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1965 Chevrolet Corvette "8-Ball Cobra Killer" Race Car
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1 4842 6/19/2009
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Description: 1965 Chevrolet Corvette "8-Ball Cobra Killer" Race Car
Worldwide Group Auctions
The Houston Classic Auction
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Website: www.wwgauctions.com
Lot # 34

427 cid overhead valve V8 engine rated at 425 horsepower, M-21 four-speed manual transmission, four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes; wheelbase: 98"
CHASSIS NO: Sold on Bill of Sale Only

One of the very first big block Corvettes produced, it was originally race prepared for Dick Guldstrand and Herb Caplan by Jim Geer Chevrolet. Gulstrand and Caplan then used the car as an experimental test bed-making many modifications to compensate

The Drivers

Herb Caplan purchased a 1965 396 Corvette when the big-block motor was first introduced by Chevrolet and, with his mechanically-minded co-driver, took it to new heights of performance utilizing many subtle modifications, a positive spirit for winning and a new-found level of power. Despite difficult learning curves and stiff competition, the car achieved multiple wins and set a course for many years to come. Herb Caplan was affectionately known as "the Jewish Kamikaze," not only for his driving, but also for the Star of David sometimes posted prominently on the headrest of his car. After serving in World War II, Caplan became a self-made success in the area of heavy-construction equipment. Flush with cash, he soon developed an extraordinary passion for auto racing. In 1963, after taking the obligatory driver training, Caplan purchased a new Z06 coupe and ran it for two years in SCCA regional competition. The car was notable for its street-legal configuration and for the fact that it still carried many of its original factory options. It was driven to and from the track, and Caplan was even known to roll onto the starting grid with the radio cranked. In 1965, Caplan decided to move up to a new 396 cubic inch Vette. He sold the Z06 to Jim Barber, who had entered racing a few years earlier. Barber successfully raced the Z for a couple of years, leaving it set up much the same way as when Caplan had driven it. During his driving stint, Caplan racked up 46 wins out of 49 entered and one of the losses was simply due to mechanical failure. Caplan's thirst for winning would turn out to be the perfect match to Guldstrand's keen eye for engineering dynamics from the very beginning.

Better known as "Mr. Corvette," Dick Guldstrand spent the majority of his adult life involved with developing, racing, and promoting the Chevrolet Corvette. Dick Guldstrand was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame at the Corvette National Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1999. It is safe to say that every new Corvette for the past 45 years has somehow benefited from Dick "Mr. Corvette" Guldstrand's earliest engineering endeavors. As a Corvette racer, Dick won three consecutive Pacific Coast Championships (1963-1965) including the Southern Pacific A/P Championship, won the GT-Class at the 1966 Daytona 24-hour race, set a GT track record at Le Mans in 1967, was the first professional driver for Roger Penske driving Roger's Corvette Grand Sport at Sebring in 1966 and 1967.

The Car

Most recently, Guldstrand was able to clear some cobwebs from his office and thoughtfully recalled one particular car that made a significant impact on both his career and the future of Corvette performance. Deep within a file cabinet, Dick pulled an article from Motor Sport International magazine featuring his race at the Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas, circa 1965. The article features Guldstrand behind the wheel of the race winning "8-Ball Cobra Killer" Corvette as he went up against the likes of Jim Hall and Hap Sharp in Chaparral IIs, Skip Scott and Ed Lowther in Essex Wire 427 Cobras, and other recognizable names such as Ronnie Bucknum, Augie Pabst, Jerry Titus and Charlie Parsons. The article seemingly triggered a flood of memories; long-shelved in the archives of Guldstrand's mind. He recalled the brand new 1965 Corvette as it came from John Geer Chevrolet with the fresh 396 motor. He also spoke of the significant roll that the car played in gaining new understanding of the burgeoning big-block Chevrolet.

This Corvette racer, born as a 396 convertible, would go on to live a very special life. In fact, it was one of the very first big-block Corvettes produced and would soon play a vital role in the development of all future Corvettes; both on and off the track. Dick Guldstrand understood the possibilities of the car and crafted a true winner. As with many vintage race cars, the drivers make the car historically important as the car can only be as good as the person behind the wheel. As in the case with this 1965 Corvette, the owner/co-driver and driver used this machine to carve out an incredibly important notch in American performance history.

While many race drivers and owners believed that the coupe was the only way to go in order to take advantage of aerodynamics, Dick Guldstrand knew that it was more advantageous to start with the roadster, remove the heavy convertible top pieces, chop out any unnecessary components and end with a car that was ultimately lighter than its coupe brethren. "For racing, all the other guys bought the coupe," Guldstrand explained, "but I got the roadster. I'd figured out what the center of gravity and height meant; what the aerodynamics really meant. I made the tradeoffs: I looked at the chassis, [and] the weight of the vehicle and it came out "roadster." I wondered, why's everybody buying the coupe? What's the half-mile-an-hour aerodynamic gain at the end of a long straightaway when I can gain three seconds in the corners'. Dick found that his keen perception of weight alteration and distribution was able to "legally" bring the pounds on a roadster down from a gross of over 3,700 to an unbelievable 2,700. In addition, Guldstrand was a true master of suspension tuning. His knowledge of fine tweaking existing factory set-ups would reflect in his ability to come out of the corners ahead of or passing the others. He considered the single biggest improvement to the Sting Ray over the Generation II cars was the independent rear suspension. It took all of the weight out of the unsprung element in the solid axle rear. As the horsepower levels increased across the board with all cars and tires and tracks became more consistent, it became a game of "tracking precise lines and acceleration speeds," Guldstrand later noted.

