The Callaway LM Corvette that continued a family saga

Staff
By Staff Writer
Sep 16, 2021 | Chevrolet, Corvette, Le Mans, Callaway | Posted in Features | From the May 2016 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Lance Miller

You’re standing along the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans early on a cold, damp Sunday morning in June when you hear it: From the left, suddenly rocketing past with a chest-punching bellow, the black No. 60 Callaway Corvette. It disappears into the French dawn, its red taillights and mighty music fading together. 

Then the headlight glare of another car–sounding different but somehow the same–brightens the trees on the other side of the track for brief seconds as it, too, flies past. Although it wasn’t clear who was driving the Callaway, the hunched figure piloting this white 1960 Corvette needs little introduction: It’s John Fitch, a Le Mans veteran who also flew high above France not all that many years before as a World War II American fighter pilot in a P-51 Mustang.

A fantasy? Two Corvettes, separated by 35 years, racing together at Le Mans? Yes. And no.

Owner Lance Miller says he has very personal emotions about these two Corvettes, both of which have Le Mans history as well as family history for him. Photography Credits: Don Struke

Lance Miller, a Corvette racing driver in his own right, has brought these two cars together not in France, but in Pennsylvania, where, as co-owner with Bill Miller of Carlisle Events, he is focused on giving automobile enthusiasts world-class car shows throughout the year. But at the moment, Lance’s focus is on something sitting, quite unusually, in his office: that Callaway Corvette, which he has restored to competition standards. 

I used to race a Spec Racer Ford at tracks around the U.S.,” Lance explains, “and more than a few times I saw this same Callaway, known as the Agusta Callaway because of its original owner, Rocky Agusta of Italy, who bought it new and raced it at Le Mans in 1995, 1996 and 1997. In fact, in its first race there in ’95, it was the GT2 pole sitter.

It’s a special car for me,” Lance says of the Callaway, “but far more special is the ’60 Corvette, because it’s the actual car my Dad dreamed of owning. Incredibly, not only did that happen, but we returned it to France in 2010, where John Fitch, one of the original drivers in 1960, took it on an honor lap before the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. The biggest regret of my life is that my father died in 2004, not long after he had his dream Corvette restored, but I know he was with us in spirit.”

Awakening a Passion for History

The odyssey of the Miller 1960 Corvette, presented beautifully by filmmaker Michael Brown in his 2013 documentary “Quest,” began at Le Mans in 1960 when it won its class and finished eighth overall in one of the most punishing events in motorsports. It was one of three new Corvettes entered by American sportsman Briggs Cunningham and was driven by John Fitch and co-driver Bob Grossman, notable for his successful Ferrari racing.

Lance has some very personal emotions about these two special Corvettes: “Each collector is a caretaker of precious pieces of history for a period of time, whether it be a stamp, artwork or a vehicle. The truth is, I never had a passion for history when in school; however, after learning about cars and the people behind them, I really became quite infatuated, especially with race cars and the lineage behind each one. Just think: Each corner of each race has a story.

“Knowing the significance of what it takes to race a car at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, it made it even that much more of an honor to acquire another Le Mans veteran years later, the 1995 Callaway LM. When I used to see the Agusta Callaway racing in the S2 SCCA World Challenge series, I would often talk to Reeves and the Callaway LM team at various tracks. 

“In fact I have pictures that my father took of my mom and me standing next to the car during one of the races, possibly in St. Pete. Little did I dream I’d end up owning that exact vehicle many years down the road.”

Every Race Car Has a Story

Although the Callaway Corvette might not have the historic chops of the No. 3 Le Mans car, its own heritage and competition record are considerable. It was built over the winter of 1994-’95 at the Callaway facility in Leingarten, Germany, north of Stuttgart, originally with a 6.3-liter Callaway Supernatural 383. A rule change for 1997, however, necessitated the switch to a Comptech-built 5.9-liter engine. 

The Lance Miller Callaway is chassis 003/95, one of four race model LMs built and the second of two ordered by Rocky Agusta, the other being 002/95. (LM 004/95 was built for the Callaway Schweiz Team of Hans Hauser and Kurt Huber.) 

Paul Deutschman, the Montreal-based designer of a number of Callaway automobiles including the beautiful C16 Speedster, created the low-drag LM body. Nine of these were produced, with five destined for street use.

The first Callaway LM, 001/94, won the 1996 Le Mans GT2 pole as well as the 1996 Manufacturers World Championship, proof that the design and Callaway’s engineering produced an exceptional race car. In fact, the LM’s predecessor, Callaway’s first Corvette-based race car, the SuperNatural, took the 1994 Le Mans pole in its inaugural race. It was 5 seconds faster than the second car on the grid but did not finish–not unusual for a brand-new race car. 

The following year, with its bugs worked out, the SuperNatural finished second in the GT2 class and an incredible ninth overall. It was the success of this first race car that established interest for the Callaway LM. 

Photography Credits: Don Sturke

Building upon the experience with the first LM during the 1994 season, the final three cars were 250 pounds lighter, homologated at 2425 pounds, with many improvements such as center-lock wheels and better aerodynamics. Lance’s car was fitted with an XTRAC six-speed sequential transmission while the others had ZF six-speed boxes.    

