Restorations of famous old race cars have become hot commodities. The Corvette world was rocked in August 2008 when the Grady Davis Gulf One ’62 race car sold for a staggering $1,485,000. Six months later, Davis’ ’63 Z06 Gulf One sold for $1,050,000. So it was surprising that the Owens-Corning ’68 L88 Corvette was a no-sale when bidding stopped at $730,000 at the RM Monterey auction last August. The car had an astonishing record, and the driving team of Tony DeLorenzo and Jerry Thompson was equally impressive.
DeLorenzo was the son of GM executive John DeLorenzo, and Thompson was a GM engineer. The two men honed their skills in Corvettes and Corvairs before they co-drove the Hanley Dawson Chevrolet–sponsored ’67 L88 Vette at Sebring and Daytona in 1967. DeLorenzo pitched Hanley Dawson to sponsor a new ’68 L88, but since all of the cars were spoken for, they were forced to build their own. DeLorenzo later said, “Avoid this.”
The ’68 L88 was first raced at that year’s Daytona event as part of Don Yenko’s three-car DX team, which consisted of one ’67 L88 coupe and two “built” ’68 models. The ’67 won the GT class, but the “built” cars ate up nearly every part in the chassis. With help from Duntov, the team sorted out the problems. Midway through the 1968 season, DeLorenzo wrote a sponsorship proposal to the Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation. GM President Ed Cole’s wife, Dolly, delivered the proposal to company chairman (and retired Air Force general) Curtis LeMay, saying, “Curtis, I think you should help these boys.” What better way to promote the company’s signature product than with a fire-breathing, hot-looking racing Corvette?
While LeMay approved the sponsorship, the resulting money didn’t ensure smooth sailing. The car was so banged up at Daytona and Watkins Glen that the frame had to be replaced twice. After a crash at the Glen, a crowd stole all the bodywork. At the end of the season, the ’67 L88 was replaced with a new, factory-built ’69 model. The two-car team raced in both SCCA A/Production and FIA GT. Competing in two series, they won 22 races in a row, with car No. 12 winning 11 times from 1969 to 1971.
The team’s most spectacular race was the 1971 24 Hours at Daytona. It was their fourth time competing in the 24-hour event, so by then they were seasoned pros. To prep for it, both cars were sent to Logghe Stamping for the full rollcage treatment. A team of 20 men—including drivers Thompson, DeLorenzo, Don Yenko, and John Mahler—the two Corvettes, parts, tools, and two rented mobile homes made the trip to Florida from Michigan. Competition in the GT class consisted of 914-6 and 911T Porsches, as well as the Corvettes of Dave Heinz and John Greenwood. Thompson qualified first, De-Lorenzo second, and Greenwood third, ahead of a few 917 Porsches and a 312P Ferrari.
Endurance races aren’t just about preparation and speed; luck plays a big part. Two hours and 45 minutes into the race, Owens-Corning Corvette No. 12 broke a timing chain and was out of the race. At 9 p.m., Yenko, driving No. 11, pitted to replace the voltage regulator and alternator. By noon the following day, after many cars had dropped out, the team found themselves in fifth overall, first in the GT class, and 36 laps ahead of the Heinz “Rebel” Corvette. DeLorenzo got the last driving stint, taking the win in the GT class and fourth place overall.
DeLorenzo and Thompson sold the cars when the Owens-Corning sponsorship expired, but it wasn’t off to pasture for No. 12. The car had seven more owners and was raced in SCCA, Trans-Am, and IMSA events until 1989. Owner number seven, Budd Hickey, had the car restored in 2000 and then showed it at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours. The car also appeared at Carlisle in 2007 (where it won a “Chip’s Choice” award), at the Amelia Island Concours in 2008, and at various Quail Motorsports events. In 2009, No. 12 was on display at the National Corvette Museum’s Hall of Fame, as part of Jerry Thompson’s and Tony DeLorenzo’s inductions into the Hall of Fame.
Will the Owens-Corning No. 12 Corvette eventually be back on the auction block? Don’t bet against it.