Recently we've brought you stories of distinctively styled Corvettes, milestone Corvettes, and movie-star Corvettes that all spend their days indoors, meticulously preserved in their original (or close to it) conditions. This article isn't about Vettes like that. Instead, this one's about a father-and-son-owned pair that have logged hundreds of thousands of miles between them while seeing the U.S.A.
Jeff Montgomery bought his '63 Sting Ray coupe in 1970 while he was in college at the University of Arkansas, when you could find a good-condition midyear for under two grand. Jeff says that he and his '63 grew up together. "It's done it all, it seems like." he says. "I got it when I was 19 years old, and I didn't hold back." His first modification was four-wheel disc brakes he scrounged off a wrecked '65. Next up: Cut the fenders out and put big tires on, but not until he'd made rubber body mounts that better isolated road noise than the stock mounts did. "When I got to where I could afford it, I cut the fenders out [more], had it painted really nice, and put on Appliance wire wheels. Then, in the '90s, I put it back to original-looking."
But having a silver '63 split-window that looked like every other silver '63 split-window wasn't for him. As the '90s dawned, so did the Vette-Rod era in this car's history. As Jeff says, "I've always said I was a restomodder before it was cool!"
In went the Tuned Port Injected 350, a T-5 five-speed with an overdrive top gear, and '96 Corvette sport seats inside a cabin that was well insulated against noise, heat, and cold before the modern-day Vintage Air and Custom Autosound systems went in. The chassis got a fiberglass rear spring and modified steering box, among other upgrades.
To paraphrase the old song, Jeff's Vette's been everywhere-it's logged over 300,000 miles and been to all 48 contiguous states, as of this past fall. He has photos of every state's "Welcome To..." sign to prove it. "It forces you to go somewhere that you didn't have on your itinerary," he says. "We've gone into states where there isn't a sign at the state line, and we have to look at the map and say, 'How many hundreds of miles is it going to take before there's another border?'" Sometimes, he says he and his wife had to wait to get their shots. "We've pulled up to signs where there are three families with their RVs, and we've waited an hour for the sign to clear."
Jeff's next big trip in his '63 is to Corvettes at Carlisle in August 2008. "We've been invited by Lance Miller to Carlisle, and he's going to put the car in his special Chip's Choice display," Jeff says, "This year, they're highlighting restomods. That's quite an honor, and we're real excited about it."
When Jeff and his wife show their Sting Ray, they have a display graphic showing their split-window's travels, which draws some interesting attention. "People will see our little sign board, and women come up and say, 'I want to meet the woman who rode that far in that old car because ours stinks! I don't want to get in it with my husband and ride to the Sonic, much less across the country."
Like his father's '63, Clint Montgomery's '73 convertible is racking up the miles-over 155,000 at last count. And, like his dad, he's gone the Vette-Rod route. But unlike the well-kept car that his father bought, Clint's '73 was in far from perfect shape when he purchased it when he was in college.
Clint put in a Brodix-headed 350 and drove it for about 60,000 miles, then parked it when he got his first post-college job. Several years later, he decided to build it his way. Out came the 350 for a GM Performance Parts ZZ383, topped by a Demon 750 carburetor, and sparked by a GM HEI ignition system with a Flamethrower distributor. "I was tired of 'sneaking up on it,' so I decided to go ahead and buy the engine I wanted," he says of his crate-engine upgrade. The 383 breathes out through 2-inch headers from Street & Performance, which connect to side exhausts that wear '69 Stingray covers.
Clint also went the overdrive route with his gearbox, putting in a Tremec five-speed and-like his Dad-modifying the shifter to stir the new transmission while fitting through the stock console. He says the gearbox swap was the most difficult part of the build. "The thing about my projects is, I get to sit back and watch Dad struggle with about three different things, and I get to pick what works!"
Underneath, Clint also kept the stock frame and upgraded the chassis in much the same way Jeff did on his '63. A spreader bar went in up front, and a fiberglass rear spring replaced the stock steel leaf bundle. The '73 also got an aftermarket Jeep steering box, all the better to maneuver with the big slabs of rubber (BFGoodrich Comp T/As on 17x9.5-inch ZR1 rims all around) in each fenderwell. Like Jeff's Vette, Clint's also got an upgraded steering box-one that utilizes a late-model Jeep Grand Cherokee pitman arm swapped in. "It's a ton better, and the drivability of it is much more directionally stable," he says of the steering upgrade. "It made it to where I wasn't afraid to go with those big, heavy ZR1 wheels."
By watching his father work on his '63 and other Corvettes over the years, the younger Montgomery has almost a university level education on the Science and Art of the Corvette. He's also taught his dad a thing or two. "I taught him how to browse the Internet, and he's now like the Pied Piper on the online Corvette forums," he says. "He is a wealth of knowledge. I take credit for watching him and learning from his mistakes."
Do the Montgomerys have any advice for anyone planning to buy or build a Corvette? "Fix the steering. The whole steering system is terrible from 1963-1982," says Clint, noting the effects of fatigue and corrosion, as well as the ancient design of the original C2 and C3 steering boxes. Jeff's advice: "Buy one that's done, and buy the best you can afford. I always advise friends who don't have a lot of mechanical skills or experience to buy something that's already working, and get in it and enjoy it. To do what we've done with this car, most of the enjoyment has to be from the building of it." Jeff adds that too many Corvettes sit in the shop or garage. "You get your money's worth when you go out and play with them. Get out and drive them!"