Corvettes that are built to drive are a reflection of the personality of their owners. This '96 Corvette, a tribute to the Grand Sports, reflects the lifetime of patriotism and brand loyalty of its owner, Al Leonardi Jr. of Woodbury, New Jersey.
This is Al's first Corvette, and after years of waiting, it's everything he hoped it would be. "I wanted one ever since I was 7 years old," Al says. "For my 7th birthday, which was 1963, I told my mom I wanted a Corvette. She asked what I wanted her to do with it since I wasn't old enough to drive. I told her to put it in the garage until I was 17. Now, she wishes she had really done that."
Al, vice president of The Original Garden State Corvette Club, purchased the '96 brand new from Kerbeck Chevrolet in Atlantic City. It was originally Torch Red with a 350ci LT4 engine. Al drove the car daily in stock form for about a year. "Finally," he says, "I got tired of pulling up next to minivans that sounded better than my car." That's when he installed the 3-inch B&B Tri-Flo after-cat exhaust system made from T304 stainless steel.
Al had always wanted to make changes to the exterior, but couldn't bring himself to spring for a full strip-down and repaint. However, an unfortunate collision afforded him the opportunity to modify the exterior to suit his own taste. The car retained its Torch Red base, but was given a sort of reverse Grand Sport treatment with a white stripe and blue hash marks. Additionally, the stock wheels were replaced with chrome ones from the '00 model year.
The car's appearance wasn't all that was modified. In addition to the exhaust, Al removed the MAF-sensor screen, added an Air Blaster induction system, and installed a Green air filter to upgrade the intake. He also reprogrammed the ECM with a Hypertech Power Programmer.
Al says the car's daily driver days are in the past. "I was driving it to work when my wife and I had only two vehicles," he says. "But now it's more of a leisure car for driving on nice days. One thing I will not do is drive it dirty; that's sacrilegious."
Al says he figured the '96 would represent the best of the C4 generation and, for the most part, he's been satisfied, finding only minor problems. "I will hang on to this car," he says. "It may not be the fastest or the baddest, but it's mine."
Al's red, white, and blue dream machine blends style and driveability. It is the perfect match for a man who is a lifelong Corvette fan and Blue Oval hater. "I'm an American icon guy," he says. "Baseball, hot dogs, Chevys, and apple pie-you know what I mean?"
Yes, Al, we do.