By many historians' recollections, John Greenwood's red, white, and blue "Stars and Stripes" Corvettes were amongst the most recognized race cars on the IMSA, FIA, and SCCA circuits in the 1970s. Ever the savvy marketeer, Greenwood purposefully chose a patriotic palette to distinguish his all-American Corvettes from the Porsches and other foreign sports cars he raced against.
In 1971, Greenwood heard opportunity knocking from tire manufacturer BFGoodrich--written as "B.F.Goodrich" at the time--which was using the American flag's colors to market its new Lifesaver 60 Radial tire. Before long BFG agreed to sponsor Greenwood Racing, in return for Greenwood outfitting two of his Corvette racers (Nos. 48 and 50, both '68 hardtop convertibles) with Lifesaver Radial 60 street tires.
In a press release dated December 13, 1971, BFG announced its sponsorship of the Greenwood team for Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans, Watkins Glen, and two unspecified endurance races in 1972. Company Executive Vice President Patrick Ross described the partnership as "a major expansion of our...1971 program in which our…tires performed without failure at Daytona and Sebring."
After finishing race mods, paint, and graphics on both cars, Greenwood sourced a used '69 L88 hardtop (1 of 116 produced) with a Can-Am White exterior and Bright Blue interior, and converted it into the third BFG/Greenwood Corvette--No. 49.
No. 49 debuted at the FIA World Sports Car Championship at Watkins Glen on July 22, 1972, where, after qualifying, it started 34th on the grid. Twenty laps into the race, it succumbed to valve failure.
Since Watkins Glen was the last race of the FIA's 1972 season, No. 49 wasn't seen on a track again until it kicked off its 1973 itinerary at the 24 Hours of Daytona race on February 4. It completed 494 laps but again didn't finish. On March 24 Greenwood entered the car in the IMSA GT class at the 12 Hours of Sebring. It completed 182 laps but, just like in the previous two races, did not complete the race.
1 A Traco-built ZL1 engine...
1 A Traco-built ZL1 engine pumps out an estimated 750 hp. The two-tiered L88-style breather is GM issue; tubular racing headers are not.
2 No. 49 fends off a Porsche...
2 No. 49 fends off a Porsche 911 at Watkins Glen in July 1973. The car was still winning races as recently as 1989.
3 The car's scrutineering...
3 The car's scrutineering sheet from the 1973 Heures Du Mans. Although No. 49 passed tech and was cleared to compete, an ill-advised testdrive on the streets of a nearby town resulted in its prerace ejection.
No. 49's next chance for success came at the 24 Heures of Du Mans on June 10. Though the car passed tech inspection and ran in Wednesday's practice session, a Citroen wiped out its front end in an accident on the streets of Chartres, France, while team driver Don Yenko was behind the wheel. The incident infuriated Le Mans authorities so much that they disqualified it from the race.
In July 1973, after his contract with BFG had ended, Greenwood painted over No. 49's "Stars and Stripes" graphics and sold the car to fellow IMSA/SCCA racer Phil Currin.
Currin rechristened the L88 coupe as No. 99 and enjoyed considerable racetrack success with it for more than a decade. Its accolades in GTO IMSA included three poles and one fastest lap in 1979, along with three poles, two wins, and one fastest lap in 1980. The car then took Third in the SCCA Trans-Am series in 1981, tied for Second in Trans-Am in 1982, and won the SCCA B-Prepared Autocross Championship (SE Division) in 1989.
Meanwhile, vintage Corvette racer and collector Ed Mueller had acquired the BFG No. 48 and No. 50 cars, leaving just one Corvette--No. 49--to complete his Greenwood trifecta. "I was aware of the No. 49 car because Currin was still in vintage racing. I told him at Lime Rock that if he was ever going to sell it, to please let me know," he says.
Kevin Mackay of Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, New York, was keeping an eye on No. 49 for Mueller, too--and eventually his persistence paid off. "My team and I restored the No. 48 car for him, and [we were] instrumental in acquiring the No. 49 chassis and body for him from Currin," he says.
