Once, there were only two. In 1969, only two all-aluminum big-block Chevrolet Corvettes were to roll off the assembly line in St. Louis-two snorting, bucking, race-ready, nearly unstreetable, high-compression warriors of which legends would be scripted. Recent readers of Corvette Fever are aware of the original yellow ZL1 that graced the pages of CF late last year. For Art Strietbeck and Jim Condon, the legend lives on with their own homegrown ZL1 creations.
Taking the ZL1 concept one step further, Art began with a '69 Corvette coupe he purchased back in 1988. Inspired by the yellow ZL1, he decided to replicate the effort; and, working with his friend Jim Condon, created his version of that original ZL1.
For Jim, the bug bit just as hard and his red '71 received a similar swap, but his was embellished with a Richmond six-speed transmission to enhance performance and touring comfort. Both Art and Jim are great friends with a great interest in hot-performing sharks.
The BasicsArt Strietbeck's '69 Corvette features a host of reproduction parts, returning the classic to original condition in many ways. The Daytona Yellow paint is original coloring reapplied by Art himself at his home in Keyser, West Virginia. Stock-style 15-inch original wheels and BFGoodrich tires retain the original style. The rear suspension has been enhanced with Vette Brakes components, and Monroe shocks keep the ride smooth. The interior is stock except for the addition of new carpeting from Auto Parts of America.
The ZL1 engine was a costly expenditure for both Jim and Art, who had their engines created at the same location: Cresap Machine Shop in Cumberland, Maryland. In total, the two 489ci engines cost $36,000-that's $18,000 each for you mathematicians in the crowd. Featuring J&E pistons, Eagle connecting rods, Comp Cams camshaft and valvetrain gear, Edelbrock heads and intake, as well as an MSD ignition, the engines sport the best of everything. As noted by Art during his first encounter driving the freshly re-engined machine, "It was scary." No doubt.
For Jim Condon, the experience was much the same. His '71 red Corvette is virtually a duplicate of Art's '69. Having owned the '71 for 13 years, and influenced by his friend, Jim's engine swap is further enhanced by the addition of the Richmond six-speed transmission. For the most part, the engines are exact matches.
Outside, the red paint was applied by Jim in his garage, also in Keyser. The only suspension difference for Jim was the addition of Bilstein shocks for touring and handling, and Vette Brakes suspension up front as well as in back. Inside, Jim did have to restore his seating and added a Panasonic stereo for added comfort.With heightened performance and driveability, Jim reports that his ZL1 has turned quarter-mile times in the low-11s at 124 mph. Jim intends to add strength to the rear suspension with beefier halfshafts so he can use slicks at the track and turn 10-second quarter-miles. If he does, no doubt Art won't be far behind.
The InterviewWhat is the one thing you wish you could add to your Corvette that the other owner's Corvette has and why?
Art Strietbeck commenting on Jim Condon's '71: a six-speed transmission, making it easier on the engine for road trips, and for better gas mileage.
Jim Condon commenting on Art Strietbeck's '69: This is a tough one because, physically, I think my car has most of what Art's car has. The thing about Art's car that sets it apart is that it's a '69 and looks like a real ZL1.
If you were going to change anything about this car, what would it be?
Art Strietbeck: Nothing. We basically have the same things on both Corvettes, since we built them at the same time. The only difference at this time is the transmission.
Jim Condon: I would add a five- or six-speed overdrive transmission. Art's car cruises at 3,200 rpm at 70 mph and gets about 12 to 13 mpg. My car cruises at 1,950 rpm at 70 mph and gets 19.5 mpg. I can also hear my radio at cruise, even with side pipes. Art's car sounds great, but it gets old on a long trip.
Driving this Corvette is better than mine when...Art Strietbeck: His steering seems to be tighter. I don't know why-they both have been rebuilt with urethane bushings, gearbox, etc.
Jim Condon: It is much closer to being a ZL1 clone than mine. The ZL1 stripes really set it off; and, except for the Hooker side pipes, it looks like the real McCoy. I also think the '69 is a much more desirable car than my '71 because of its musclecar-era mystique.
I prefer my car because...Art Strietbeck: It's a '69 with original Daytona Yellow paint and black interior. I like the color combination. I don't like red on red. Red on black is better. I prefer black interiors.
Jim Condon: I prefer my car because it handles and drives better with the suspension modifications and six-speed transmission. I also think it may be quicker in the quarter-mile because of the setup to improve launch traction. I cannot say this for certain though, since Art has not run his car at the track.
When I consider this generation of Corvette, my initial impressions are...Art Strietbeck: When they came out in 1968, I thought they had ruined the Corvette. But since I own both a C2 and a C3, the C3 handles better and the engines are more powerful. The C3s look pretty tough.
Jim Condon: I love the lines, particularly the bumper cars. I own a C2 and have owned a C4, but they do not compare in looks. No Corvette turns heads better than this generation.
Will my next Corvette be more like this car or my own?Art Strietbeck: My own. I like the look of the side vents. They remind me of a shark.
Jim Condon: My next Corvette will be more like Art's car because I love '69s.
If you were to drive this car a long distance, what necessities would you take? Art Strietbeck: A couple of extra electric fuel pumps. This car seems to eat them. Maybe a wiring diagram of all the theft-protection switches hidden on the car.
Jim Condon: A gasoline credit card, lots of oil, and a good assortment of tools.
Based on past comments you made to friends and family about this "other" generation of Corvettes, have you changed your opinion based on this Corvette swap?Art Strietbeck: No, I feel they are still the musclecars of the past to own.
Jim Condon: Not a chance. I love Art's car. It looks great and the power is unreal. You just have to experience the push on your backside to understand the appeal.