Last year, Corvette Fever featured the dynamic duo of Art Strietbeck and Jim Condon of Keyser, West Virginia. Their story of neighborly competition and friendship was inspiring on a humanitarian level, and also because they helped one another build two of the nicest ZL1 clones we'd ever seen. Having met over 29 years ago about a real-estate purchase, Art and Jim helped each other nurture their sharp-toothed big-block shark fetish into a near incurable addiction. Now, a pair of ground-shaking 454 ZL1 Corvettes resides on their street.
Much like many Corvette owners, the responsibilities and stresses of providing for a family caused Jim to sell his original '66 big-block roadster years ago. So when his neighbor, Art, came home in 1989 with a low-mileage big-block '69 T-top Corvette, Jim knew it was time to find another Stingray. Art, after a few years, began to tear into the fiberglass beast regardless of its many go-fast goodies, such as an original 390-horse 427, an M21 four-speed, and a 3.70 Posi rear.
The maroon-on-black Corvette needed some minor cosmetic refinements, such as swapping the current fenders for a pair of year-correct '69 fenders, re-covering the seats, and trading the old tach for a new one. Art also felt the 427 could perform a lot better with more motivation. That was accomplished with the new Tri-power induction setup, aluminum GM cylinder heads, a hotter cam, and chromed Hooker side pipes. With all these modifications, Art felt his Corvette finally met its potential.
Meanwhile, Jim was getting busy. He hunted down a red-on-red '71 small-block four-speed while on a business trip in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Bringing the coupe home, Jim knew a small-block wasn't fitting to the Corvette's legacy; plus, his neighbor simply couldn't outdo him so easily. The slow restoration occupied all his time, as he rebuilt the engine, suspension, and interior. After six months, Jim decided to strip the body and repaint the car, much the same way Art would do several times over the following years.
Remedying the situation, Jim chose the venerable H.O. 454 crate engine for his '71. Not satisfied with stock performance numbers, he made a series of upgrades to the engine for the extra oomph he wanted. A steeper cam was added, along with newly ported, high-flow heads and many other secrets. Art joined in, helping Jim carry out the attack on the crate engine before they hung up their tools for a short time. Jim, not one to garage his car, racked up a mind-boggling 100,000 miles on the engine before it showed any signs of wear and tear.
While Jim was busy wrenching on his '71-replacing the transmission with an improved M22, a new 3.70 Posi, and Mark Williams halfshafts-Art went the cosmetic route, changing the '69 to Metallic Blue, then back to the original numbers-matching Daytona Yellow. Since then, the car has been repainted, first by adding the Tuxedo black stripes to the body, then to an eye-scorching Rally Red with white stripes, duplicating the original look of the first ZL1s.
All of this changed when GM introduced the ZL1 blocks for retail purchase. Jim and Art had to own one, and sought to build two nearly matching powerplants for their T-top Corvettes. To level the playing field, Art and Jim had their motors built to identical specs, and stroked the 427s to a whopping 489 ci. Long Eagle rods and a Callies crank brought up the reach with a streetable compression of 9.8:1. Monster Edelbrock rectangle CNC-ported aluminum heads and a Comp Cams solid roller cam with a matching roller setup comprise the top end. The result is an outstanding 460 horses at the rear wheels and 495 lb-ft of torque.
Since that time, Art has swapped out the original four-speed for the infamous Keisler six-speed, enjoying the fruits of overdrive much like his friend. Jim posts that his '71 shoots the lights in 11.92 at 124 mph. Almost like twin brothers, Art and Jim have shared nearly everything with their cars. So much so that, upon returning home from their first time at Corvettes at Carlisle, their wives said they weren't allowed to play together anymore, seeing how dangerous they could be on a family's checkbook.