The "8-Ball Cobra Killer," as it would soon be marked, quickly became one of the most important drawing boards in Guldstrand's early career. Being the first big block Sting Ray out of the box for Caplan's team, it presented an entirely new set of obstacles and advantages to overcome and learn from. The 396 had much more horsepower, weight issues, oil supply problems, and torque than the successful 1963 car the team was accustom to winning with, and Dick attacked the changes with excellent results. The Caplan/Guldstrand team went on to perform very well with the 1965 Corvette and, in time, moved on as technology and designs advanced.

Dick recalls this very car as being one of the most significant cars in both his and Caplan's early years. "The crowning glory was winning the Stardust Grand Prix. Caplan was so excited that the car was now a winner and not just a club car. That was the beginning of a long career in professional racing. We went on to place third at Laguna Seca and second or third at Seattle/Tecoma. It was fantastic watching Herb come up from the amateur ranks into professional racing. At the time, I was the tow truck driver, mechanic, and crew chief. Our entire crew was two guys and a small dog!"

The number 8 Corvette had a brief life with the 396 until the motor suffered damage and made way for the Factory's bigger 427 during the 1966 season. The car continued campaigning under the astute leadership of Caplan and Guldstrand for several years until passed on to a "gal from north of L.A." to make way for the new fourth generation Sting Ray, as Guldstrand recalls. It is likely that the "gal" was none other than owner Phyllis Stiles. Herb Caplan, Jim Barber, and Phyllis Stiles were well-known names on the West Coast racing circuit in the '60s and '70s. Their stories are closely interconnected, and each of them contributed to the legend of the Corvette racers. From there, the car's ownership history is foggy as early accurate records and SCCA log books are seldom found prior to 1973.

Sue Caplan Sperber, Herb's daughter, recently received notice of the re-appearance of her father's '65 roadster. She phoned Worldwide Auctioneers to express her excitement. Combing through the family treasures, she found two awards that Herb received: "Yesterday I found two beautiful silver bowls that are trophies from this '65 Corvette. One says, '1966 R.D.C. 4 Hour Enduro 1st Overall 1st Class A Prod, Herb Caplan' The other reads, '1967 R.D.C. 4 Hour Enduro 1st Overall 1st Class A Prod, Herb Caplan, Bill Sherwood!'" Sue managed to hang on to quite a few mementos and awards from her father's illustrious racing career.

The relationships between Caplan, Guldstrand, and all the other teams were strong. Guldstrand also commented, "Herb was a real pleasure- never a harsh moment. The [post-race] banquets were so nice and spending time with his family' always family."

One of the early "slam dunks" for the Caplan car was October 17, 1965, when Herb finished first in the A-production at Laguna Seca with the number 8 car. It is also recorded that Dick Guldstrand again took the honors as the Cal Club Pacific Coast Champion while driving the Corvette in 1965; completing a historic first time three-peat. The individuals on Caplan's team went on to even greater status with other owners and drivers. James Garner's American International Racing (AIR) team cars are among the most storied vehicles in the history of Corvette racing. The drivers were Dick Guldstrand, Bob McDonald (Caplan's crew chief), and Perry Moore (a former Caplan employee). The Caplan/Guldstrand car raced in Cal Club SCCA events in the A-Class as well as USRRC GT Category. Of note, Guldstrand recently recalled specific success stories where the Sting Ray was among the prestigious few at USRRC 1965 Pacific Raceways (Position 22, Group 3 GT 2.0 Class), 1966 Las Vegas and again at 1966 Laguna Seca (Round 3, Position 13). The car was so well set up by Caplan and Guldstrand that it also competed very successfully as an A-Production car in the open GT Category. In 1966, the Northern Pacific A Production SCCA Divisional Championships were won by Herb Caplan.

Today, the 1965 "8-Ball Cobra Killer" Corvette has found its way in front of the crowd again. It has most recently been featured at the NHRA Museum in Sonoma. It was unveiled following a full restoration by Corvette road-racing specialist Randy Peterson. Randy went through the entire car and breathed life back into the beast, 1966 style. Utilizing Chevrolet's 427, the car lives today exactly as it would have been one year following its track inauguration. Every aspect of the car is as fresh and new as though it was time-warped from more than four decades ago. It can now be shown with pride or readied for energetic hot laps at vintage track days.

Only a scant few vintage race cars survive the hard trials of abuse and fewer evoke the glory days from true American legends like this one does. Dick Guldstrand is widely respected as one of American racing's greatest minds and great race car drivers. We are excited to announce that he will be in attendance and reunited with the car as it is debuted at auction May 2nd. This special car is regarded as the first big-block Corvette to have been used as a "test bed" for the new ideas and suspension modifications that allowed it to be far superior in the corners than its competitors. These improvements by Mr. Guldstrand would later go on to be adapted by Chevrolet Corvette drivers on tracks all over the world. It is a multiple race winner and a historically important part of Corvette Racing development, helping to make Corvette the awesome legend on the track that it is today.
Keywords: 1965 Chevrolet Corvette "8-Ball Cobra Killer" Race Car


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