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1976 Chevrolet Corvette 396 Convertible - In Too Deep

What Beats Saving A Battered Big-Block 65? Not Much.

Kevin Shaw Sep 1, 2005
Corp_0509_01_z 1976_chevrolet_corvette_396_convertible Front_view 2/1

The mid-'70s was an interesting time. Gerald Ford took over the presidency after his predecessor stepped down. Around the nation, lines at gas pumps reached tremendous lengths, forcing people to park their cars in line for the day, only to return after work to fill the tank. With rising gas prices, escalating insurance rates, and newly enforced 50-state pollution standards, high-performance vehicles were quickly going the way of the dodo. Hemi four-speed Road Runners and Boss 429 Mustangs sat in dealerships' trade-in lots.

But Jay Janko of East Hazel Crest, Illinois, seemed to have a crystal ball in 1976 as he stared down his neighbor's Nassau Blue convertible every day on his way to work. Yet, the timing was all wrong. Jay was a new father and breadwinner for a young family with two boys. Undaunted, his curiosity got the best of him, and he asked his neighbor what he wanted for the car. The price was $2,000, which was more than Jay could afford at the time, so he offered $1,600. The neighbor accepted, and Jay-along with his sons, Chuck and Gregory-pushed the Corvette home.

Jay soon learned why the Corvette was available for such a small amount. It definitely wasn't watertight, with 3 inches of water in the trunk and floorpan. The brakes were useless, as lines were cracked and corroded, and the engine refused to turn over, even by hand. Every night after work for six months, Jay rolled up his sleeves and wrenched on the car with his sons. They got it running under its own power, but the insurance on the original 396 convertible was unaffordable, so they used it only for drag racing. For 10 years, the Corvette was a regular at the Route 30 Drag Strip in Schererville, Indiana.

By the fall of 1993, Jay had had enough of racking up miles on his convertible 1,320 feet at a time. So he took on a full restoration with help from his friends and his wife, Anita. The body required some intensive care, and was shipped to Capital Corvette in Madison, Wisconsin, where it was stripped of the faded blue paint and re-covered in Rally Red after extensive bodywork. The complete frame-off restoration was fully documented by Capital Corvettes, which kept the Jankos updated on every step of the process.

The ultra-rare 425-horse 396 was a single-year option in 1965, as only 2,157 ever left the factory. The powerplant and transmission were handed off to longtime friend John McPartlin. John and his son, John Jr., have made a name for themselves working out of their garage, and they meticulously restored the unique big-block back to nearly perfect factory specs. The McPartlins earned their stripes, as evidenced by the spotless engine compartment.

With the most recent addition of power steering, Jay and Anita found that maneuvering the nose-heavy Corvette has suddenly become easier. The Corvette, after 28 years of hard work, labor, and love, has earned its place as a member of the family. Jay still lives in the same house he did in 1976, down the street from the neighbor who sold him the convertible many years ago. Every now and again, he asks Jay if he'd ever like to sell it back. We think we know the answer to that.

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