The 1976 Spirit of Sebring
by Steve Goldin
I bought the Spirit of Sebring '76 car almost intact. Paul Canary had done the original restoration. After I got it, I had some more minor restoration work done at a shop in Tampa. I then took it to Gary Smith of Carolina Racing Engines in Ft. Lauderdale. But it had been restored to pretty well as built when I got it so what we were doing was basically freshening things up. The car was so perfect in terms of its originality that Jack Boxstrom called it a time capsule. The interior is nearly perfect.
The chassis was designed by Bob Riley and was one of the two stock-framed, coil-over cars built by Greenwood. Now by coil-over I mean that there was a coil-over spring/shock unit at all four corners. Greenwood did a series of cars that were coil-over at the rear, but only two cars and a chassis that were coil-over all around. The two cars were the Spirit of Sebring, 1975, and the Spirit of Sebring, 1976. To the best of my knowledge, the third chassis was built around the time John went to Le Mans in 1976; it was later sold. Also, the tube frame (coil-over) cars were built a little later; the first one was built in the winter of 1976 and ran in 1977; I think the second one didn't run until 1978, but I'm not sure about that.
The Sebring car was built before the Le Mans (Mancuso) car and was run at the IMSA finale at Daytona in 1975 and then was fully campaigned in 1976, as was the Mancuso car. Both cars were built on new GM-style frames, with Greenwood's modifications and strengthening. I think that both these coil-over cars may have been acid dipped; I know that they are very light. The Mancuso (and other) customer cars were probably not lightened to the same degree since they were series built and were built to customer orders. The Sebring car is definitely lighter than the Le Mans car, which kind of substantiates my theory.
Some readers will know that there is a look-alike to the car which I currently own, the Spirit of Sebring 76. It was built for a collector in Louisville, KY. He trailers a couple of cars around in a rig with the name EYE DEAL on the side. You may have seen that car at the Grand Opening of the National Corvette Museum in September 1994. There are notable differences between these cars, however, and he is not trying to say that it is the actual Spirit of Sebring car. He, like me is just a Greenwood fan.
The Spirit of Sebring 76 car was originally built for Jim Levitt in 1975. The car was bought from Greenwood by Jim Levitt. He was a business man out of Beverly Hills, CA who wanted to get into racing. So he bought this car and had various drivers like John Greenwood and Mike Brockman drive for him. This car was the subject of a Street vs Race comparison in Road & Track, March 1976. At that time the car had yet to race; it had some miles on it from its first trial runs and getting dialed-in, but that was all. So the article records the car pretty much as built.
Subsequently the car was sold to Paul Newman and Bill Freeman; it is not clear if they ever ran the car. They sold it pretty much in tact to Tico Alameida of Tico & René Racing (T&R). After that, I think that John Greenwood helped to broker a deal to sell the car to Paul Canary who now lives in California.
I tried to buy this car from Paul Canary for over six months. I visited with Paul and saw the car in a warehouse full of other IMSA cars. Paul had a bunch of cars. He had Ford Smith's old white and orange car which was raced in the 70s and he also had the sister car to John Paul's 1977 tube car in pieces, in his garage. I think that John Paul owned both those cars at one time.
So, to wrap-up, the Spirit of Sebring 76 car is the follow-on car (full coil-over, full-frame) to the mule. So there were two full cars built by Greenwood (plus the third chassis, of course). Although this car looks a lot like the Spirit of Le Mans car, it really was in a different series. The Spirit of Le Mans car was not coil-over all around. It was part of a series of customer cars built specifically by Greenwood after the introduction of the new 1974 racer and (mostly) before the tube cars.