Who hasn’t felt their pulse quicken at the sight of a Corvette? And for many, that experience gets into their blood, and beating in their chest as a lifelong passion. Just ask Sandy Redden. When she met her husband, M.J., marrying him in the early ’70s, “I was driving a red ’63 Corvette roadster, a car I absolutely loved.” She had it modified with fender flares, side exhaust, stinger hood, custom paint and one of M.J.’s race-car engines. Then heartbreak ensued in 1978. One night he drove the Vette to pick up a prescription at a local drug store. He parked the car in the shopping center lot and when he came out, to his surprise her beloved Corvette was gone—stolen. “When we finally realized after a few months the car was not coming back, he made me a promise that some day he would replace it,” Sandy recalls. The promise went on the back burner, though, due to their need to complete a new home, and with children to rear, as well.
Fast forward 20 years: M.J. suffered from a cardiac problem of another kind, and had just come home from having open-heart bypass surgery in June 1998. What would it take to heal the pain? While reading the local newspaper classifieds, he found a ’75 Corvette coupe. “Insisting that we go look at it, he called and made arrangements to see it,” Sandy relates. “I was reluctant, knowing that he wasn’t cleared yet to even go on a drive, let alone checking out the car.” But M.J. told Sandy that she knew enough about cars to do any physical inspection that was needed, which included crawling under and checking out the frame. Turns out his confidence was somewhat optimistic, as it needed more work than she realized.
Since M.J. has restored dozens of Corvettes, he figured he could do all the work himself. It was reasonably priced, what they could afford at the time, so they made a deal. “It wasn’t a ’63 red roadster, but his promise was kept and I was now the owner of a yellow ’75 Corvette coupe,” Sandy smiles. In August 1998, M.J. began a complete frame-off restoration, and it became his physical therapy after his heart operation. Bringing back an old Corvette from the edge of oblivion would also bring back his ticker, too. “I would often come home, stressed out from work and dealing with employees,” he recalls. But as soon as he walked into his shop at home, “I was in heaven. It was a lot of fun building her car for her.”
M.J. thrived on the challenges he encountered, such as fixing the corrosion. “There’s a typical rust area in the kick-up of the frame, just forward of the rear wheels,” he explains. “A triangular area on top accumulates road salt from the front wheels, and eats away at the frame.” Sometimes he’s had to make a jig to fix a badly rusted frame, but this one wasn’t that far gone. All he had to do was cut out the bad metal, going about half-inch into the good sections, and then weld in patches on both sides. To prevent the rust from recurring, he applied a waxy undercoat, and shot it inside the rails, as well. He prefers using the 3M product No Drip Rust Proofing 4L, an amber-colored solution that he leaves out in the hot sun to dry until it stops dripping off the frame.
There was more to the history of the car’s condition, however. The people selling it said that it had been a gift for their daughter when she graduated high school. After owning it for about 15 years, she eventually outgrew the car, and it sat idle. Even though stored during the winter months, it was not in a dry place, since the car smelled of mildew and the ripped and broken interior was simply not salvageable. To rectify that portion of the project, M.J. acquired a whole new set of seats and carpeting from Al Knoch Interiors. While at it, he also installed woodgrain inserts and a radio, antenna, and dual rear speakers from Mid America.
Fortunately, Sandy’s replacement Stingray was otherwise intact and completely stock. It had never been wrecked, and the engine started and ran. Even so, the original bumpers were cracked and the paint was chipped and worn—typical for Corvettes of this age. The car was completely disassembled and the body was sent to a shop for repair, prepping and repainting. All told, the entire project took three years, working in the evenings and on weekends. “I helped as much as I could,” Sandy recalls, “holding wrenches, handing him tools, bleeding brakes, cleaning parts. Most of the time I could help by just going back into the house,” she admits. Initially, M.J. wanted to restore it back to original, but he realized it would take even more effort and ingenuity to keep his wife happy.
“I wanted it to be different,” Sandy insisted. “It was my car and I wanted it my way.” So that’s where the modifications came in: the front apron, rear spoiler, side pipes, custom rims and sportier side mirrors. Chassis mods included shorter coilover front springs and a fiberglass rear transverse spring with adjustable KYB gas shocks, all sourced from Mid America. With the new chassis setup, “it settles into curves better,” M.J. reports. And it now stops better, too, with Baer brakes, using drilled and slotted rotors at all four corners.
While the Goodyear Eagle GT 235/60 rubber is a stock size, the wheels were a bit more involved, as he didn’t want to use any adapters. Instead, he contacted Budnik and requested custom 15s with exact offsets. This request required a significant upcharge but he feels it’s worth every penny because without it, “the center doesn’t fit as tight, so it starts working and the lug nuts get loose.”
One thing they didn’t change though, was the original color: Bright Yellow, sprayed by Wayne Hillsberry of Affordable Auto Body. While there were no significant modifications to the original body style, they found an Astro one-piece acrylic panel to replace the factory T-top, which really made the car stand out. Not only that, it eliminated any leaks, a problem M.J. has often seen on other customer cars. “I’ve known Corvette owners who keep towels in the cockpit just to sop up all the rainwater that comes in,” M.J. notes, adding that the T-top can’t be adjusted easily. To prevent that from happening, he aligns the Astro panel using three sheets of paper in the windshield seal. Once those sheets can’t be pulled out, he knows he has a virtual waterproof seal.
Of course, a project car is never really done. “I drove it this way for about six years,” Sandy adds, until she had to find some relief to her frustration. “I asked for more horsepower because I had a hard time keeping up with my husband’s car,” she scowled. That frequent occurrence was particularly embarrassing, especially for a Corvette owner, since M.J’s other car is an ’84 Pontiac Fiero. But not just any Fiero—it’s armed with a 650hp engine backed by a drag-racing transaxle. He toyed with the idea of putting a 502 engine in Sandy’s Corvette, but that would have entailed modifying the mounts and headers.
“That’s when we decided on the 383 small-block,” M.J. says. “It would be an easy fit and we didn’t have to change the headers and side pipes.” He ordered a bare ZZ4 block with an assortment of special parts, since a crate version wasn’t available. Bored, stroked and clearanced by Elmer’s Engines in Wexford, Pennsylvania, this custom-built mill delivers a lot more horses than either the 165hp ZQ3 or 205hp L82 available in 1975. It’s topped with a Demon 850 carb on a GM dual-plane aluminum manifold, along with aluminum Fast Burn heads actuated by a COMP Cams roller bumpstick. Hooker Headers and side pipes blow out the exhaust gases. The engine is mated to a Turbo 350 automatic with a shift kit and a Hughes 2,500-stall converter. The dramatic increase in power from the 383 kept Sandy happy for a time, but three years ago she wanted to change up the looks with a slight makeover, and had a Stinger Hood installed with a black center and pinstriping, custom painted with a Corvette logo underneath.
Over the years the car has been awarded a baker’s dozen worth of various trophies, in between cruises and a few trips to local dragstrips. They’ve won so many Celebrity Picks at Mid America’s Funfest that they promised Mike Yager (“Chief Cheerleader” at the company) to bring a different Corvette to next year’s event. Looking back on her experiences behind the wheel, “It’s a promise well kept from a great husband,” Sandy says. “It always puts a smile on my face and keeps me young at heart.” That puts a new twist on an old saying: it can take a long time—and a couple Corvettes—to become young.