Rocky Agusta bought those Callaways for the big races at Le Mans, often co-driving with Almo Coppelli, his team manager. However, the car visited other tracks–and countries–as well. In fact, Almo took 003/95 to victory in the 1996 SCCA Pro Racing Sports Division S2 Class, winning the championship that year. 

The car’s competition record is a long one, including a number of trans-Atlantic flights to get the car to races in North America and then back in time for its next event in Europe. In addition to that race in St. Pete, Florida, where Lance believes he first saw the car, 003/95 has also visited Daytona, Sears Point, Lime Rock and Mosport.

Fantasy Find

“I always loved Callaway Corvettes, especially if they had a race history to them, and this car had all the ingredients. Owning an LM was high on my list and I finally was able to save up enough money to make a serious purchase, so I decided to search for my dream car,” Lance explains. 

“Prior to the big search I went down to Sebring to race my Morrison R9G Corvette, but unfortunately the engine blew. So I decided: What better time than now to hunt for a new racer? 

“I reached out to Reeves Callaway while I was still in my hotel room at Sebring and asked him if he knew of any Callaway LM Racers for sale. His response in March of 2010 was, ‘Let me ask around about the whereabouts of one of those cars.’ Reeves never got back to me, so I got home and started to work a bit. 

“One weekend I was sitting in my office and decided to conduct a search online to see if any cars would pop up for sale. Simple search was ‘Callaway LM Race Car,’ and sure enough I was jumping up and down with joy. One was for sale! I couldn’t believe my eyes. 

“My wife said, ‘Okay, what did you find now?’ I laughed and told her I finally found my dream car for sale. The car was listed on a website in the U.K. that brokered race cars; I wrote up a nice note asking them how much the vehicle was, and asked for various specifics on the car. 

“I never heard back, so I tried again–and again. Never heard a peep and I was frustrated to say the least.”

Finally, Lance got a lucky break: “Then a friend, Mike Roberts, told me all about the car and said he saw it a while back. Needless to say, I asked if he knew who owned it and sure enough he did. He sent out an introductory email and, at last, the ball was rolling.”

The seller turned out to be someone intimate with the car: Almo Coppelli, Rocky Agusta’s team manager.

After years of slumber, Callaway 003’s race equipment will again be put to use. Photography Credits: Don Sturke

“Rocky Agusta was frustrated with his team’s luck at Le Mans. In fact, the car I bought ran out of fuel at the 1997 Le Mans race on the Mulsanne Straight during the lap it was scheduled for a routine pit stop, dropping out 3 hours, 47 minutes after the start of the race.

“So right after that event he told Almo he wouldn’t write any more checks and had him pay the bills with the current inventory, basically the cars, parts, rigs and so forth. Almo sold almost everything, but planned to keep the 003 Callaway because he really loved the car. However, he was looking into various business opportunities that involved generating some funds to start a new venture.”

The web ad wasn’t generating many leads. “Good for me!” Lance adds. 

“After Mike made the introduction, Almo and I got down to business. He let me know he just entered the vehicle in a Coy Auction, but he really didn’t want to do that due to making the car a ‘poor prostitute,’ and I felt the same way. I really wanted the car, but I didn’t know Almo, and the car was overseas. 

“So I called some of my friends over in Europe, and Reeves Callaway, along with other Callaway Team members. It’s ironic, but Almo and I were both calling the same people to find out if we were both straight shooters. Fortunately we both were. We made the deal happen via email and phone on August 4, 2010.”

Taking Over the Reins

After that last Le Mans attempt in 1997, the car was completely rebuilt and put away. “Almo had kept it in his storage unit at Silverstone Circuit with a dehumidifier since then, intending to keep the car forever due to really cherishing what he accomplished and the love for this particular car,” Lance explains. “The vehicle was rebuilt and stowed away. Almo said he did a shakedown for six laps and flushed all fluids prior to putting it away.”

More than a decade later, Lance became the Callaway Corvette’s new owner. The transaction was all done via e-mail and phone calls. “I felt Almo was being 100 percent straightforward with me as I was with him, and fortunately we were both honest from start to finish,” Lance explains. 

“I wired money to Almo on August 20 and the car was shipped to the New York ports. Prior to sending it, Almo had the FIA, the organization that sanctions races worldwide, inspect the vehicle to provide legitimate paperwork for the vehicle to get shipped and to document its provenance for future collectability. It arrived on September 25, and Jan Hyde from the Registry of Corvette Racing helped me pick the vehicle up.”

It took a while, but Lance Miller finally owns his dream car, one of the nine Callaway LMs built. Photography Credits: Don Struke

Despite the redo before its hibernation, there was still some work to be done to the car upon its stateside return. While the Callaway was being gone through from nose to tail by Tim and Todd Sprinkle of the Mechanicsburg Sports Car Center in Pennsylvania, Kerry Hitt of Advanced Composite Products produced replica bodywork. 

Why the spare body parts? This car’s stationary days are over: Lance intends on racing it. He plans to run the Callaway LM at various historic events. “My friend, Tony Parella, has been doing a wonderful job with SVRA, and I’m eager to get out there and support his efforts.”

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