The lives and times of Corvettes are as varied as the people who own them. And like the personalities of the people, the personalities of the cars fall on a bell curve. Most of the million-plus Corvettes built since 1953 have led pretty ordinary lives. They are like the civil servants, small business owners, ordinary laborers, next door neighbors, and relatively normal mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters we all know and love.
Then of course, there are the extraordinary and out-of-the-ordinary Corvettes-the ones that slip off that center portion of the bell curve and land squarely on its fringes. Bob Epperson's '69 Can-Am coupe is one of those cars that clearly falls at the ragged edges of the curve. It is like that one out-of-control wild kid everyone encountered while growing up. You just knew he or she would wind up dead or in jail at some early stage in the game. On very rare occasions, however, many years later, you sometimes learn that the wild one somehow managed to cheat fate and through it all still survives. Well, Epperson's Corvette cheated fate and is alive and well to this very day.
Its life began ordinarily enough. For the first few years the car did the same things as most other Corvettes of the era. It took several owners back and forth to work and out on the town in style, and met with mixed success on the street-racing scene. Then in 1972 the car was involved in an accident that led to State Farm Insurance Company assuming ownership.
In October of that year, State Farm sold the damaged Corvette to V. V. Cooke Chevrolet in Louisville, Kentucky. V. V, Cooke was a well-known dealer that was involved in road racing Corvettes in the late '60s and early '70s.
But the banged up '69 coupe was not destined to become one of V. V. Cooke's championship winning road racers. Instead, the dealership purchased it in order to build an eye-popping, heart-stopping show car.
To begin with, the original body was replaced with a complete Eckler's Can-Am II kit. Consisting of radically widened and reshaped front and rear body sections that flow together via aerodynamic door pods, a wild custom hood, and one-of-a-kind tops, the exterior's aggressive looks are a perfect match for what's in the engine bay.
When V. V. Cooke built the showpiece they installed an all-out race prepared big-block monster under the hood. Jim Minnick Racing Enterprises built the powerplant using a four-bolt main block and ZL1 internal components. After every component passed X-ray or Magnaflux inspection Minnick assembled the engine with great precision and care. Extensive porting and polishing, perfect balancing, and lots of custom touches all add up to incredible power and impressive durability.
The drivetrain and chassis were set up to match the potent big-block's output. A blueprinted M22 and custom-balanced ZL1 clutch/pressure plate assembly help send the power back to the rear wheels. Koni shocks, heavy-duty front springs, a Daytona rear spring, urethane bushings, and large anti-sway bars fore and aft make sure the power reaches the ground.
When originally built the car was fitted with huge custom mag wheels and finished in a wild blue and white paint scheme. V. V. Cooke made extensive use of it at custom car shows, rally races, club time trials, and other non-wheel-to-wheel competitions
In 1987 V. V. Cooke, Jr. decided to sell the car and contacted current owner Bob Epperson to learn if he would be interested in buying it. Cooke and Epperson went back a long way together, and Epperson actually helped build the car and then drove it for Cooke's dealership. For understandable reasons Epperson had a great deal of affection for the car and agreed to buy it without hesitation.
The car was completely intact and functional when Epperson took delivery, and he enjoyed it "as is" for the following eight years. Then in 1995 he decided to do some cosmetic restoration work. The awesome Eckler's Can-Am body was completely disassembled and stripped to the bare fiberglass. Jim Mayden sprayed the dazzling red hue and custom stripes according to a design Epperson came up with. "I thought about repainting it exactly the way V. V. built it," Epperson says, "but I really wanted something a little more subdued and I love red, so I came up with this design."
Epperson also added chromed late-model ZR1 wheels, though of course he kept the American Racing mags that were on the car. "I think they give it kind of a high-tech look," he says, "and nicely blend the old with the new."
All throughout his ownership of this unique Corvette, Epperson has continued to compete with it. And after owning it for 12 years, and working on it and driving it for V. V. Cooke for another 12 years before that, he has a lot of great memories.
"There are two on-track accomplishments that really stand out in my memory," says Epperson. "The first was an SCCA two-day event for race cars only. It was held on a one-mile course with some tight turns and I had fastest time of the event, beating out a Formula Ford and winning a beautiful champagne bucket. The second, called the Corvette/Porsche Challenge, was in Columbus, Ohio. Two hundred of the baddest Corvettes and Porsches showed up to compete on a quarter-mile banked track that went into a half-mile high-banked track. There were other L88s and big-motor Porsches, but none could beat us!"
In addition to competing in the car Epperson has also actively shown it during the past few years, bringing home more than 100 trophies for his efforts. "My best memory of a show," he reports, "was getting picked out of 3,500 Corvettes in 1997 at the Mid America FunFest to go into the winner's circle."
While Epperson continues to show the car frequently, his competition activity has trailed off recently. "After I had it repainted I didn't want to get it messed up," he says rather apologetically. "I've thought about vintage racing it just for exhibition, but that's not in my nature. I'm from the old school of racing. When I go out on the track it's to win. I can't hold back. And with this car, there is no holding back!"
One look at this wild machine and you can't disagree with Epperson's assessment. From its wild custom-painted Can-Am II body to its mega-horsepower big-block, there's just no holding this unique Corvette back.