To many Vette lovers, the lower-compression engines that powered America's only true sports car beginning in 1971 were the beginning of the "dark days" for the Corvette. But that didn't stop Corvette sales from trending upward starting in 1971, just like it didn't stop one Vette owner from making his 454-powered '71 Stingray the best it could be for where it's driven-in Texas.
After selling a '69 Stingray convertible that he'd restored over the course of two years, Jim Richmond found his '71 convertible a few years back, and won the National Corvette Museum Award with it in 2004. He then received offers to sell the '69, a car he says was restored at the request of his wife, Carol. After selling it, they just had to get another C3, and a big-block one at that.
An Internet search turned up a '71 Stingray convertible with the factory-option LS5 454 in it, which was advertised as being "showroom quality." Once they had taken delivery of it at their Weatherford, Texas, home and driven it, though, they found there was a difference in opinion between their idea of "showroom quality" and the seller's.
"You couldn't drive it in Texas the way it was equipped," Jim says. "We had engine problems and everything else, so it's been totally rebuilt." That included a camshaft change and a retuning of the engine to run on pump gasoline, changing the rear gears from 4.11s to more-driveable 3.08s, and rebuilding the front and rear suspension with new front coils, a composite rear leaf, and urethane bushings all around. Jim also rebuilt the brake system, and he cured the chronic cooling problems that big-block Sharks have with a new radiator, water pump, and a hand-fabricated radiator supply tank. That adds up to a system that can handle the job of cooling the A/C-equipped LS5 in 100-plus-degree Texas summertime heat.
At first, those engine mods included a set of aftermarket cylinder heads, but Jim eventually decided to keep that part of his original GM car all GM. "There were some internal problems with the engine, so I decided that while I had it down in the garage, I'd go ahead and put the original heads back on it," Jim says. The same was true about the exhaust system. He'd replaced the stock setup with a pair of Hooker headers that flowed into a pair of 4-inch-diameter Hooker "Show Tube" sidepipes. "The headers were so burned up and black-and-blue you couldn't clean 'em up, and there was a lot of interference inside the engine compartment," Jim recalls. "So, I took those off and put my original cast-iron manifolds back on it and ran one single pipe to the 4-inch collectors on the sidepipes. I plugged three holes and ran one exhaust through them." Even with the stock exhaust manifolds on, Jim says the 454 sounds real good through the Show Tubes.
The '71 was built with the Custom Interior Trim option, so its black, leather-clad buckets received a set of reproduction leather seat covers, and the factory Delco radio was replaced by a Custom Autosound in-dash unit. Aside from a Hurst shifter stirring the original M21 four-speed, the cabin looks just like it did when Chevy's sales slogan was "Putting You First, Keeps Us First."
Outside, Jim made a big change-namely the body color, from the original Brands Hatch Green (the most-popular '71 Corvette color choice) to DuPont single-stage Porsche Red, sprayed on after the bodywork and paint prep were done.
Once Jim got his '71 right (in his view), what was it like to drive? "It's a dream-it's a pleasure to drive," Jim says. "We can hit the road in Texas in 105-degree heat and go all over, and we don't have to worry about overheating. Fuel mileage isn't very respectful on it, but it's to be expected with a big block. We're doing it for pure fun and pleasure."
Back in 1971, if you wanted good gas mileage in a new Chevy, you went with the Nova or the all-new Vega. With those two small-car lines plus Corvette, Chevelle, Monte Carlo, Camaro and an all-new fullsize Chevy (plus vans and C/K-series trucks), 1971 was a spectacular sales year for Chevrolet. Despite a 67-day national UAW strike against GM just after the '71s went on sale, Chevrolet sold more than three million cars and trucks that year for the first time ever. Nearly 22,000 of those were Corvettes, starting a decade-long Vette sales climb that peaked in 1979 with more than 53,000 Corvettes sold.
No matter what year Corvette you're looking at buying, Jim has this advice. "You darn sure better go see that car, inspect it yourself, and if you have a knowledgeable friend, you better take him with you." He says that his philosophy about Corvettes-shared by many-is that they're built to drive and enjoy. "I don't trailer anything," he says (despite having his '71 ferried home one time from Wichita Falls, Texas, to his home in Weatherford after his power-steering pump seized).
"I own three Corvettes-two are operational, and one's under restoration right now," Jim says. "It will be my last one because of my age. It's just time to finish this last one up, keep what I have, and enjoy 'em." His current (and final) project is a 327/300-powered '64 Sting Ray convertible, which will join Jim's '71 and a yellow '01 convertible when it's done.
Jim notes that some NCRS members, including more than a few of his friends and fellow Lone Star Corvette Club members, get on him about what he did to his Shark to make it driveable. "I catch a lot of repercussion from them, and we take it jokingly," he says. "It's my touch, it's my drive, and it's my Corvette, so I just laugh it off and go on."
Data File: '71 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible
Owned by: Jim and Carol Richmond, Weatherford, Texas
Production '71 Corvette, with color change from OEM Brands Hatch Green
Paint: DuPont Porsche Red, single-stage
Frame: Production '71 Corvette
Suspension: (Front) Reproduction OEM coil springs with unequal-length A-arms and tubular KGB shocks (Rear) independent rear suspension with tubular KGB shocks and composite monoleaf rear spring replacing OEM steel leaf bundle
Steering: Restored OEM GM-Saginaw recirculating-ball, power-assisted
Brakes: Restored OEM GM-Delco Moraine four-wheel discs with four-piston calipers
Wheels: OEM-style Rally wheels, 15x8 inches in front and rear
Tires: BFGoodrich Radial T/As, 245/60R15 (front), 255/60R15 (rear)
Chevrolet Mark IV overhead-valve V-8 (RPO LS5)
Built by: Wells Performance, Weatherford, Texas
Modifications: 0.060-inch overbore, TRW pistons, Iskenderian hydraulic roller camshaft, Comp Cams valvesprings, Manley valves (2.19-inch intake/1.88-inch exhaust) and a hand-fabricated radiator supply tank.
Displacement: Somewhat more than 454 ci (7.4L+)
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Cylinder heads: Rebuilt OEM '71 LS5 cast-iron heads
Ignition: MSD ignition with Mallory HEI distributor
Induction: Edelbrock four-barrel carburetor on OEM cast-iron intake manifold
Exhaust: OEM cast-iron exhaust manifolds and chrome-plated Hooker Show Tubes 4-inch-diameter side exhausts
Horsepower: 365 at 4,800 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 465 lb-ft at 3,400 rpm (Advertised)
OEM Muncie M21 four-speed manual
Built by: GM-Muncie Gear Division, Muncie, Indiana
Rearend: 8 3/4;-inch Dana with RPO G80 Positraction and 3.08:1 rear gears
Restored production '71 Corvette with optional Custom Interior Trim package (including leather seats, woodgrain trim and cut-pile carpeting)
Seats: Restored '71 Corvette buckets
Upholstery: Black leather
Carpets: Black cut-pile
Instrumentation: OEM '71 Corvette (0- to 160-mph speedometer, 0-to 8,000-rpm tachometer with 5,600-rpm redline, plus fuel level, oil pressure, ammeter, coolant temperature gauges, and electric clock)
Sound system: Custom Autosound AM/FM radio with cassette player
HVAC: OEM GM with Frigidaire A/C compressor