Several months back, we brought you the story of an L88-powered ’69 Corvette Stingray (“The Pride of Paoli, July ’14”).
How about another C3 powered by the highest-output RPO version of the engine Hot Rod magazine once called “Chevrolet’s Mystery V8”?
The mystery here isn’t in its closed-chamber-head-equipped 427, but in the car’s ownership history.
According to Lee Jones, son of current owner Scott Jones, this Shark swam to Chicago after it rolled out of the St. Louis assembly plant. “It came from Jennings Chevrolet in Chicago,” he says. “The original owner was the service manager there, and a Corvette guy.”
This Stingray would not suffer the indignities of a first owner who didn’t know about the L88’s cold-weather grumpiness or its appetite for 103-octane premium gasoline. Lee continues, “He ordered it to have something a little bit different than everybody else, and a little bit faster, and it fit his lifestyle at the time.”
Whether that included quarter-mile blasts at US 30 Dragstrip near Gary, Indiana, or Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin, or road course runs at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, or Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit, Illinois is unknown.
It’s also unknown when that original owner sold it, or why. Lee says its history from that point to well into the 1980s is a mystery, one that research that he and his father, Scott, have yet to solve. “That is where we’re not sure,” says Lee, “because from there the story goes to a point where, in the late ’80s, the car was brought into a salvage yard in the Chicago area, South Side Liquidators.”
That yard dealt with “distressed” cars and trucks. “The vehicles that went into South Side Liquidators were typically stolen, or insurance-recovery cars,” he says. “This car came in without any police record, or anything.” But it was, as far as anyone can tell, complete.
According to Lee’s research, another owner then entered the picture. “The car was thought to be owned by a Dave Ruthers or David Carruthers,” states Lee. “Possibly, at that time and given some of the drug situations going on in the Chicago area—and this is hearsay—there’s some thought that somehow a drug dealer got his hands on the car, and Carruthers—when someone got into trouble—had a way of making these cars go away for a while.”
If that was the case, it was stashed away when Federal and Illinois law regarding the assets of those in the “contraband commodities” business were toughening up to include seizure and forfeiture of anything purchased with illegally derived funds.
Lee picks up the story. “The car went to Crestwood Car Pool, and it stayed there for several years, and then it became owned by the owner of Crestwood Car Pool, Danny Albright.” It’s likely the ownership transfer then was from a mechanic’s lien put on the car for an unpaid storage bill. Lee adds that Danny Albright, who’d obtained a salvage title for it, later sold it to George Ball, who owned a shop called George’s Auto Rebuilders.
All this time, the car was likely not regarded as anything special. “At this point, we’re not sure that those three gentlemen knew what the car was,” notes Lee. “To them, it may have been just another 427 Corvette.”
But someone knew what was under that Shark’s original no-hit fiberglass skin, as Lee continues. “George’s son had a friend by the name of Paul Petrick. He purchased the car, then he sold it to Jerry Janota, and at that point Jerry realized what the car was.”
That was in 1998, but by then a critical original component was gone. “Paul had installed a new gas tank, and threw away the old one,” says Lee. “Jerry asked him about it, but Paul didn’t know what happened to the tank sticker.”
A few months later, Kevin Mackay entered the picture when he bought it from Jerry. “The car had 16,000 original miles on it, a totally original interior, engine, transmission, frame tags, and rearend—as real as it could be,” recalls Kevin. “It had the original tires, and it was an original factory side exhaust car.”
Kevin then sold it, then later bought it back and eventually sold it to Scott Jones. “He was looking for another project, and he wanted an L88 car,” says Kevin, who adds, “I didn’t want to sell it, but I had things that I had to do, and I was looking for other cars. I sold it to him, and he had us completely restore it.”
Two years later, when it rolled out of Kevin’s Corvette Repair shop in Valley Stream, New York, it was more than ready for the show judges. “In 2013, this car won NCRS Top Flight, and it was also certified Gold with the original engine” Kevin says proudly. “From there, it went to Chicago, where it won the Triple Diamond award.”
Since then, this C3 has logged very few miles under its own power, and those original bias-ply tires are a big reason why. “The most we’ve driven it is off the trailer at Bloomington Gold, onto the judging field, and then back on the trailer,” says Lee. “This is not a car that I can drive, and not have to worry about something happening to it. This is a car that’s fun to own because it’s a piece of history.”
If the thought of discovering an as-yet-undiscovered L88 strikes your fancy, Lee has this advice. “Do your homework. I think there are still more ‘diamonds in the rough’ to be found. With the Corvette market now, and what L88s are doing, a lot of people are looking.”
You just might find one of those “430hp” screamers in a garage or barn, waiting for you to unlock its mysteries.