Corvettes mean different things to different people. Some just like to cruise top-down on a sunny summer afternoon, others love the performance aspect and still others love Corvettes for their classic looks. The owner of this 1979 Corvette coupe, Richard Skipper, falls into the latter category. Over the years, he has owned 14 Corvettes and while he does enjoy driving them occasionally, he gets the most joy from having them restored and showing them off.
Skipper’s latest pride and joy is a Grand Sport-themed C3 Corvette. It’s a car you’re not likely to see very often and that’s mostly due to the fact that Chevrolet never made it. Years ago, he saw a picture of a C3 Vette with a 1996 Corvette Grand Sport livery and fell in love. “I cut that picture out and put it on my billboard and told myself ‘One of these days I’ll build one,’” Skipper recalls. But he never acted on that ambition until one day it sort of just fell into his lap. A neighbor had a 1979 Corvette that just sat in the driveway for months. It was owned by the man’s son who was off in Iraq and decided it was time to pass it along to a new owner. Skipper figured that now was as good a time as ever, so he brought it home.
Simply painting the ’79 to look like a Grand Sport would be far too easy and replicable, so Skipper wanted to take his one step further—well, maybe more than one step. He wanted the C3 to be a blend of custom, restomod and classic, all tied up in a Grand Sport theme.
Instead of finding a single shop to do all the work from start to finish, Skipper got in touch with three different shops that each specialized in a certain area of custom-car building.
The Bright Brothers, located in Alvarado, Texas, handled all the fiberglass and paint on the Corvette. They took the fiberglass body and worked their magic, integrating a few subtle changes that would make all the difference. The car had the original removable hardtop, but as per Skipper’s request, they got rid of the “removable” aspect of the hardtop and made it a full-time coupe by ’glassing in the top. The other modifications were not quite as subtle, starting with the removal of the popup headlights. Like the roof, they sealed up the original headlight locations with fiberglass, making it look like they were never even there. So where’d the lights go instead? They were relocated down in the nose to loosely resemble the foglights of a C4 Corvette. The hood also got some custom fiberglass work in the form of vents in the cowl. The final major body modification wasn’t really a body modification at all—it was a body addition. Skipper wanted to change things up, and instead of having the stock side pipes stand out so boldly, he wanted them to blend in a little more. So, the Bright Brothers built a custom cover to conceal the otherwise flashy side pipes. With all the custom fiberglass work completed, they moved on to paint. It’s no surprise that Skipper wanted to stay pretty true to form when it came to mimicking the Grand Sport livery. The Bright Brothers utilized Admiral Blue, the stock color of a ’96 Grand Sport, supplied by House of Kolor that was accented by the iconic white center stripe and two red hash marks on the front-left wheel arch.
While the Bright Brothers were working away on the paint and body modifications, Marc Byers of Marc’s Garage in Fort Worth, Texas, started getting the chassis and drivetrain ready. Skipper had decided to go with a full custom chassis from Art Morrison Enterprises complete with Strange Engineering adjustable coilovers and Baer Brakes 14-inch rotors with six-piston calipers all around. Out back is a Strange Engineering Ford 9-inch sporting a limited-slip differential and 3.50:1 gears.
The Vette would be powered by a potent Chevrolet Performance LS376/525 crate engine making 525 horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque. An Eddie Motorsports S-Drive pulley system sits on the front of the engine and ties together the accessories such as the Powermaster alternator and Gen-IV Vintage Air A/C compressor. A set of ceramic-coated 1 7/8-inch long-tubes from Ultimate Headers are bolted to the side of the LS3 and dump into a custom 3-inch stainless steel system and out MagnaFlow mufflers. Keeping things cool is a three-row aluminum radiator from Mattson’s Custom Radiator. The final piece of Skipper’s powertrain is a 4L70E automatic transmission put together by Phoenix Transmission.
After the chassis and drivetrain were mated, the Corvette made its way across town to Compton Custom Interiors in Burleson, Texas. There, the cabin of the Vette got a makeover in red. They covered almost the entire interior in red leather, from the dash panel and the seats to the door panels and the center console, even the kick panels and glovebox were wrapped in clean, red leather. Oh, and the color chosen for the carpet? That was red, too. Dakota Digital gauges were installed to give Skipper his readouts then Mobile Sound Systems of Arlington, Texas, came in to install four speakers and a subwoofer from Focal hooked up to an Alpine head unit. It all came together to give the C3 Corvette a highly Grand Sport vibe with more than a little custom feel which is just what Skipper wanted.
When the dust had settled, it had been only a year and a half build and the result was just as Skipper had envisioned.
“I’m one of those guys that builds them but doesn’t drive them,” Skipper told us. Expanding on that further, he mentioned having cars that were built 10 years ago and have only 300 miles put on them since. Skipper might not be driving the newly built ’79 a whole lot, but that hasn’t stopped him from displaying it at as many local drive-ins and shows as possible. “Every time we put it in a show it wins a class award,” Skipper beams. That combined with the sound of the LS3 burbling out of the sidepipes hits the spot for Skipper and he plans on enjoy it for years and years to come. Vette
Photos by Joseph Dowling