One of the greatest things about the Corvette hobby is that there's room for-and acceptance of-all sorts of approaches to Corvette ownership. Perfect and correctly restored, or modified to suit one's personal preferences, a Vette is a Vette in the eyes of most enthusiasts. Some Corvette hobbyists, those with deep enough pockets, will have multiple examples of concours restorations and at least one plastic fantastic that has been built strictly to suit their individual tastes. Many of us of more modest means will own a "resto" (or a close-to-stock driver), then trade it off for the opportunity to build our personal vision of what a Corvette ought to be.
Rich and Barbara Lagasse of Enfield, Connecticut, have been down both sides of that particular road. Their first Corvette was a stock '80 L82 coupe, which was used regularly except during the worst of the winter seasons when the northeast's highways and byways were heavily salted. Their second Vette was a fully restored '66 big-block coupe with 17 options, including factory air and knock-offs. It consistently scored in the 99 percent range at NCRS events, earning numerous Top Flight awards in the process. But, in Rich's words, "We ended up treating it as a museum piece. It became more 'garage furniture' than something we could drive and enjoy." Ultimately, the award-winning '66 went to a new home, and Dick and Barbara decided to build a mid-year strictly to suit themselves.
They found a solid but nondescript, non-numbers matching small-block '67 convertible that was in need of help and immediately laid out plans for a total makeover. "Our objective was to attain high levels of power, handling, and braking," says Rich. We wanted a high level of performance while retaining the classic nature of a mid-year Corvette."
With plans in hand, the Lagasses began a body-off "restification" that took just seven months to complete, thanks to having work progressing separately yet simultaneously on the chassis, powertrain, and body. Rich and Arthur Bonneau of Bunjie's Hot Rod Shop in Brimfield, Massachusetts, handled the chassis chores, painting and detailing the frame, plus setting it up with a full complement of suspension goodies (composite front and rear monoleaf springs, tubular front control arms, offset rear trailing arms, larger-than-stock diameter front and rear stabilizer bars, Carrera gas shocks, and polyurethane bushings). They also upgraded the factory four-wheel disc brakes with stainless steel-sleeved calipers and cross-drilled rotors, and set the freshly finished chassis on the ground with a set of 17 x 7 (front) and 17 x 8 (rear) American Racing Torq Thrust II five-spoke wheels wrapped in 205/50 and 235/45 BFG Comp TA ZRs.
Meanwhile, a GM Performance Parts 502/502 crate engine was treated to a balanced and blueprinted shortblock and ported heads, painted the same RM Diamont Specialized Red that would soon be gracing the body, and graced with an Edelbrock water pump, March Performance pulleys, an 850-cfm Holley, and a slew of Billet Specialty dress-up items. After the oversized "Rat motor" was slipped in position, Lagasse and Bonneau fitted it with a custom-made set of Sanderson's block-hugger headers that were destined to be connected to a pair of factory sidepipes. Rich and Arthur faced-and overcame-several challenges when it came time to bolt up a Hurst-shifted Richmond five-speed gearbox to the GMPP 502. These included modifying the trans crossmember to mount the tranny in a lower-than-normal position (to clear the stock tunnel) and setting up hydraulic actuation for the Dual Friction clutch (accomplished with components from McLeod), since the 502 block lacked provisions for a clutch linkage bellcrank.