Once it was ready for the body shop, however, Dick had to change painters before his car went in the booth. "Eventually, I got tired of waiting for the guy who was going to do it. I got lucky and talked to a guy in November of 2002. The following February, I took it to him and he had it done two weeks before the 50th Anniversary Caravan." That guy was Tim Grove of Rods 'N Restoration in nearby Rock Falls, Illinois. He applied the single-stage PPG Black to the Vette's body, but not before doing some restorative work to it. "He pulled the whole front clip off it and did the stress cracks and all from the bottom first. Then he flipped it over and did the top. he did an excellent job." That's not surprising, says Dick, who points out that Tim's shop does a lot of ultra-high-buck cars such as Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwings. Dick found Tim through an old buddy. "One of the guys that I went to school with, Kerry Hopperstad from Hopperstad Customs in Belvidere, worked with Tim years ago. That's how I got to know Tim."
Once back from the body shop-the only time it's ever been trailered in the time that Dick's owned it-the Vette had to get back together in a hurry if it was to make the 50th Anniversary Caravan. "I had a lot of work to do getting the interior back in, and all, because I'd completely gutted the whole thing," Dick says. In went new smoke-grey carpeting from Auto Custom Carpets, and then matching leather went on the seats (thanks to Doug Scott) and the door panels. A Clarion AM/FM/CD player with Pioneer Sound Bar speakers replaced the OEM Delco sound system, and a carbon-fiber accent panel went on the console and gauge cluster.
Once done, the '77 went back into drive-to-shows duty, which it's performed flawlessly ever since. That was about 60,000 miles ago, and the shark now has 138,000 miles on it. "We usually average about 5,000 miles a year on the black ['77] car, which is quite a few," Dick says. "I drive it, but when I bring it home it's cleaned up and put away. I start looking for nicks and scratches, then we hand-rub them out. I detail it up, and she's ready to go again."
And go again it did, to two big downstate Illinois shows in 2007: Mid America Motorworks' Corvette Funfest in Effingham, and Springfield's International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, with another trip planned to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for the Classic Corvette Extravaganza. "That will probably be my last one of the year, seeing as how it's in the middle of October," he says. "We'll bring it back, and I'll get it cleaned up, and we probably won't store it away. We may do some local shows or just a drive-in or two around here, weather permitting. it could be put away early, you never know."
Then, in 2008, it's back on the road with the '77 and its garage-mate, a '96 Collector's Edition C4 that was featured in CF in May 2006. "We went to Vettes On The Rockies this year  in Colorado, but we drove our '96 and took Third Place in our class," Rick says. "We'll probably drive our black '77 out there next year. We're also talking about taking it to Eureka Springs-everybody seems to talk that up. We also have a Gathering coming up for the C3 Vette Registry next year somewhere in the Midwest. I'm going to say around Branson, Missouri. It should be a good-sized gathering for us next year. We'll put quite a few miles on the '77 this coming year"
Stylin' :Dick Countryman's early-production '77 Corvette had 78,000 miles on it when he bought it two decades ago. his restoration and upgrades made it ready for the next 100,000-and beyond.
Out Back :Over time, new paint, rolling stock, and chassis hardware went in Dick Countryman's '77, but the "tunnel" rear window stayed.
Next Office One big improvement for 1977 was the absence of the four-spoke "Vega" steering wheel if you ordered the tilt-and-telescoping wheel option. Leather seats became standard that year.
ZZ TIME ::: Under a chromed K&N air cleaner sits a GM Performance Parts ZZ4 in place of the stock LM1. Dick says it's an easy swap, even with headers.
Where to next? ::: This shark doesn't stay at home if there's a big show to head out to.
RACKING 'EM UP ::: The new-for-1977 luggage rack has provisions to carry the T-tops in case the weather calls for open-cabin cruising. Hot Rods 'N Restorations applied the single-stage PPG black enamel.
Trick Shift :A Hurst-shifted, Keisler five-speed conversion replaced the stock four-speed. Combined with the posi's 3.36 rear gears, it makes for an easy-going, long-distance cruiser.