For many Vette lovers, it was the first-generation Corvettes that kindled their love affair with America's Only True Sports Car. That includes the '62 Corvette that Gerald Copeland, with the help of his son Daniel, took from a well-worn driver to the silver-toned gem you see here.
"It had been painted several times, and it just needed stripping and starting over," Gerald says about the car he bought in 1998 in a town about 25 miles from his home in Tifton, Georgia. "You know how it is-pile a little more paint on it, paint it a different color, it looks good for a while, but after awhile, it accumulates on you." But that wasn't the biggest surprise. "When I drove that thing home, I didn't know if I was going to make it!" It seems the steering and brakes had very little, if any, function. "That was an experience driving that thing-the steering had about a round of 'free play' in the steering wheel, and when you hit the brakes, you didn't know which way you were going. It needed a lot of help!" That help came in the form of a Fat Man Fabrications front suspension/rack-and-pinion steering system, and four-wheel ECI brakes all around.
Upgrading the steering and the brakes were, in Gerald's view, the most important updates that he made to his Vette. But what went between the Fat Man's front end and the hood was no less significant: a GM Performance Parts ZZ4 350ci small-block. To that, he added a Six Shooter from Barry Grant. "When I saw that come out, I thought it would be a sweet setup," he says of the three two-barrel-carbureted intake system on his '62. "With the ZZ4 motor, the aluminum heads and all, it just fits it to a T-it performs good, and it looks good." One concern he had with the Six Shooter was hood clearance, which he solved using a classic piece of Corvette hardware and his own skills. "I was worried about the hood clearance and all, so that's why I used that '67 big-block (3x2) air cleaner," he says. "That's about as low a clearance in an air cleaner as you can get." Gerald, who's the owner of A&A Tool and Die in Tifton, made a top for it that gave plenty of clearance while matching his valve covers. He also made a lot of smaller parts as he needed them, such as underhood brackets for the Vintage Air A/C system. "We don't have any problems making that stuff," Gerald says with pride.
Also going on the ZZ4 was an MSD ignition, an HEI Pro Billet distributor, and an exhaust system made up of 17/8-inch Hedman Hedders, two-chamber Flowmaster mufflers, and 21/2-inch pipes tying it together. Going behind the Six Shooter-ified 350 was a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed, rebuilt by McKee's Repair in Tifton, and a C1 rearend with a 3.36-geared Posi-traction.
The body is the original, last-year-of-the-C1's fiberglass item that was relieved of its several previous paint jobs before its cowl vent was filled in and smoothed over. Says Gerald of the only body mod that his '62 received: "I thought that was a cleaner look. I put air and all that in this car, so I didn't have use for a fresh-air vent." Moultrie, Georgia's Scott Whidby did the fiberglass work, then sprayed on the PPG Starlight Silver poly paint.
Inside, there's a smaller-diameter (15-inch) steering wheel from Corvette Central that's right at home. Also finding a new home was a set of Dakota Digital gauges in the '62's original dash locations, as well as a Custom Autosound system that makes use of the OEM speaker location for a dual-cone speaker. New repro upholstery and a carpet set from Auto Custom Carpets completed the cabin's refit.
In all, the restoration-and-upgrade project took about a year. Gerald uses the '62 for fun drives, as well as taking it to shows and cruise-ins.
The '62 shares a garage with three '67 Sting Rays. The last C1s and C2s are Gerald's favorites. "It's one I wished I could have had back then," he says. "You know how it is, sometimes you just have to wait." But he isn't waiting to upgrade at least one of his midyears. "I've got the 'Street Shot' frame up under it, but I'm running a big-block, aluminum-head ZZ454 with Tri-Power in it. It looks almost factory original. To most people, this car will look original. To those that really know, they'll see the A-arms and stuff like that and know that it's an aftermarket frame." He's putting a Tremec five-speed and a Dana 44 rearend in the car, as well as big disc brakes all around.
Upgrading the brakes, as well as the steering, are the best things that anyone looking to build or restore a Corvette can do, according to Gerald, who says that the original parts-especially the steering-can cause lots of trouble. "You've got so much linkage, and you get a little play here and there, and it compounds. Before you know it, you're all over the place with it."