Few people were as inexorably linked to the Corvette as Santa Monica, California-born street racer Dick Guldstrand. Like many gearheads growing up in the ’50s, he was enamored with Chevy’s fiberglass two-seater. Unlike most, however, he parlayed his interest and skill behind the wheel into a career worthy of a screenplay.
Turning lessons learned on the track racing Corvettes, Guldstrand launched his own engineering firm in 1968 on California’s (in)famous Thunder Alley, constructing race cars and building hot street machines. For the ’84 C4 Corvette, Chevrolet adopted a rear suspension very much like his advanced five-link system. In 1985, he introduced his own tunerized Corvette, called the GS 80, a C4 packing all the Guldstrand tweaks and a 375-horsepower Traco small-block. The pace increased with the 475-horse GS-90 released in 1995.
SoCal hot-rodder made good behind the wheel of America’s sports car
Corvette racer and Southern California hot-rod icon Dick Guldstrand passed away Sept. 2 at age 87.
Guldstrand was one of the few remaining hot-rodders-turned-racers, whose exploits took him as far away as Le Mans and Indianapolis and as near as his first Guldstrand Motorsport shop in SoCal’s Thunder Alley.
Guldstrand was an engineering major at UCLA but was a hot-rodder before and after. As he once said about his high school years in Southern California, “Either you were a hot-rodder or you were a candy ass!”
Guldstrand started out in a ’27 Ford on ’32 frame rails that he built in high school. Then he raced sprint cars on the dangerous dirt tracks of Southern California in the days before Nomex, helmets, freeways or Disneyland. He raced many of the various classes of midgets and sprint cars at the myriad circle tracks that were strewn all across Southern California before discovering the Corvette in about 1957.
He soon decided road-racing sports cars was safer, and by the early ’60s was running Corvettes at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. He went to Indianapolis in 1966 for the 500 but failed to qualify. For a while he drove a Grand Sport for Roger Penske. He drove Corvettes to victory all over the West Coast as well as at Daytona and in Trans-Am.
Guldstrand was hired by Zora Arkus Duntov to drive a 427-cubic inch, 560-hp Corvette coupe at Le Mans along with Bob Bondurant in 1967. Unlike today’s small army of technicians, other than the drivers, there were only four crew members along for the ride back then. And no trailer. Guldstrand and Bondurant barreled along on narrow roads to go from Orly-Paris airport to Le Mans.
“Damn thing wouldn’t go under 70 because of the gearing and it had loud pipes,” said Guldstrand. “So word got out and as we rolled on, more and more people were on the side of the road. When we got Chartres, there was a gendarme standing on a box. I could see his eyes open wide; we nearly blew him off his box, [and] he snapped off a [military] salute.”
While the car was fast, nearly 180 mph down the Mulsanne Straight, brakes — by then discs and not drums like the 1960 cars — were still an issue. Speaking of the Mulsanne, Guldstrand’s first flat-out run down the famous straight, which was only interrupted in those days by what Bondurant had described to him as a “kink,” resulted in an interesting pit stop.
“At 170 mph, that kink was a corner. I slid the car through it and stopped at the pit. They said, ‘Why’d you come in?’ and I told them because of the Mulsanne stain in my shorts.”
Unfortunately, about midway through the race, while comfortably leading their class, the engine expired.
He was in the movies, too. A friendship with “Grand Prix” cast members James Garner and Bob Bondurant lead to the creation of Garner’s race team “American International Racing,” after the movie wrapped. AIR fielded L88 Corvettes and Lola T70s at Daytona and Sebring, with leading sports car drivers of the day Scooter Patrick, Davey Jordan, Lothar Mothschenbacher and Guldstrand. The team also fielded a John Surtees Formula A/F5000 car in late 1969 that was featured in the documentary “The Racing Scene” starring James Garner as himself.
When his racing days were over, he switched to tuning Corvettes, with a shop right in the middle of the old Thunder Alley in Culver City, with neighbors like Ed Iskenderian, Stuart Hilborn, and Troutman and Barnes. He moved the shop to Burbank in 2000.
Over the years he made Corvettes of his own design, too. There was the GS80 in 1986, then the GS90 (AW, June 5, 1995) — which would have had a stronger run had Chevy not up and canceled the ZR-1. His last Corvette was the Signature Edition Anniversary Corvette, a 500-hp salute he engineered in 2003 to the car’s 50th anniversary.
As of press time, no services had been announced, but please feel free to go do a burnout in your L88 in his honor. Goodbye, Guldstrand.