4 Minilite mags were the...
4 Minilite mags were the height of '70s racing technology. The side mirror was raised to provide a better view of competitors approaching from behind on hilly circuits.
5 BFGoodrich's Lifesaver...
5 BFGoodrich's Lifesaver Radial was marketed as "The Street Tire That Races." BFG was the Greenwood team's chief sponsor during the '72 and '73 seasons.
6 Aside from the dash-mounted...
6 Aside from the dash-mounted ignition modules and profusion of switchgear, the interior is closer to stock than one might imagine.
As he did with the No. 48 car, Mueller tasked Mackay with overseeing No. 49's transformation from rode-hard racer to automotive objet d'art. The two men traveled to Sanford, Florida, together to meet John Greenwood and his brother Burt in person, and to extract their full knowledge of the car's technical specifications. They also obtained copies of the surviving historical documents and photographs in the Greenwoods' possession, which Mackay would use as references to accurately reconstruct No. 49.
"For the project, I bought a pickup truck full of vintage Greenwood racing components, including Minilite wheels, brake rotors, rearends, spindles, control arms, and trailing arms," Mackay says.
To recreate how Greenwood campaigned No. 49 back in the '70s, Mackay sourced a ZL1 block, a Holley 4296 carb, a "198" intake, and Cal Custom valve covers. While Greenwood always built his own motors for his Corvettes, Mueller hired famed Chevy race-engine builder Traco Engines to assemble a new ZL1 for the car.
No. 49 traded ownership from Mueller to notable Corvette collector Chip Miller in 2000. Mackay stayed on as the restorer, later debuting the car's meticulously refurbished rolling chassis at the Greenwood Reunion tent as part of the 2004 Corvettes at Carlisle show. (Since Miller had passed away months prior to the show, his widow, Judy, authorized Mackay to showcase the work-in-progress at the event.)
Miller's son, Lance, authorized the sale of No. 49 to John Thompson in 2007, on the condition that Mackay be kept on to complete the restoration.
"Some Corvettes take six months, but this one took 12 years," Mackay says. "I tallied 3,400 hours of labor in this project, and that's not including the thousands of hours of research to make sure my final results were as accurate as any Corvette race-car restoration in the world."
No. 49 debuted at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering in 2008 and earned Best in Class, beating out a strong contingent of Sebring race cars. That same year, it was the center display car for the Corvette Racing Legends special event at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.
In 2009, it took the Best Paint by Design award at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, was selected for the Bloomington Gold Grand Finale Collection, and was awarded the American Heritage Award, which is the highest award given to non-street Corvettes by the National Corvette Restorers Society. It was also a feature display at the National Corvette Museum's Hall of Fame.
In August 2011, Thompson sold No. 49 at RM Auctions' Monterey, California, event, where a high bid of $638,000 brought down the hammer.
Corvette collector Chuck Ungurean of Columbus, Ohio, currently owns No. 49. "I feel very honored to have it," he says. "I have a nice collection of Corvette race cars, and I can't say enough about this one's magnificent restoration. I'm looking forward to sharing it with the public. It's been accepted by the Concours d'Elegance of America in Plymouth, Michigan, where it will be in the Jaguar vs. Corvette exhibition. I'm going to keep No. 49 and help preserve its heritage for generations to come."
VETTE thanks Wayne Ellwood for his assistance in researching this story.
BFG/Greenwood "Stars and Stripes" No. 49
- 468ci ZL1 engine, rated at 750 hp
- M22 "Rock Crusher" four-speed transmission
- BFGoodrich Lifesaver Radials (60 series)
- Modified tilt steering column with handmade washer squirter and high-beam switch
- Pontiac Formula steering wheel
- Side impact bars added to rollcage
- Double-adjustable Koni shocks
- Brake master cylinder with vent tubes from each section
- Unique breather tube off driver-side valve cover leading to canister
- Center support for quick release of aluminum radiator
- Large white oil-pressure gauge
- Jones 5-inch tachometer
- Modified dash with Stewart Warner gauges and protected switches
- Needle-bearing A-arm and steering-arm bushings