The age of spectacular barn finds is mostly over: there aren't any more Le Mans Bentleys still sleeping under inches of dust in English barns. For the alert and lucky Corvette enthusiast, though, there are still a few gems hiding out there, and Seattle's Dan Pepper tracked one down.
Dan Pepper has been a Corvette nut since 1970 when he first got a ride at the age of six in a brand new Laguna Grey coupe. Like watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on TV the summer before, that experience is still a vivid memory. Over the years, he pined for a C1 or C2, and finally bought his '66 427/390 Coupe, which is unrestored and has earned NCRS Top Flight recognition.
An additional "ordinary" Corvette was required to keep the miles low on the '66, but the C2 market was going through the roof, so Dan started looking for a nice original chrome-bumper C3 to use as a driver. He found an ultra-clean low-miles '69 350/350hp coupe in Monaco Orange over black vinyl. The '69 coupe got him interested in the C3 chapter of Corvette history, and he decided a nice big-block would round out his collection. Perhaps a 435hp tri-power car, or possibly one of the rare LS6 '71 Corvettes with aluminum heads...the search was back on.
During a protracted and ultimately unsuccessful bidding war over a survivor-quality '71 LS6 Coupe, he got to know the LS6's owner, retired Boeing engineer Brian Graebel. While Brian was commiserating with Dan over losing the bidding contest and thanking him for inadvertently helping to jack the final sale price up to a very useful sum-Dan kept bidding right up to the edge of risking his kids' college fund-he happened to mention a friend and co-worker who owned a '70 ZR1.
So what are the chances that a guy who owned a very rare car like a '71 LS6 Corvette worked elbow-to-elbow with another guy who owned an even more rare '70 ZR1? It sounded unlikely. However, Brian drove Dan over to meet "Mr. ZR1," Darrell Boettger, whose garage door was rolled up to reveal a weary-looking Bridgehampton Blue Corvette Coupe hoisted up on a 4-post lift. It was coated in dust and not an impressive sight. Dan spent the next two hours poking about with a flashlight, clipboard and digital camera, although Darrell wasn't interested in selling the car.
Darrell had originally thought it was just an LT1 with an M22 transmission and a 4.56 posi rear end. After buying the car and graduating from Purdue University in 1979, he took a job at the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington, as a propulsion engineer, and towed the Corvette behind his Camaro from Indiana to Seattle in the middle of winter. The windshield got cracked as he jackknifed on an ice patch in NE Oregon. Luckily there was no other damage (other than to the Camaro's driver seat upholstery).
A new career, bride and baby mostly elbowed the Corvette aside, but in the mid '80s Darrell went to overhaul the brakes and took the old front brake pads to a local Corvette shop. The shop owner, well-known west coast SCCA racer Rick Stark, asked him what the dual-pin pads were from and explained that those J56 brakes were only available on the ZR1 in 1970. Darrell then realized the car might be a ZR1. Trips to Bloomington Gold, and correspondence with ZR1 experts regarding engine pad, date codes, tank sticker and the car's unique configuration, confirmed that the blue coupe was one of the 25 ZR1s produced in 1970. Dan's research and photos further confirmed that this car was a truly rare piece of Corvette history.