"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, Wow! What a ride!" That is what 44-year-old famed marathon runner Dean Karnazez in a recent issue of Wired magazine had to say, and, frankly, a mantra we should all apply to our lives. While Dan Tucker from Little Rock, Arkansas, may not have run any grueling, body-torturing, muscle-searing endurance races, his '66 Candy Apple Red Corvette roadster sure has.
Even amid an influx of angry letters and heated e-mails from preservationists and collectors, Corvette Fever has unwaveringly stood fast to its postition of driving one's Corvette. Simply put-it's a car, and cars need to be driven.
Since the mid-'70s, Dan has driven his gorgeous Sting ray with gleeful relish and a heavy right foot. Once a standard four-speed, 327-powered roadster, after 30 years of wrenching, daily driving, sprawling road trips, local cruises, and more wrenching by Dan, it has racked up more mileage than many commercial trucks. The joy of ownership, this 66-year-old kid-at-heart opines, is that the Corvette is 100-percent his, having turned almost every screw and tightened nearly every bolt himself.
Steve Haynes, a cousin to Dan, is the proprietor of Steve's Speed Shop in Little Rock. In 1976, he was preparing to propose to his long-time girlfriend and needed to scrounge up enough money for an engagement ring. Coincidentally, a regular patron to his business had a tab that had steadily accrued over the years and opted to exchange the pink slip of his '66 Corvette for absolution of his debt. Though Steve was tempted to hang onto the Vette for a future in drag racing, he sold Dan the Corvette for $3,000, which gave him the money he needed to buy a ring.
Noting the different courses their lives have taken, Dan says, "Now [Steve] has a wife and three kids, and I have the car." Dan's garage also houses a beautiful '69 RS/SS 396 Camaro and his father's '55 Nomad wagon, a vehicle his dad had purchased new and used as his transportation when he was a traveling salesman during the Eisenhower administration. When his father passed away in 1974, Dan took the keys and made a conscious effort to keep the '55 sound, solid, and running, just how his father would have wanted it. While the ponycar and the shoebox Chevy are kept under cover, the '66 is anything but.
Though not a "Vette Rod" by recent definitions of the term, Dan's midyear roadster has been through several different incarnations. Skeptical of anyone working on his '66, Dan has made it a point over the last 30 years to conduct the majority of modifications and repair work himself, relying on the assistance of specialized professionals only when necessary. With the help of his friend Jack Thomas, Dan has transformed this run-of-the-mill drop-top into an endurance runner. The Corvette's most recent engine combination is an overbored, stroked 385 small-block built by "Stump," Rebel Rebuilders' owner.
The four-bolt main block was bored .040 over, clearanced for an Eagle cast steel crank with Eagle 6-inch "H" beam rods with 3 3/4-inch stroke, fitted with ARP bolts, Keith Black 9.8:1 compression pistons, a steep Comp Cams roller camshaft, and topped with a pair of aluminum RHS cylinder heads. Crane Gold roller rockers presses the RHS triple springs, while the heads are fed via a polished Weiand Stealth dual-plane intake and a Holley 670 Street Avenger carburetor. Healthy 131/44-inch Hooker headers plumb the gases through a set of Flowmaster mufflers and through 211/42-inch pipes. Ditching the factory Muncie, a state-of-the-art Tremec TKO500 five-speed (with overdrive) gearbox was purchased from Keisler Engineering and mated to a Hayes aluminum flywheel and Zoom 11-inch clutch.
Getting the Corvette to go was the easy part, but modernizing the Sting Ray's overall drivability turned out to be a bit more challenging. A Street and Slalom Suspension package from Vette Brakes was the first of many key improvements that drastically enhanced the roadster's on-road characteristics. Force 10 SSBC disc brakes were mated to the new suspension with powdercoated red calipers and Power Slot rotors. The pumpkin was cracked open and filled with a GM 3.70 posi-traction, while Torq-Thrust II polished aluminum rims were wrapped in Hancock Ventus HR II rubber. Bilstein shocks and coilsprings up front are manhandled by a 1.125-inch chromed sway bar, as Bilstein shocks mated to a composite monospring with poly-adjustable struts keep the rear wheels planted.
Inside the cabin, Dan installed a Vintage Air cold-air system underneath the otherwise stock dash. The buckets have been recovered in black vinyl by Acey's Top Shop and a JVC CD player and a quartet of new speakers fight to resonate over the rumble of the stroked mouse motor.
But it would be the unique paint scheme that would ultimately convert Dan's '66 from trick to wild. Wheeled into the booth at Reflections Paint & Body Shop in Cabot, Arkansas, the fiberglass body was thoroughly massaged and straightened before the inaugural layer of paint was sprayed over the sealing primer. Beginning with a couple passes of reflective gold as a base, multiple layers of candy apple red were then hazed over the bodylines.
Once cured and sealed, the vibrant red roadster radiated under the midday sun. It would be this hue that would give the Corvette the moniker "Rose." Dan had both window wings etched with a long-stem rose. Included in the striking repaint of the Corvette was a small tote trailer that Dan drags behind the '66 to allow more luggage and supplies than the midyear's limited storage space offered (read: none).
Completed, though perpetually in a state of flux-as is characteristic of all home-wrencher's cars-the Corvette has taken home enough accolades and trophies to congest the shelf space of Dan's living room.
In addtion to serving as the president of the Central Arkansas Corvette Club (CACC), which hosts its own Corvette and Chevrolet shows and cruises, Dan has also taken home wins from local and state shows, the Hot Rod Power Tour, Cruise the Coast, shows in Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and the national Super Chevy shows. The sum of these travels is an odometer reading 69,800-plus miles that covers several trips across an array of states and borders and a collage of event stickers to decorate his candy apple trailer.
Dan says if Chevrolet didn't want enthusiasts to enjoy their classic Corvettes, they wouldn't have made them so much fun to drive.