1971 Chevy Corvette Stingray Coupe - First Coast Flier

This "LS5.5"-powered C3 was built to impress

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Admit it. This is the C3 you'd build, if you had the chance.

You'd look for one that's been a driver, with more than a few thousand miles on it, one that's still mostly—if not totally—original, but showing some signs of wear. You'd update it with an upgraded stock engine, wheels and tires that add a classic look, and finish it off with your own styling cues that add flair without looking garishly out of place.

But you'd likely be finished in less time than Paul Dexter took to get this '71 Stingray done his way. An engineer who worked overseas, Dexter found this Ontario Orange coupe during a trip to, of all places, Ontario (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to be exact). "I drove it on that vacation, then from my New York house to my brother's house in Rhode Island, and put it in storage there."

His plan was to keep the '71 while working overseas for the next five years. "That turned into 20 years, and then I went down to the Virgin Islands for 13 more," says Dexter. "[The car] remained in storage up until about four years before I retired."

That's where Xtreme Restorations in North Smithfield, Rhode Island, enters the story. First up for shop owner Todd Lewis: getting the '71 started again after its long sleep. As Dexter recalls, "He put a battery in it, fed a little gas into the carburetor, then I cranked it over maybe four or five times, and the damn thing started up!"

While the more than two decades of downtime had kept the low-mileage (26,000 original miles) Vette in decent shape, a frame-off restoration was nevertheless initiated. Dexter continues the story: "I said, ‘If we're going to do a frame-off, let's look at the engine.' I knew that he would have to go into it, even though it had been preserved well."

1971 Chevy Corvette Stingray Coupe Side 5/10

Instead of restoring the RPO LS5 454 big block, Xtreme's Richard Desautels made it into an "LS5.5," thanks to an 0.030-inch overbore, plus items like a set of iron World Products heads, Speedpro 10:1 pistons, and an aluminum Edelbrock intake sporting a 750-cfm Holley. Backing it would be a Gearstar-built 4L60E in place of the original Turbo-400.

For an exhaust system, some off-the-shelf header/side-pipe systems were considered but ultimately rejected. "They weren't fitting correctly with those new heads on the engine," says Dexter. Xtreme's Lewis suggested a nearby shop he'd worked with before, and it was this shop's techs who turned the pair's preliminary sketches into the custom-fitted side-pipe configuration seen here. "They look absolutely perfect and sound fantastic," says Dexter of the period-correct-looking exhausts.

Along with the engine, transmission, and exhaust, other deviations from stock included an L88-style hood with ghost flames and "454" Bowtie emblems, "gold-line" Nitto 555 radials on Schott Velocity wheels, and 3.73 rear gears to replace the Positraction's stock 3.07s. "They really make it pop right out of the hole," says Dexter. "I wanted it to get up and go—I don't want to cruise on the highway with it. I did it to really impress people when taking off from a dead stop, and it'll do that for sure."

"Impressive" is also a word that describes how Dexter's C3 performs overall. "It's really beautiful," he says, noting that the car is a trophy winner when he shows it near his home on Florida's "First Coast."

As for the stock parts that came off during the three-and-a-half year project, Dexter decided to hang on to them. "If I ever decide to sell the car, that's a plus for a future buyer who may want to turn it back to completely original," he says.

1971 Chevy Corvette Stingray Coupe Ghost Bow Tie 9/10

Let's say you decided to build a vintage Vette much the same way that Dexter did, while keeping the original parts. You'd also want to follow his advice about where to get your project done. "You should really search out a good restoration shop that's got the credentials," he says. "Research some of the projects they've done, and assure yourself that you're going to get quality work. I did that, and it worked out really well."

1971 Chevy Corvette Stingray Coupe Rolling 10/10

Doing what it does best: Paul Dexter's restomodded '71 Stingray. 

Spec Sheet
1971 Chevy Corvette Stingray Coupe
Owner Paul Dexter; St. Augustine, FL
Block LS5 cast iron, bored 0.030-in over
Displacement 460 ci
Heads World Products cast iron
Camshaft Comp Cams hydraulic roller
Pistons Speedpro forged aluminum
Compression 10:1
Crankshaft Stock forged steel
Rods Stock forged steel
Carburetor Holley 750-cfm four-barrel
Intake Edelbrock aluminum
Ignition Pertronix electronic
Exhaust Custom-made headers, side pipes, and heat shields
Transmission Gearstar-built GM 4L60E automatic
Driveshaft Custom
Rearend Modified stock with G80 Positraction and 3.73 gears
Suspension Stock springs with unequal-length A-arms, tubular shocks, and stabilizer bar (front); stock steel transverse leaf-spring bundle with tubular shocks (rear)
Brakes Stock four-wheel disc with J50 power assist
Wheels Schott Velocity 17x8-in (front and rear)
Tires Nitto 555 Gold Line, 255/45R17 (front and rear)
Current Mileage Approximately 38,000

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