First cars are like first loves. They’re usually never forgotten. For many, they are examples of the markers in life that serve as reference points when looking back. We’re not sure if New Yorker Roger Monteforte is still with his first love, but we can confirm that as life markers go, he still owns his first car. “I loved Corvettes,” he recalls. “When I was a little kid I had every Corvette book you could imagine. My dream car was a ’69 L88.” In 1989, at the ripe old age of 16, he wasn’t financially ready to pull the trigger on an L88, but he did manage to put enough cash together to buy a slightly customized ’76 Corvette.
Purchased from the original owner, Roger fell in love with the C3 at first sight. “It had headers, side pipes and Cragar wheels,” he exclaims. “I was like … WOW! It was the greatest thing I had ever seen.” Not only did it look great, he adds, “It sounded insane—it was slow as hell—but, man, did it ever sound good.”
The L48 wasn’t the only thing that left a lot to be desired. Having rolled off of the St. Louis assembly line dressed in Classic White with a Firehorn Red interior, it had undergone some changes over the years. During its tenure with the first owner, it was resprayed in black, while the interior was, at some point, pimped in ’70’s-flavored tuck ’n’ roll red and white leather very similar to the custom vans of that era. Even at that young age, it was far too tacky for high school duty. He was comfortable with the look of the stock interior in the C3s, so that was one of the first things he changed. He also started dressing up the L48 under the hood with catalog items that were easily installed. As he got older, the desire to up the performance of the anemic mill kicked in. With the help of his cousin, they installed a new camshaft, a Holley double-pumper carburetor and 4.11:1 gears. He points out, “I guess we didn’t do a good job putting the cam in because it split in half and the engine blew up.” After that mishap he installed an L98 engine from an ’85 C4. The Tuned Port Injection 230-horse 350 didn’t really fit into his performance vision, so that didn’t last long in the engine bay.
That lack of power in his engine choices to that point kicked off a number of upgrades that spanned a number of years. The desire to replace the L98 led him to Action Performance in Ronkonkoma, New York, for a custom-built 350 that was stroked to 383 cubic inches and juiced with nitrous. At that point in Roger’s life he was well on his way to a successful career on Wall Street, so there was some extra cash flow to dump into the Corvette. As a result, he decided to start having custom work done to the car. Along with that new engine, he also wanted to have one-off panels made to dress up the engine bay. For that he went knocking on another door that claimed to do custom fabrication work. It turned out to be one door he shouldn’t have knocked on. After a few weeks without the Corvette, he decided to stop by and check on the progress. The building was there, but everything was gone, including his car. He states, “The guy stole my car. He took it to North Carolina, and I had to track him down and seize it back in the middle of the night.”
After that fiasco, Roger did a bit of soul searching about dumping more money into the newer C3. “The reason that I stuck with the car was because it had tremendous sentimental value,” he explains. “I knew it didn’t make sense to dump money into a ’76, but at that point it was a family member.” Having set financial logic aside, modifying the Corvette continued. He also took a more active role in what work would be done, and with an increased budget, it allowed him to set the bar higher.
When he decided to take the car to the next level, past experiences dictated that finding a dependable shop would be at the top of the list. 212 Motoring in Brooklyn, New York, was his choice for tackling the next round of work. Their to-do list included a new drivetrain, interior, suspension and a respray of the body. Roger wanted the body cleaned up so they ditched the tired urethane bumpers in favor of fiberglass replacements that were seamlessly molded into the body. They also eliminated both the side mirrors and door handles before a fresh coat of black was laid down. The frame was treaded to a full Performance Plus kit from Vette Brakes & Products, which included Bilstein Sport shocks, a complete poly front and rear rebuild kit, an adjustable front transverse monospring, an adjustable rear dual-mount monospring, reinforced upper and lower control arms and heavy-duty front and rear antisway bars. Stopping was also addressed with the installation of Wilwood calipers and rotors at all four corners. Those units have since been replaced with Baer six-piston calipers and rotors.
When it came to restitching the interior, Roger had a very clear idea of what he wanted. “I designed that whole interior,” he claims. “I wanted something very minimal with a clean, modern look. I didn’t like that funky map pouch and the placement of the radio and air conditioning controls.” The crew at 212 gutted the interior and rewrapped everything in Mercedes-Benz black leather and suede. They also fabricated a new console and eliminated a number of things like air conditioning and the heater. Auto Meter gauges replaced the original units, while an ididit steering column, Budnik billet steering wheel, Hurst Pistol Grip handle and a Pioneer head unit rounded out the interior modifications. They also replaced the wheels. Roger chose a set of Asanti AF144 modular rims to visually balance the black and chrome on the car. Featuring a black and chrome finish, these wheels measure 19x10 front and a whopping 20x11 in the rear. Fat Falken Azenis FK452 tires—measuring 245/40R19 and 285/30R20—cover the alloys.
Roger’s ever present quest for more power dictated yet another new mill under the hood. Not able to find the right builder locally, he went cross-country and had Larry's Engine & Marine in Tucson, Arizona, assemble a 434-cubic-inch mill with a Dart block, heads and manifold, crowned by a Demon carburetor. Cranking out 537 horses, this pushed the C3 into the next level. It was a world apart from the stock L48 it came with.
The impression so far might be that the car you see is the end result of all this work over the years—it’s not. He points out, “There were stretches of time where I didn’t drive the car for a number of years. I had the patience of a saint.” He was at a point where he had all the pieces in place—he just needed the right shop to connect the dots. The Corvette Shop in Montgomery, New York, was given that chore. One of the first things he had them do was install a T-56 six-speed gearbox. They also laid down a fresh coat of black paint and installed a new set of Hooker headers and side pipes. Beyond those changes, the largest chunk of time has been spent debugging the car. For the last two years the shop has been fixing the Corvette to the point that it is now streetable. He sums it up by explaining, “This is really the first time I’m fully enjoying the car after 27 years. I actually have it running the way that I’ve always wanted it.”