Some of the biggest attention-getters in the Corvette world were, at one time, projects that may have looked good from a distance. Be it 2 feet, 20 feet, or 20 miles, there was a distance from which these Vettes looked good. But their flaws became more evident the closer you got.
Kerry Detwiler's '73 Stingray convertible was a "10-footer" when he discovered it, but his first look at it was from farther away, while on a Vette-hunting trip from his home in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. "I was going from my house to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, to look at another Corvette-a blue-on-blue '70 or '71," he says of the trip where he was seeking a chrome-bumpered Shark. "On the way up, I passed a car dealer's used-car showroom, and they had a '73 and a '67 nose-to-nose in the middle of the showroom."
Kerry says he thought that dealer would be asking too much for the '73, and kept on toward Lebanon. There, he found a chrome-bumper Shark all right-one for which the term "20-footer" would be too kind a description. (Maybe "20-miler" would have been more accurate.) "It was a real piece of crap," he recalls. "It certainly wasn't anything you were going to want to drive. I was looking for something that, if it was a little rough that was OK, but I wanted to be able to drive it and be proud that I was driving a Corvette at the time. I was there for a couple minutes, and then I turned around and came back."
On his way home, he decided to stop and look at the '73. That's despite the fact that he had his heart set on a '68-'72 Corvette and not a '73-'82 rubber bumper C3. "I figured, what the heck, I'll look at this car," Kerry says. "I crawled all over it, but I really wasn't sure that I wanted it." Kerry thought about it for a few days, then called the dealer and, before long, made the deal and brought it home. It drove all right for a 20-plus-year-old used car, one with some visible flaws. "It had stress cracks in the body, but it was a 10-footer," says Kerry. "From 10 feet on back, the car looked great."
If you know anything about unrestored Corvettes, you know they can hide a lot of problems. Kerry soon found out that this one had "bodywork by committee" performed on it. "There were body parts from at least three different cars under there, based on the base paint colors that we found when we stripped it." But that wasn't all they found. "The whole passenger-side door was rotted," he adds. "You never would have known that by looking at it from the outside. Denny Widman-the guy who worked on it-said, 'I've never seen one like this. There's nothing left.' So, we replaced that whole door."
They also decided to replace the '73's front bumper and its age-related flaws; at the same time they chose an RM Diamont custom-mixed dark metallic red paint scheme with flames blended from metallic gold/purple/light red. "I wasn't real keen on it at first, and then we started looking at them," he says of the replacement bumpers considered before choosing ACI's '80-style nose. "When I saw that we could use the stock '73 grilles inside it, we put it together with an air dam underneath, and I really liked how it looked."
Not only did the body get the attention it needed, the '73's mechanical systems also needed help-and got it. When he bought the Vette, its brakes worked, but a look under the car while at the nearby Watash Speed Shop in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, was very revealing. "Once they got underneath it, they said, 'You've got to fix it!'" Kerry says. "The brakes that were on it were wasted. It was a miracle they stopped the car." Off came what was left of the original brake system, replaced by new hardware from Vette Brakes and Parts (VBP). "They put all-new brakes on it, with stainless-steel sleeved calipers and DOT-5 silicon brake fluid," says Kerry. "For having manual brakes, it stops pretty good. You've got to give it a push, but it'll stop. Four-wheel-disc is four-wheel-disc."
Watash Speed Shop is also where Kerry got help updating the '73 under the hood. Back in the '90s, when he started on this project, there wasn't the array of crate engines available from multiple sources that there is now, but the shop in Lansdale did have a source for a strong small-block short-block. "The guy in charge of the garage at the speed shop back then, Dave Martin, said, 'We can get this from Jasper however we want it-steel crank, balanced, and blueprinted, the whole nine yards. We'll just put whatever heads and cam you want on it.'" Soon after, a four-bolt-main-based short-block arrived from Jasper, and Kerry set out to find heads and other top-end parts to go on it. He found a pair of heads for it at Carlisle. "I picked up a set of factory aluminum heads from a '92 or '93 Corvette cheap, for $200," he says of his swap-meet score. "I took them to a machine shop down here, had them checked for cracks, had a valve job done, then put Lunati valves and springs in, and a mild solid-lifter cam."
That 355-inch small-block powered Kerry's '73 for several years, when the desire for more speed and power led him to call Summit Racing Equipment. "I told them what I had in the bottom end, and told them what horsepower I was looking for," he says. "They rattled off a list of parts, which were the Trick Flow heads, a hydraulic roller cam, and lifters from Comp Cams." Kerry has also added an Edelbrock Air Gap intake topped by a Holley 750. This past winter he pulled out the small-block, and on went a new oil pan and an engine paint/detail job.
The '73's rolling stock also got an update, while keeping a classic look-and avoiding the "marshmallowy" handling that can result with 70-series radial-ply tires on Rallye wheels. "With the old Rallye wheels on it, those tires had a bit of a sidewall, and they didn't feel like they were stuck to the road," Kerry says. He's now got big American Racing Torq-Thrusts wrapped in high-performance Toyo rubber. "With the wheel-and-tire combination that's on the car right now, it's tight. It feels real good. When you go around corners it won't keep up with a new one, but for having stock suspension, it sticks to the road pretty good." Aside from the cornering and braking, how is Kerry's '73 to drive? "It's not bad at all," he says with a bit of understatement.
With the summer show season upon us, you might be tempted to seek out a project-worthy Corvette in the show field, car corral, or swap meet. Kerry's got some advice if you're planning to start a project: "Build it to drive it. What good is a car if you're not going to drive it?" Thanks to his eye for Sharks, he found a "10-footer" that he and his wife Melissa now enjoy taking to shows and events in the Delaware Valley and beyond. It's a Vette Rod that came together faster and better than the "20 miler" he went to see long ago would have!