Take a look around this 1964 Corvette coupe and it’s not until you lift the hood that you find something not quite stock. Visually, every bit of this car looks like a show-quality, all-original restoration but pull up next to it at a red light and it just might leave you in the dust.
Buck Wright wanted more power and more reliability, which might as well be the tag line for the Chevrolet Performance LS3 crate engine he chose.
He bought the Corvette with his father back in 1975, which ended up being one of the last times he spent with his dad before a heart attack cut his life short. Buck held on tight to the 1964 coupe from that point on, taking it with him through just about everything in life—he even met and married his wife, Rose, in the car!
After starting a family and moving out to a farm in rural Kentucky, Buck’s Vette found a cozy corner under a tarp in the back of the barn for a few years. As he recalls, “It was no cherry when I bought it,” so in 1986 when his family moved back into the city, Buck started restoring the Corvette. Admittedly, he didn’t know a lot about fiberglass or painting, but he took on the challenge anyway and got to work stripping the paint and then used his neighbor’s forklift shop as a paint booth to respray the car in.
The project just kept dragging on, though, so Buck decided to hand it over to Mark Bauer of Bauer Restorations in Wichita, Kansas, to finish the Vette. A year and a half later, the car was done and ready for Buck to enjoy. And enjoy it he did, driving it all over the place and regularly taking it to car shows. He soon realized he had no one to enjoy the car with, so it sat again—this time for 15 years.
By the time Buck decided to get back in the Corvette and start using it again, it had been sitting too long without being maintained and he spun a bearing in the original 327ci engine. Even before the engine went kaput, Buck remembers that maintenance on the old 327 was tedious, having to run the valves just about every time he drove it. So when the original engine did let go, he jumped on the opportunity to upgrade and update the Corvette’s power.
Mark tried to convince Buck to go the LS route, but with the steep price he was hesitant. Then Buck had an idea. He went over to his local Chevrolet dealership, Lubber Chevrolet in Cheney, Kansas, and told the sales guys they could use his Corvette any time they wanted for promotional purposes if in return they sold him a Chevrolet Performance LS3 with no price markup. They agreed and Buck got himself an LS3 with all the accessories for just $6,000.
With Mark’s help, they pulled the 327 and replaced it with the new, all-aluminum 6.2L/376ci LS3. Straight from Chevrolet Performance, this LS variation exhibits 10.7:1 compression with the aluminum L92-style cylinder heads and hypereutectic aluminum pistons. The valvetrain consists of a hydraulic roller camshaft with 0.551/0.522-inch lift and 204/211-degrees duration at 0.050-inch and 1.7:1 ratio roller rockers. Do the math—or put it on an engine dyno—and you can bet that this combination makes a reliable 430 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 425 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.
Hanging off the front of the engine is a Vintage Air Front Runner holding the alternator and Vintage Air A/C compressor. With all that engine crammed in the stock engine bay, space was tight so Be Cool built Buck a custom-sized aluminum radiator with dual electric fans that slid right into place.
Behind the LS3 remains the original Muncie M21 four-speed manual transmission, which Buck has decided will be the next thing to go. The Muncie is great and all, but another gear would make all the difference in driveability for Buck’s 1964 so he plans to swap in a TREMEC TKO 500 five-speed sometime in the near future. The original four-speed shift plate will be retained; belying the fact that there’s a five-speed underneath.
The underpinnings of the Vette were almost entirely stock before he swapped in the new engine. With more power on tap now, Buck decided to make a few minor modifications to the suspension and brakes and to accomplish this in an affordable manner, he purchased a later-model 1976 Corvette to use as a parts car. He and Mark pulled off the front clip, spindles, disc brakes and rear halfshafts to use on the 1964 and then sold the engine, trans and body for the same price he bought the whole thing for. Talk about cost effective.
In the nose of the car, the 1964 front clip came out and the updated 1976 clip went in while out back, Buck utilized the 1976 halfshafts. Delco shocks and the disc brakes from the C3 completed his suspension update.
That about sums up the list of modifications, meaning the interior and exterior of the car are just what you would expect of a nicely restored C2 Corvette. Mark restored the interior, which is now like a time capsule, looking like it did when it left the factory 50-plus years ago. The silver paint came from PPG and was sprayed by Mark, who did all the bodywork and prep work beforehand. The wheels are stock cast-aluminum knock-offs wrapped in Goodyear Regatta 205/75R15 tires.
This brings us back to the fact that Buck’s 1964 is a bit of a sleeper, or as much of a sleeper as a C2 Corvette could be. Buck proudly recalls that the Vette’s unadulterated exterior mixed with the powerful LS3 has, “fooled a lot of people [and] smoked a lot of newer cars,” leaving them to think, “‘What the heck has he got under the hood?!’”