1969 BFG #49 ZL-1 Corvette…This 1969 Corvette race car was one of 3 team cars sponsored by BF Goodrich during 1971-73 to showcase their new line of T/A Radials. The #49 competed in the trifecta of sports car racing. 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of LeMans. To see more photos of the BFG #49 car, click here.
The 3 team cars #48, #49, and #50 were owned and campaigned by John Greenwood, who was inducted into the Sebring Raceway Hall of Fame in 2002. The #49 was driven by top road course drivers of the period including John Greendyke, John Greenwood, Robert R. Johnson, Dick Smothers, and Don Yenko.
The car’s first major win was 1st place in GT in 1972 at Watkins Glen 6 Hr driven by Greenwood and Smothers. In 1973 it was campaigned at 12 Hr of Sebring, Daytona 24 Hr. and at 24 Hr of LeMans. At LeMans, the car set the GT speed record of 215 MPH on the Mulsanne Straight in qualifying.
click here to hear this car & get a 360 degree view
This car was delivered as a 1969 factory L-88 car and was used by John Greenwood as a PR car initially. When the #50 car was heavily damaged in a crash in 1972, he was required by his contract with BFG to field 2 cars. Therefore, he converted the #49 to a race car, installing all of the famous Greenwood innovations, notched rear end, quick replacement radiator, quick camber adjustment, and a new Chevrolet ZL-1 all aluminum 427 cu engine producing over 750 hp @ 6500 rpm.
It was restored to concourse condition in 2008 by Kevin Mackay of Corvette Repair, Valley Stream, NY and was debuted at The Quail Motorsports 2008 Event where it received “Best in Class” against a strong field of Sebring Race Cars. Later in 2008 it was invited as a center display car for the Corvette Racing Legends Event at the Petersen Museum in LA. The car also received the prestigious Amelia Award at the 2009 Amelia Island Concours. Selected for Bloomington Gold Grand Finale in 2009. The car was awarded the American Heritage Award in 2009, the highest award for non-street Corvettes by the National Corvette Restorers Society. It was a center display car at the National Corvette Museum for the Corvette Hall of Fame in 2009. Most recently it was invited to celebrate Corvette’s First LeMans win at the Laguna Seca ALMS race in 2010.
The car has a complete ownership history, John Greenwood’s letter of authenticity, original bill of sale, and LeMans registration and tech inspection sheets. This car is the most original of all 3 team cars, retaining its original rear clip, frame, steering wheel, all gauges, mirrors, dash, t-tops, removable radiator brackets, Minilite wheels, trailing arms, camber adjustment screws, NOS BFG tires, etc. The car is fitted with a ZL-1 engine from Traco, the historic builder of race engines for Roger Penske, Jim Hall, and many Can-Am owners. The car comes with a DVD of vintage video from LeMans and a detailed video with John and Burt Greenwood validating the car’s unique features.
The car is owned by Proteam Personal Reserve Collection of Napoleon, Ohio, who is the 6th owner of the car.
1969 BFG #49 ZL-1 Corvette
• The #49 competed in the trifecta of sports car racing, 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of LeMans.
• Campaigned by--- John Greendyke, John Greenwood, Robert R. Johnson, Dick Smothers, and Don Yenko.
• 1972 6 HR Watkins Glen--- 1st place GT with John Greenwood and Dick Smothers
•1973 Sebring 12--- 8th in class with John Greendyke and Robert R. Johnson
•1973 Daytona 24--- John Greendyke, Robert R. Johnson, and Don Yenko
•1973 24 LeMans--- set GT speed record of 215 MPH on the Mulsanne Straight
This car was delivered as a 1969 factory L-88 car and was used by John Greenwood as a PR car initially. When the #50 car was heavily damaged in a crash in 1972, he was required by his contract with BFG to field 2 cars. Therefore, he converted the #49 to a race car, installing all of the famous Greenwood Innovations, notched rear end, quick replacement radiator, quick camber adjustment, and a new Chevrolet ZL-1 all aluminum 427 cu engine producing over 750 hp @ 6500 rpm. Restored by Kevin Mackay of Corvette Repair, Valley Stream, NY.
