My Corvette dream began rather modestly. My father, like many born during the Great Depression, preached practicality on major spending decisions, including cars (my mom says his '68 El Camino SS was a mid-life fluke). I was born in the mid-'60s, the height of the musclecar era, and have always been intrigued by these monsters. My parents said that I could identify many cars by year when I was only six or seven. However, my father won out when we bought my first car and convinced me that an '81 Ford Escort was a sports car because it had "SS" decals. I must admit that the four-banger lasted several years, getting me through high school and college, and into my profession as a firefighter.
In 1988, as a rookie firefighter and on my own for the first time, I began looking for the sports/musclecar of my dreams. I'd always been fascinated by Corvettes, but assumed they were out of my price range. So I settled for a black '86 Trans Am, a nice car, but not a Corvette. When I discovered that it was depreciating by about $2,000 a year, I decided it had to go.
In the fall of 1990, I found a tired-looking, orange 1973 Chevy Corvette L48 Coupe at a local used car lot. The tires were bald, the interior was worn, the paint was bad, and the wavy left quarter-panel indicated it had been hit, but hey, it was a Corvette! We jump-started it off my Trans Am, and the roar of the 350 sold me. After some negotiations, the dealer and I agreed to an even trade of my Trans Am for the old, Vette and I took my new prize home. Fortunately, when I got home, I learned that my newlywed wife's dream car was-a Corvette, which made the transition to this worn-out beauty a little more palatable to her than I'd expected. Her only concern was the color: "It looks like a pumpkin!" I assured her we could change that.
We drove it the rest of that fall before garaging it for the long Michigan winter. The winter seemed too long, and I couldn't keep my hands off the car. I'd done a lot of research on Corvettes and had read a lot of issues of VETTE, which gave me the courage to begin what turned into a love-hate relationship and the adventure of a lifetime.
I began by gutting the interior. I was working in a one-car garage, so the parts were stored in the attic, the laundry room, the garden shed, anywhere I could find space. Next, I decided to disassemble the engine for cleaning and detailing. I'd had it tested prior to storage so I knew, despite the indicated 96,000 miles, that it was tight and didn't need to be rebuilt. I rationalized that the easiest way to get the engine out would be to remove the body; plus I could paint the frame while I was at it. At this point, I'm sure that many Corvette owners are smiling with familiarity, having been down this same road themselves. What starts off as a winter refresher turns into a major frame-off project. I extracted the frame bolts which, for a car that had endured numerous Michigan winters, was no easy task, and trailered the body to a friend's barn for storage while I completed the frame and engine detailing.
By spring, it was obvious that the car wouldn't be roadworthy that year, so I decided to take my time and do it right. I'd work on it in my spare time, then take a few weeks' break while both my knuckles and my relationship with my wife healed. Actually, Marie was great. As long as I called it her car, she put up with the expenses and the late nights I spent in the garage. Months turned into years and many changes occurred. Our first daughter was born in 1993, we bought a new home in 1995, our son was born in 1996, followed a year later by another daughter. Those events dominated our lives and the Corvette was pushed onto the backburner.
Then, in January 1998, Marie gave me an ultimatum: finish it or sell it! This gave me the ambition I needed (funny how wives have a way of doing that). I hit the project hard and by March was ready to drop the body back in place. I'd read about the '73 Silver Salute at the upcoming Bloomington Gold and was determined to be there with my (her) Corvette. Toward the end, I was tempted to hurry up and finish, but having invested so much time and effort, I convinced myself to do it right.
We reunited the body and frame in May, and took the car to Pro Collision of West Michigan to be stripped and painted. They do a lot of specialty work, and know how to do it right. The waves in the left quarter were the results of a previous repair and, in fact, the entire left corner of the body had been replaced. Fixing this took more time than anticipated because the previous repair (?) had been done with drywall tape and epoxy! I felt pretty good about my Bloomington deadline until a windstorm struck the area, leaving the shop without power for several days. After four weeks, they completed the job (fiberglass repairs, new factory orange paint, plus clearcoating, which gives the '73 an extremely deep finish) and I brought it home for final reassembly.
I finished it two days before we left for Bloomington and there wasn't time for a road test, so its test was the 350-mile trek to Illinois. It performed flawlessly and showed well in the Silver Salute.
I'm very proud of our project. I disassembled virtually every nut and bolt on the car and renewed or replaced as necessary. As for the color? Well, Marie decided that the orange grew on her over the years, so we kept it original. And we've discovered that the orange exterior with black interior is somewhat uncommon, so we're glad we left it that way. The license plate reflects Marie's true opinion of the paint-she still thinks it's, "2ORANGE!"
Editor's Note: This series spotlights reader experiences with their own Corvettes, described in their own words. To be considered for publication, submit 20 vertical-format 50-100 ASA slides and your own typewritten Corvette experience in 500 words or less to: Me & My Vette, Vette Magazine, 774 S. Placentia Ave., Placentia, CA 92870. Please send your submission on computer disk when possible. If we use your story, we'll pay you $75. Be sure to include your Social Security number.