Corvette Legends of Le Mans: Dick Guldstrand
Chevrolet to Honor “Mr. Corvette” in Celebration of 50th Anniversary of Corvette’s First Le Mans Participation
MONTEREY, Calif. – Dick Guldstrand has been inextricably linked with Chevrolet’s sports car for more than 50 years, an enduring relationship that has earned the Californian the nickname “Mr. Corvette.” Guldstrand’s exploits include an expedition to the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with co-driver Bob Bondurant in a red, white and blue Corvette – a journey that left an indelible impression on the two American drivers and legions of French racing fans. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Corvette’s first participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Chevrolet will salute Guldstrand as one of the Corvette Legends of Le Mans at the American Le Mans Series Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 21-22.
“It all started when Roger Penske hired me as his first professional driver in late ’65 to run his Corvette,” Guldstrand said. “It’s a long story, but we won the GT category in the Daytona 24-hour race. Then we went on to Sebring, and that same car won that race. So can you imagine the sensation if a Corvette Stingray won the 24 Hours of Le Mans?”
“I was managing the Dana Chevrolet High-Performance Center in southern California, and we were really on a high,” Guldstrand explained. “Duntov (Corvette chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov) was beside himself. He’d call me every day and say, ‘Dick, we got to do this, and this, and be careful of the aerodynamics.’ Of course, there weren’t any aerodynamics – we used an old piece of aluminum underneath the front end to try to keep the nose down!”
The patriotically painted Dana Chevrolet Corvette was transported via air freight to Paris-Orly Airport – and then the team’s Le Mans adventure truly began.
“We arrived at Orly and unloaded the car off the plane,” Guldstrand recalled. “Well, they forgot to bring a trailer. All we had was a Bedford diesel, a four-door Opel, and us. So Bobby Bondurant and I filled it up, jumped in the race car, and drove the whole distance to Le Mans. The sidepipe exhausts were wide open, and in every little town we went through, the crowds got bigger. When we got to Chartres, we damn near broke the stained glass windows out of the cathedral. A gendarme was standing on his little box in the middle of the square directing traffic, and he gave us a salute as we drove by and about blew him off the box.”
“By the time we got to Le Mans, we had a following that was staggering,” Guldstrand said. “The French loved that crazy red, white and blue Corvette. Of course, our competition protested us. The car was way too light because we’d stripped it. We had to fly the bumpers, the grille and all the stuff over to France and put them back on the car before we could qualify.”
Nothing in Guldstrand’s racing experience had prepared him for the challenge of the immense Le Mans circuit.
“I’d done quite a bit of fast driving at Daytona and Sebring, but nothing like the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans,” he said. “We were flat out for nearly 3.5 miles, and it was mind-boggling. There was this little kink when you got near the end of the straight, and you had to be perfectly on the button to go through there. That’s where the ‘Mulsanne Stain’ comes from – it’s a little brown stain in your shorts, because I used up all of the road and some of the dirt getting through there!
“The Corvette was blindingly fast, and I think we hit 180 mph on the straight,” Guldstrand noted. “Halfway through the race we were leading our class by 17 or 18 miles, but then a wrist pin broke and put a connecting rod out through the side of the block. We knew that was a weak point and we were just trying to take it easy, but it didn’t survive.”
Decades later, Guldstrand still cherishes the memories of his Le Mans adventure.
“Bondurant was really a big help in teaching me the Le Mans course,” Guldstrand explained. “We had been friends for 20 years, and we finally got to drive together. We had dedicated people like Junior Johnson and (Chevrolet general manager) Ed Cole, and of course Duntov helping us. We were almost like a family. That was a wonderful, wonderful time.”
Guldstrand’s Corvette credentials are still impeccable. He won three consecutive Pacific Coast championships (1963-1965) including the Southern Pacific A-Production championship, and he won the GT class at the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona driving a Corvette. When his driving career began to wind down, Guldstrand’s love for the technical side of racing led to the 1968 launch of Guldstrand Engineering on the famed “Thunder Alley” in Culver City, Calif. His development expertise and years of experience with the marque were evident in the performance of the race-prepared C4 Corvettes that won numerous events and set track records at the Mid-Ohio 24-hour event and the 12-hour race at Willow Springs. Guldstrand also has organized Corvette events and served as a global goodwill ambassador for the marque. Chevrolet is proud to salute “Mr. Corvette” as one of the Corvette Legends of Le Mans.
Release Date: May 14, 2010