• Quail Motorsports Event 2008--- Best in Class--- Sebring Race Cars
• Petersen Museum 2008--- Center Display Car—Corvette Racing Legends
• Amelia Island Concours 2009--- Best in Class--- Amelia Award
• Bloomington Gold Grand Finale--- 2009
• National Corvette Restorer’s Society 2009--- American Heritage Award
• National Corvette Museum 2009--- Corvette Hall of Fame
• 50th Anniversary Corvette’s First LeMans Win 2010--- Laguna Seca
Stars & Stripes: Pride of America , By: Wayne Ellwood
The history of the BFG/ John Greenwood racers #48 and #50, which are currently owned by Ed Mueller, was covered in our inaugural issue. It’s now time to look at the third car, #49. While there have been other references and previous articles in other magazines about other possible owners for the #49, Phil Currin of Gainesville, Florida, appears (to this author) to be the clear leader in this race.
But this is not a “call” to make lightly. The trail of the Greenwood cars from that era is not easy to trace. But in the short time I had with Phil Currin we certainly got into a lot of the details. Fortunately, I have also had access to other prior research on the matter to piece together a significant part of the puzzle.
It seems to go like this. The three BFG cars were sold by John and Burt Greenwood after the 1973 season. They didn’t all go at once, however, John, and his brother Burt, ran #48 for a number of additional races. The trail can be easily confused by the fact that there were several other “Greenwood” cars built between 1969 and 1973, and at least two of these were very similar to the BFG cars. For example, prior to building the three BFG cars, John Greenwood had two specific cars which he ran between 1969 and 1971 on his way to two sequential SCCA championships. These two cars were sold to Mike Murray and Denny Long. It is unclear if Denny Long bought another “customer” car or if he only bought the one original car from 1969. The lack of documentation from twenty years ago is now a significant barrier to being absolutely precise on how many non-BFG cars there were and on saying where these cars ended up.
Phil picks up his story in late 1973 when he and Bruce Morton formed a partnership to buy a running race car from John Greenwood, in time for the 1973 SCCA run-offs at Daytona. Phil believes that the car they acquired may be the Greenwood’s #49 BFG Lifesaver Radial race car. The #49 car was the t-top variant of the BFG racers which was raced at LeMans in 1973. A number of interesting points emerge as Phil tells his story of the initial purchase, the partnership and his subsequent re-purchase of the BFG car in 1979.
One of the most interesting points which Phil relates is that throughout the entire period, up to the point at which Lance Smith spotted the “old” rear clip in Phil’s garage, neither Phil nor Morton knew that this was possibly the #49 car.
Another point of some importance is the fact that Phil states that he has the receipts necessary to prove the ownership trail on the car. While some debate continues amongst other interested parties, Phil is clear enough as to which car he now owns.
So how did it all come about?
Bruce Morton was a friend of Phil Currin. In the early 70’s Bruce often rented a ride from Phil and others; he was young, impetuous and wanted to race. Phil wasn’t that much older and he knew how to prepare a car. The fact that this arrangement was more than a financial deal was also evident during my interview with Phil.
Late in 1973 Phil retired his 1963 which had been winning consistently over the years (see Fast Phil’s First Flame, Corvette Fever, February 1994). A new ride was in order. Bruce was also looking for further excitement and, quite quickly, he came to Phil with a proposition. In effect, he told Phil that he had found a car and that they were going to be partners. Bruce put up somewhere around 92% and Phil put up the balance, along with the use of his truck, trailer and mechanical skill.
Phil was astonished at the speed with which Morton signed a deal for the Greenwood car.
It seems that Bruce had simply called John Greenwood and asked for a car. The BFG deal had ended in July and there were several cars available. A “white” bodied t-top was purchased was race ready.
Phil and Bruce trailered up to the Levonia (MI) Greenwood shops to pick up the car. Morton had a certified cheque and Phil had a counter cheque—not good enough for John. As he explained it to Phil…“I have a drawer full of cheques from people you know that have bounced.” So, with a little more work, Phil produced cash and the car was loaded onto the trailer.
In one of those fortuitous moments of clarity, Phil asked John for a receipt for the car. Normally a race car with no serial number just belongs to whoever has the key to the trailer, in this case, however, John stamped #01 on the cage and gave a receipt to that effect. On the way home, Phil was stopped by the Michigan State Police and the value of documentation was proved for the first of many times.
