Approximately 1,132 miles from the nearest United States shore, and with only 69 square miles to its name, the Lesser Antilles island of Aruba is likely one of the last places on Earth you’d expect to find disassembled First- and Second-Gen Corvettes undergoing restorations, supercharged C3s frying the asphalt, body-kit-clad C4s lining up outside of their owners’ favorite pizza joint, and even late-model C5s and C6s cruising side-by-side late into the night. But this 8-mile-wide, 20-mile-long nation in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela just happens to be home to a fascinating and flourishing Corvette hobby.
VETTE recently traveled to this tiny Dutch island to catch up with its Corvette illuminati. It’s there we met up with Theo De Jongh, a database supervisor for the Aruba Tourism Authority.
"Corvette’s history on Aruba is almost as old as the marque itself," he says. "An American employed at the Standard Oil refinery brought a ’53 Corvette to Aruba [in the 1950s] and set the tradition in motion. Most of the other first wave of immigrant Corvettes, which landed on the island, were also brought by Americans [who worked] at the refinery.
"There are approximately 70 Corvettes on the island now. The oldest is a ’58, which is being restored, and there’s a plethora of examples from this sports car’s C2 through C6 generations, too."
Aruba’s first organized Corvette car show was held on May 22, 1994. Soon thereafter, the island’s Palomarga International Raceway Park began counting Corvettes among its contenders. Today, it’s not uncommon to find racing Vettes with names like Yellow Fever, The Boss, and Proud & Rebel competing in e.t. classes as quick as 7.90 seconds at the quarter-mile track, considered by many to be the finest in the Caribbean.
Aruba even has its own Corvette club. It’s called "Not Correctly Restored Stingray" or "NCRS" for short, and its good-natured nod back at the National Corvette Restorers Society is intentional. "Except the late-models, very few Corvettes on Aruba have matching numbers," De Jongh says.
His blown ’76 is one example of how misfit Vettes have found new, and likely permanent, homes here. He bought the originally Classic White L48 car in Waldorf, Maryland, 22 years ago, drove it to Miami, put in a container, and shipped it to Aruba. "It’s currently the only blown Vette on the island," he says.
Following a comprehensive custom makeover four years ago, the Vette—now painted a luminous Candy Apple Red—features a stroked 454 displacing 496 cubes, ProComp aluminum heads, a Lunati hydraulic roller cam, and 1.7:1 Comp aluminum rockers. Twin Pro Systems 780-cfm carbs mounted in line between a Weiand 8-71 supercharger and blower intake complete the combo, which, after roaring to life, routes exhaust through Hooker headers, sterling-coated side pipes, and Spiral Tube Specialties baffles. American engine builder Mike Tompkins, who sold De Jongh the Vette and put the engine combo together, estimates its crank output is 850 hp.
The remainder of the driveline consists of an ATI Turbo-400, which channels power aft through a stock driveshaft and on to a 3.73-geared factory rear.
Other mods include an MSD 6AL ignition box, a VB&P composite rear monoleaf spring, and a Steeroids power rack-and-pinion conversion kit. The disc brakes and 15x8-inch Rally wheels are original issue.
De Jongh enjoys his Vette on weekends, lets tourists take photos of it (his office is near Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport), and gets together with other Corvette owners on this island for cruising.
Yet there’s still one Corvette tradition Aruba’s Corvette ambassador has yet to add to his accomplishments: testing his Vette’s mechanical limits.
"I’ve never had it floored enough to see what the top speed could be, but I mash the pedal now and then just for a couple of seconds," he says.
"Why?" we asked him.
"I’m afraid I’ll run it right off the island," he laughs.
|1976 Chevy Corvette|
|Owner||Theo De Jongh; Cumana, Aruba|
|Heads||ProComp aluminum, ported|
|Valves||Manley steel, 2.25/1.88-in|
|Camshaft||Lunati hydraulic roller; 241/249-deg duration, 0.625/0.625-in lift|
|Rocker Arms||Comp Cams aluminum, 1.7:1 ratio|
|Rods||Eagle forged H-beam|
|Intake Manifold||Weiand supercharger|
|Carburetors||Two Pro Systems 780 cfm with custom tuning|
|Fuel Pump||Holley mechanical, 130 gph|
|Power Adder||Weiand 8-71 supercharger|
|Maximum Boost||5 psi|
|Exhaust System||Hooker headers and side pipes, Spiral Tube Specialties baffles|
|Torque Converter||ATI with 2,000-rpm stall speed|
|Rear Suspension||Vette Brake & Products composite monoleaf spring, Bilstein shocks|
|RearEnd||Stock with 3.73 gears|
|Front Brakes||Stock discs with four-piston calipers|
|Rear Brakes||Stock discs with four-piston calipers|
|Wheels||Chevrolet Rally, 15x8 (front and rear)|
|Front Tires||Firehawk Indy 500, 255/60R15|
|Rear Tires||Dunlop Grandtrek PT1, 255/60R15|
|Weight||3,880 lbs. with driver|
|Miles Driven Weekly||Approximately 15|