1977 Chevrolet Corvette - Long-Distance Shark

Dick and Jill Countryman's '77 Vette Rod averages about 5,000 miles a year.

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Don'thate the '77 Corvette because it's popular. Sure, its powertrain choices weren't as strong, or as numerous, as they were earlier in the '70s, and there was only one body style available. But that didn't stop 49,213 sharks from rolling out of St. Louis that year-the third-highest Corvette production total ever, only topped by the '79's 53,000-plus and the 51,000-plus made in the extended '84 model run.

The year 1977 was a year of refinement for the Corvette (no longer called Stingray). The steering column was redesigned, placing the steering wheel 2 inches closer to the dash, and the headlight dimmer switch moved from the floor to the turn-signal stalk. The console was redesigned so any standard-size Delco radio would fit, plus the HVAC controls were relocated to the console from the dash. A new leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel was included with the tilt-and-telescope wheel option, which most '77 Vettes were built with, replacing the unpopular "Vega" four-spoke wheel first seen in 1976. Add in power steering, power brakes, and leather seats that were now standard, and Corvette's base price jumped over a thousand bucks for 1977, up to $8,647. Not too many "stripper" Vettes were made that year, as production records show the majority of them were optioned with air conditioning, power windows, the tilt-and-telescope steering column, and an automatic transmission.

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Dick and Jill Countryman's '77 is one of nearly 7,100 '77s built with a four-speed manual transmission; one that left St. Louis with the full complement of luxo-tourer features that Corvette buyers of the day were going for. It's an early-production '77, as evidenced by the separate alarm actuator on the left front fender (a running change moved it to the driver's door lock around midyear).

When Dick found the car in 1987, it was neither a basket case nor a trailer queen. It had about 78,000 miles on it, and it had been maintained reasonably well. But age takes its toll, and it was due for some fixes. "I did all the upgrades for driving it on the highway," he says from his Belvidere, Illinois, home. "I went through everything on it." That included the front and rear suspension systems, which were completely rebuilt with new bearings, polyurethane bushings, front ball joints, rear trailing arms and adjustable struts, a composite rear spring, and more. The brakes were treated to stainless-sleeved calipers, plus new brake lines and hoses. "I actually pulled the body off when I put the new fuel lines, brake lines, and body mounts on," Dick recalls. "After I did all that stuff, it took another three years before it went into a body shop."

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Before the bodywork happened, more mechanical upgrades were in the works. That included a Keisler five-speed transmission and a GM Performance Parts ZZ4 350ci crate engine to replace the shark's stock L48 350. "Best move I ever made," Dick says of the ZZ4 swap. "It runs excellent-you can put your air on, and you don't feel the pull down in horsepower as you did with the stock 350." He says it was an "easy drop" with no problems encountered, even with headers like his ceramic-coated Hooker Super Comps. "A lot of guys are worried about their hood clearances," he adds. "I never had a bit of trouble putting it in." His success with the ZZ4 swap caught the eye of his fellow C3 Vette Registry members, several of whom are either considering-or have already-swapped a ZZ4 for their original L48.

Other recent mechanical upgrades are a hydraulic clutch to complement the Keisler five-speed, and Steeroids rack-and-pinion steering to replace the ancient (and worn) Saginaw recirculating-ball system. "It's nice and tight and snug, and you don't have any 'play' in the steering wheel like you did with the old steering boxes," Dick says. "When you touch it, it's right there."

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