyear racing radial tires.” Goodyear became a sponsor for the remainder of 1972; this marked the start of the BFG/ Goodyear tire war.
The Rebel Corvette’s next race was the famous 12 Hours of Sebring. During qualifying, the Rebel was the second quickest GT car and thirteenth fastest in the field of prototypes and GT cars. Heinz qualified almost 10 seconds quicker than the BFG Corvettes. The Rebel qualified second behind the Rinzler 454 Corvette. At the green flag, the Rinzler ‘Vette led into the first turn but crashed into a sandbank. Heinz took the GT lead, and the No. 57 Rebel Corvette led GT for the entire 12 hours. The No. 57 production-based Corvette finished fourth overall — 50 miles in front of Peter Gregg’s fifth place 911 Porsche. The rumbling L88 averaged 95.776 mph for 221 laps and covered 1,189 miles in 12 hours of racing. The overall leaders were two Ferrari 312 prototypes and one Type 33 Alfa Romeo prototype.
After the team’s Daytona and Sebring victories, Goodyear sent the team to LeMans. The Rebel was not eligible for LeMans because many of its factory parts had been discarded and scrapped. A new car was built for LeMans, and the Rebel was sold to Alex Davidson in New York at the end of the 1972 season. The old race car quickly dropped out of sight.
Kevin Mackay and Corvette historian David Reisner searched for the Rebel with only a single clue. That clue helped them find a Carolina dentist named Charles who owned the sought-after L88. Mackay located and purchased the L88 in a Southern scrapyard owned by Charles. He and his team at Corvette Repair Inc. in Valley Stream, N.Y., restored the Rebel Corvette to its winning 1972 Sebring trim. Former Rebel car crew member Walt Thurn, who is now a Corvette historian, provided invaluable assistance. This included documentation, photographs and technical advice during the discovery and restoration of the L88.
Since the restoration, the No. 57 Rebel Corvette has been displayed at the National Corvette Museum, Bloomington Gold Special Collection and Corvettes at Carlisle. It received the NCRS American Heritage Award in 2000 and has been featured in numerous automotive publications. Carousel 1, a model manufacturer, produced the first 1:18 die-cast Corvette L88 Rebel Car model in 2000. Other model companies followed Carousel 1.
The Rebel racer is well-documented and includes owner history, original dealer invoice, retail installment contract, original vehicle log book, written correspondence, notes, magazines and race results. Because of this car’s amazing race record and its fourth overall at Sebring, the Rebel is the most well-known and well-recognized iconic L88 Corvette. It is possibly the best of the best C3 Corvettes that raced.
In celebration of the Corvette’s 60th birthday, the return of the Stingray model and the launch of the all-new C7 generation of Corvette, enthusiasm for America’s favorite two-seat sports car has never been higher.
Recent sales of significant L88 models (street and race) have set all-time highs, and demand appears unabated. This model’s increase in value and popularity is no doubt supported by Corvette’s race- and championship-winning success in all forms of professional road racing, from Sebring and Daytona to LeMans.
When it comes to collector cars, in some cases you buy the car, in others you are buying the story, and in the best case, you get both. So if you are seeking a factory-built, well-documented, race- and series-championship-winning Corvette, this L88 has it all: a high level of specification, considerable performance, legitimate factory provenance and authentic restoration.
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