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Big-Block C3 Corvette was Rescued from a Long-Term Sleep

Driven: Paco Agrafojo’s 1971 Big-Block C3 Revives a Dream

Chuck Vranas Nov 2, 2017
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Regardless of which decade you were born into there has always been a lingering fascination of uncovering long-lost automobiles that have been stashed away from prying eyes. Over the last few years the term “barn find” has become overused in more ways than ever imagined to represent any type of find, no matter if it was located in a barn, field, garage or basement. Nonetheless, it’s still exciting to follow-up on a lead, much like following a treasure map, to see if there’s any legitimacy to its claim. For Paco Agrafojo of Suffield, Connecticut, acting on a lead that would bring him face-to-face with a big-block 1971 Corvette was something that existed only in his wildest dreams.

Growing up in the small, rural farming community of Wantage, New Jersey, Agrafojo was attracted to anything mechanical since he was a youngster. His earliest memories revolve around his dad buying him his first ATV at age 10 to ride on farmland and backroads. It wasn’t long till he launched into a career of reading the repair manual to spin wrenches when it broke, which was often since he pushed its limits on a daily basis. Coupled with a fever to read any automotive publication he could get his hands on, building plastic kit models at the kitchen table and repairing plenty of broken neighborhood dirt bikes, the fuse had been lit.

One of the cool aspects of living in a rural farming community was that during his regular off-road runs with friends they would be able to see almost everything hidden away from the roadway. It became a quest to see who could turn up the most interesting, beat-up old muscle cars that had been forgotten and left for dead in overgrown pastures and barns. Knowing all of the local farmers it was easy to gain access to these areas, which fast became their own personal field of dreams.

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At the same time Agrafojo was buying and selling used dirt bikes that he’d find to repair in order to save cash for his first car. This turned out to be a ’69 Ford Mustang he rescued from a local farm. The car needed everything and it fast became a focus of his attention, rebuilding it as he could afford to buy parts. Even with the bulk of his focus on the Mustang there was something that constantly tugged at his attention.

A neighbor’s dad happened to have a ’74 Corvette in his garage along with a poster on the wall behind it of every model Corvette produced to date. The car immediately became an object of desire, overwhelming his senses with its sleek, low-slung body; hopped-up V-8 and sheer cool factor. In a neighborhood that was overrun by teenagers driving muscle cars, this Corvette became his personal holy grail. To intensify everything, there was a deteriorating Monza Red ’69 Corvette convertible wasting away in another local driveway just out of his financial reach.

As the years passed, Agrafojo never forgot the adrenaline rush he got when he first came under the spell of the C3s he was fascinated with. A number of European cars passed through his garage, as well as motorcycles, yet he still he longed for a Corvette. Then it happened … while working in Texas a few years ago it came up in casual conversation with his boss that he was ready to look for a new project car. It was then that he was advised that a family member of his boss had an old car sitting in a garage for years that they wanted to get rid of. Since he could not recall the make or model of the car, Agrafojo wasted no time in arranging a visit to check it out firsthand.

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When the garage door went up, it was all he could do to retain his composure. Right before his very eyes, sitting on four flat tires and covered in cobwebs and storage boxes, was a 1971 Corvette, the car of his dreams. Further inspection revealed that it was a Brands Hatch Green 454ci big-block car that had been in the family for 17 years, and off the road for the last 10. Although the original engine had been replaced it was a mechanical basket case with a thrashed interior. The rest of the car seemed pretty original and in need of plenty of work to bring it back to life. A deal was made and Agrafojo had a flatbed meet him at the house to transport his new treasure home.

After studying the car to set a plan of action, Agrafojo made a decision to retain a relatively stock look but with updates to enhance the car’s performance. With the original chassis in good shape he focused on the car’s stance, wanting to give it a lower attitude and freshen up the original suspension. He contacted Eckler’s Corvette with a list starting with their rear suspension rebuild kit and added their long leaf spring bolt kit to bring down the rear of the car by 1 inch. Agrafojo also updated the differential with 3.55:1 gears for a little extra grunt. With the back of the car freshened up with a new nine-leaf spring, sway bar with polyurethane bushings and KYB high-pressure gas shocks he focused on the front suspension.

Once again Eckler’s provided a complete front suspension rebuild kit to bring the car back to factory specs. In order to match the newfound rear stance, a set of F41-style coil springs were added to lower it 1 inch, combined with a pair of KYB high-pressure gas shocks. To bring braking back to perfection, Eckler’s provided a replacement dual master along with stainless lines and fresh hoses as well as rotors, calipers and pads to make stopping a breeze. Linking it all to the street, a set of stock 15-inch Rally wheels with caps wear 255/60R15 BFGoodrich Radial T/As at each corner.

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At some point in its life the original 454 mill called it a day and was pulled from the car and scrapped. You can dream that it was during a late-night street race when it gave up the ghost but the actual cause of its final day remains unknown to this day. The previous owners did the right thing, though, when they went back to Chevrolet and ordered a fresh 454ci crate engine to be installed into the car.

Straight from the factory the new engine was stuffed with goodness, starting with a fresh iron block packed with a forged steel crank linked to matching rods topped with forged aluminum pistons urged by a hydraulic roller cam. To generate plenty of power, a set of rectangular port iron heads get the job done, especially when crowned by a factory dual-plane manifold wearing an Edelbrock 750-cfm carb custom-jetted by Agrafojo and fed by a Holley electric pump. A stock distributor lights the fire while spent gasses rip through a set of factory exhaust manifolds to a 2 1/2-inch exhaust with MagnaFlow mufflers. A well-detailed engine bay gets just enough dazzle from a set of chrome valve covers and air cleaner. It’s all good for around 438 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque.

Linked to a warmed-over TH400 transmission and stock driveshaft it’s easy to haze the tires in a flash. Agrafojo spent plenty of time in his shop bringing the car’s vitals back to life and all of the attention paid off in the final results.

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Luckily, the car had been stored away, although rather recklessly since it had been repainted before put into suspended animation for close to two decades. A simple car cover might have spared it the need for a massive dose of rehabilitation once Agrafojo got the keys. It took more than a simple wash and wax to get it right, a time where endless nights finessing the finish finally got it to the state that you see it in here. Coated in a lustrous PPG Brands Hatch Green, the C3 wears all of its original body panels and presents itself well, for whoever prepped the car for its paint did a fine job on the shell and setting all the gaps.

When found, the car had a tattered saddle interior needing a full restoration so Agrafojo decided to freshen it up with a color change to black. In preparing it for the change he gutted the interior and prepped it for dyeing the dash, console and all related parts first. He then contacted Corvette America for a set of new leather seat covers, door and kick panels and carpet set to complete the changeover. You’ve got to have tunes, so the final update was a rockin’ new stereo from Custom Autosound to complete the business office. Since completion, Agrafojo has been laying down the miles in the car, enjoying every big-block–powered moment, and to us that’s the real deal!

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Photography by the Author
Videography by the Author

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