To those who didn't know her well, young Karen Viray might have looked like a typical all-American girl growing up in the vast suburban sprawl that makes up Northern New Jersey. But little did the outside world know, Viray was holding a secret, a secret her immediate family acknowledged and, interestingly enough, helped nurture whenever possible.
You see, Viray didn't like to play with Barbies and Malibu Kens (though she did take a liking to Barb's mean little plastic Mustang). No, dolls just didn't satisfy this girl's curiosity in the least. What grabbed her interest, and gripped it tight like a heated-up race slick, were the sleek American muscle cars that cruised and cooked rubber on her neighborhood's streets.
Growing up the youngest of four, Viray was a major tomboy. She shadowed her big brother Bobby and Uncle Bill during her formative years, following them to car shows, swap meets, drag races, and the like. And for Viray, playing dress-up had nothing to do with makeup and frilly dresses. No, it was more like throwing on an oversized mechanic's bib, digging into a box of ratchets and wrenches, and popping the hood of a classic cruiser.
Later on in life, Viray would come across a copy of the 1978 Hot Rod Show World Annual magazine. Inside was a feature article on Merv Shipman's world-beating '69 Corvette. Viray resolved then to build her own '69, drawing from not only Shipman's radical creation, but also from the Zinger Corvettes, those wacky '70s rides that strutted cartoonishly exaggerated engine-to-body proportions.
Viray's first task was to find a solid '69 chassis on which to build her dream ride. She had a long talk with good friend Mario Colasuonno, a member of the highly regarded Dead Man's Curve Car Club, after which the pair decided to visit Corvettes at Carlisle to see if the car corral contained any suitable C3s.
Luckily for them, a sweet Monaco Orange '69 had also made the trip. Viray spotted the brightly colored C3 among a sea of potential projects, sitting in the grass high up on a hilltop. It was love at first sight, though the deal initially seemed too good to be true.
Colasuonno and fellow DMC'er Ed “The Mad Hawaiian” Stinson checked out the well-maintained Vette thoroughly for Viray. After crawling up, down, and around the car, they pronounced it fit for the project. This mission wasn't over, however, as Viray had to chase away a few other prospective buyers who were homing in on her find. With that in mind, she quickly closed the deal on the Vette and prepared it for the trip back to New Jersey.
As noted before, Viray's goal for the build was to make a full-sized version of an early- '70s slot-car-styled ride, with a little Zinger Corvette personality added in. A plan was soon devised on paper, and then set into motion. Viray's dream was about to become a reality.
The Corvette was stripped down, and the appropriate parts were bagged and stored for future use. Some bodywork was needed, and since she was already digging into the car's Monaco Orange skin, Viray decided to apply a more arresting shade of paint to the outside panels. She wanted a color-changing hue that would look like molten lava flowing down the car's flanks when exposed to direct sunlight.
After checking out a few different samples, she decided on House of Color Kustom Kandy Tangerine three-stage paint. It was laid on by Rob Pilone of Dynamic Body Works in Roxbury, New Jersey, who had previously done the intense paint work on Colasuonno's award- winning '40 Willys. After laying a silver base over the perfected bodywork, Pilone added four coats of Kandy Tangerine to give the car its fiery hue. The finish was completed with several rounds of clear and buffed to an intense shine.
With the paintwork out of the way, Viray shifted her attention to the car's powerplant. After several swap-meet trips and countless orders from suppliers, Colasuonno was ready to sit down and rebuild the original small-block with some added flair.
First off, the block was cleaned, hot-tanked, and magnafluxed. The 350 received a 0.030-inch overbore to freshen up its cylinders, the original crank was cleaned up and reused, and 10:1-compression slugs were used to fill the block. A Comp Cams bumpstick with 280 degrees of duration and 0.480-inch lift was chosen to help get the valves working in sync.
Chrome Corvette-badged valve covers, Cool-Flex hoses, and a re-anodized vacuum modulator add some typical hot-rod touches to the small-block, while a custom-painted shroud, polished expansion tank, and chrome alternator and pulleys supply plenty of "bling" to the engine bay. An Offenhauser tunnel-ram intake and twin 500 carbs feed the engine a much-needed a fuel/air cocktail, while a pair of polished velocity stacks provide the finishing touch and boldly announce that this ride means business.
The stock Muncie four-speed was rebuilt but retains its factory-issue shifter. Outside, the original sidepipes sing a proud small-block song while contributing to the overall aesthetic.
Viray wanted something special for the hood treatment, ultimate deciding on a totally custom three-tier piece. It's based on an original big-block hood but has additional rises and tiers. This undertaking proved difficult because C3 Corvette motors are not centered on the frame, but rather offset by about 2 inches to the passenger side to clear the steering box. The finished piece features a tapered lip that smooths out the transition to the cut-out for the velocity stacks.
For running gear, a polished quartet of vintage Ansen sprints, sized 15x7 inches up front and 15x10 out back, furnish the desired stance. A set of Pro-Trac tires—F70-15 in the front and 275/60/15 in the rear—put plenty of rubber to the pavement, an important consideration given the small-block's output and the 3.73 gears inhabiting the Positraction rear. Standard four-wheel discs, meanwhile, do a capable job of hauling the car down from speed.
The interior work was done by upholstery guru Roger Wagner of Wharton, New Jersey. Wagner has been stitching cool rides now for more than 40 years, and his expertise shines on this build. He did a beautiful job putting together custom skins featuring black-on-black crocodile, a look that is both suitably radical and faithful to the era.
Viray admits to being a bit overwhelmed by just how beautifully the car turned out. The paint doesn't just pop out in the sun, it explodes. The hot spots change colors from warm orange, to burning yellow, to white hot, and the overall shimmer of the HOK paint is just mesmerizing. The 400-plus ponies help it run with the best of the muscle out on the streets, a critical factor for this unrepentant gearhead.