In addition to the car, Morton/ Currin bought a certain amount of equipment to go with it. They obtained John’s special fueling rig which comprised a 6 foot long canister standing about 8 feet tall in order to get the full ram effect during refueling. The mini-lights which came with the car (plus 2 spares) were originally a four bolt pattern, apparently built for Roger Penske’s Javelin program. When the sale did not go through, Greenwood had picked up the wheels at a good price; the holes were freeze-filled with a similar material and a five bolt pattern was re-drilled. Another distinguishing feature (at the time) was a special stainless steel fuel cell with dual pick-ups. This tank was subsequently moved to the Swiss Cheese car and then went astray.
Once back in Florida the car was given its final prep before being taken to Daytona. It was numbered as #99 (Phil’s IMSA number) and, with John Greenwood on hand as technical adviser, they entered the run-offs.
It has always been a dream of Phil to have Greenwood drive the car so he could compare times. Many was the time that Greenwood had given Phil the gears by complimenting his driving but asking if he could really handle a big block. Phil (being only somewhat competitive) wanted to see how they would fare in a face-to-face comparo. John, however, takes several weeks to prepare for a race and politely declined. This event may yet be played out on the vintage race field.
Phil started and finished the race, while Bruce drove the middle section. Results for the race were not spectacular and, for unrelated reasons, the partnership was dissolved by mutual agreement shortly afterwards. Morton took the car back to John Greenwood’s shop in Levonia (MI) where a slab-sided wide-body conversion took place over the winter (see Corvette News, 1974).
Morton then took the car to Vince Gimondo’s shop in Florida to have the interior finished. The car was raced once in a special “Cuban” cultural promotional event in Miami, early in 1974. Morton blew the engine and the car was a DNF. It was returned to St. Petersburg where it sat until 1979. Several efforts by Morton to advertise it for sale in Autoweek generated little interest and, over the years, the price went steadily downwards.
Meanwhile, Phil pulled out the 1963 car again and ran it for another half season. He then bought another Greenwood car from Mike Murray. Mike had bought one of the 1970/1971 run-off cars from John around July 1971 and had taken it to the SCCA National Run-Offs in Daytona that year. It is thought that this was the same car as run by John Greenwood and Dick Smothers at Sebring early in 1971, as the MARATHON OIL sponsored car.
Currin ran this car under ‘Full Time Racing’ ownership until he crashed it in 1979 in an IMSA race in California, running Al-American GT class. During this period Phil had lightened the chassis of the car so much that it had become known as the ‘Swiss Cheese’ car. Phil now acknowledges that in his efforts to pare weight, the car had become too light and was not getting the traction it needed to put the power to the ground. It had also become quite ‘flexible’ in the process.
Phil sold this car to collector Lance Smith who is now restoring it.
After the California crash, Phil again contacted Morton to see if the original ‘white’ car was still for sale. It was. And two weeks later he ran it in the IMSA GTO class at Lime Rock.
In 1981 Phil re-bodied the car with a ‘rounded’ rear style and in 1982 he changed back to the slab-sided style produced by Competition Fiberglass, like earlier versions of the Swiss Cheese car.
Phil raced the car continuously as #99 (his IMSA number) from 1979 to 1989. Some notable elements of the #99 racing heritage, under Fast Phil’s tutelage include:
• 1979 4 GTO IMSA poles + 1 fastest lap
• 1980 3 GTO IMSA poles
• 2 GTO IMSA wins + 1 fastest lap
• 1981 3rd place in SCCA TRANS-AM series
• 1982 1 pole position
• tied for 2nd position in Championship;
• highest finish 2nd overall at Laguna Seca
• 1987 6th at SCCA run-offs
• 1988 4th at SCCA run-offs
• SCCA B-Prepared Autocross Championship (SE Division)
Both Bruce Morton and Phil Currin were aware that the car they had bought was an extremely good car. But neither knew that it might be the #49 car. As reported in other articles, it was not until Lance Smith spotted the original rear clip which Currin picked up with the car from Morton in 1979 that the story began to unfold (see Corvette Fever, December 1991).
Naturally, now that the issue of collector value has been added to the equation, Phil has spent considerable effort to document the authenticity of the car. During our interview we did not delve in to the background documents but Phil is clear in his view that this is the real car. There are several points (apart form his documented sale from Greenwood) that suggest this is not just another car, or even just a customer car from Greenwood.
The fact that only a few of the Greenwood cars (his own and customer cars) remain undocumented helps to narrow the trail. Also, the cage is in a style similar to those designed for the BFG racers. And no one is disputing that the rear clip is an original. The dash configuration and style of switches are similar to the other cars. And, Greenwood acknowledges that the t-top car did not receive as many of the custom-built pieces, like the floor panels.
However, the many changes which have been made to this active racing car over the years can easily confuse the lineage. One of these changes include the addition of side impact barriers to the cage. Another was the “loss” of the front clip, allegedly at the Miami race in 1974. If anyone has that piece of history, please call Phil right away. All of this to say that Phil’s job has not been an easy one, but there are few that doubt his sincerity.
The Track Record
The whole purpose behind the Greenwood cars was racing. And in this sense, all three cars have stories to tell.
With respect to LeMans history of the BFG cars, everyone knows that the #48 and #50 cars raced there in 1972 as #28 and #72. In 1973 it was the #50 and #49 cars were sent to LeMans and ran as #28 and #72. At the 1973 LeMans event the #49 car was not allowed to run after a post-tech accident on the streets of the town. Drivers Yenko/Labelle/Greendyke were disappointed by the decision but it proved pointless to argue with Gallic reasoning.
Phil adds details on the North American exploits of #49. According to his race records, #49 had also been racing at Daytona and Sebring in 1973. Car #49 was driven by Yenko and Bob Johnson at Daytona and by Jim Greendyke and Bob Johnson at Sebring. Interestingly, Phil Currin was still running the 1963 car (#99) at that time and finished right behind the #50 car. Car #49 finished 19th overall, 8th in GTO, with 183 laps completed. Phil finished 11th overall and 5th in GTO. Deductive reasoning will tell you where #50 finished.
Next issue: There are more stories to tell and still more to uncover with respect to the BFG racers. But there were other cars active in this era too. In our next issue we will cover the RED #4 Corvette which went to Lemans to do battle with the world’s best.
Technical Specification on #49 Car:
- 350 CID engine
- tilt steering column with handmade washer squirter and high beam switch
- no specially molded pieces on interior
- side impact bars added to cage
- double adjustable KONI shocks
- brake master cylinder has vent tubes from each section
- unique breather tube off driver side valve cover leading to canister
- centre support for quick release of aluminum rad.
- big oil pressure gauge
- big tach.
- modified dash with Greenwood-style gauges and protected switches
‘- needle-bearing’ A-Arm bushings and steering arm bushings
List of Owners (#49) Coupe:
1972-73 John Greenwood and Burt Greenwood
1973-79 Bruce Morton and Phil Currin (raced as for one season in 1973 and then once more in Miami in 1974. Painted white, #99)
1979-95 Phil Currin (raced IMSA 1980, in 1975 wide body style; raced SCCA 1981-89; re-bodied as 1982 at end of 1981 season; retired in 1989 as rules would require further body change to 1964 style).
Model Car Sidebar, By: Romeo Poirier
AMT issued kit T389 in 1973. It was called Corvette GT and was a model of the 1970 hardtop (t-top). The kit was “fiar” but decals were incomplete. Current sources for this kit seem to be limited to D&L Miniatures, 4980 Highpoint Court, Dept. “A”, Hamilton, OH 45011, USA. Phone (513) 887-0498. Price is $100 (US).
Another option is to do some “kit bashing” and build your own from the ’68 L-88 (CV, Revell 7159) for the engine; the ’69 427 (HD, Revell 7149) for the body and chassis; and the Baldwin Motion 427 Corvette (Revell 7427) for the Minilite wheels. A good set of decals can be ordered for about $6-$7 (US) from Fred Caddy Design, P.O. Box 576, Mt. Prospect, IL, 60056, USA.
The “kit bashing” approach leaves you short on the clear headlight covers and you have to flare your own fenders., but it does leave you with enough parts to build two other complete cars.
Have questions or comments, email [email protected]