In Corvette Summer, a romantic comedy adventure from the mid-'70s, a loner named Kenneth W. Dantley, Jr., played by Mark Hamill (who gained much more fame as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and its sequels), customizes a wrecked Corvette in his highschool auto shop class. Later, somebody steals his dream Corvette. We won't give away the ending, but will tell you that Dantley dedicates his summer to finding his pride and joy. Annie Potts plays Vanessa, a girl of, to put it politely, dubious virtue who Dantley meets in Las Vegas and who helps him emerge from ugly ducklinghood.
The story line is trite but true to movie hood with the 'good guy' finally getting the girl and learning a lesson in the process. Plus, he manages to get back his car, the customized Corvette, which we'd say is like having your cake and eating it, too.
There's no question the movie exposure is what makes this car so popular today. Millions of people have seen the movie Corvette Summer and, when they see the car in person in Mid America Designs' "My Garage" collection, all those memories flood back in. Maybe so many of us wanted a Corvette Summer and didn't get it, or we're still looking and hoping.
The car itself is, if we can be so bold to say, on the ugly side. The hood is gargantuan and none of the nine (count 'em) scoops works. The strange front and rear end have no bumpers. Like the rest of the car, the engine is 'all hat and no ranch,' meaning multiple carbs, but nothing hot under there them to feed.
Yet, the car packs 'em in at Mike Yager's Corvette museum in Effingham, Illinois. Dennis Gunning, the museum curator, told us, "A great percentage of the people who view the car recall the film after they see the Corvette. They either hate it or love it. Either way, they are in awe."
Mid-America Designs bought the famous Stingray from the "Corvette America Museum" in New York last summer when that organization went out of business. They have the car on display in a neat little setting with a movie theater-style back drop. Hardly a week goes by that Dennis doesn't get a letter or an e-mail from a fan wanting to purchase a body kit or a mold of the car so they can make a replica.
As far as we know, nobody has yet made a replica, but if they did, we doubt very seriously they'd convert the steering to right hand drive. This is the most curious feature of the car. You had to seeethe movie to know why the steering wheel's on the 'wrong side.' It seems the star of the movie, Dantley, wanted to be next to the girls as he cruised on the street, especially Van Nuys Boulevard.
When Dennis Gunning got the car he was surprised to see the relocated steering, but he was really flabbergasted at the conversion. The stock steering box remains on the left hand side. Meanwhile, steering action is transmitted to and from the right side via a Harley-Davidson motorcycle chain and two sprockets bolted under the dash. Obviously, this film car wasn't meant to be driven hard.
The hood is clamshell style, and the most impressive custom feature, done before the C4 debuted in 1983. In the movie, the Corvette Summer Corvette is powered by a 350 with an Edelbrock intake and single four-barrel. Somewhere along the line, the engine got souped up. Currently, the Chevy small-block sports a tunnel ram intake and dual quad Holleys.
The multi-hued paint is metalflake, and applied the old fashioned way in six to eight different layers. The base coat, Gunning says, is gold 'flake' topped with red and orange translucent tint coats and clear top coats. The strange scallops were taped off, and when the painter removed the tape on various sections, the design in gold, orange, and red showed through. The technique is simplistic, but has dazzling results, as you can see. This type of paint was not renowned for durability, so it's amazing to see how well Corvette Summer's paint has help up over the years.
The '78-82-style moonroof T-Tops have been replaced. The modified tops in the movie had a border of about 3-inches painted to match the body. The interior upholstery was originally saddle and has been dyed black.
Overall, the car remains pretty much as is from the movie. The highly customized '73 T-Top coupe retains the original paint, mirrors, Western wheels, tires, exhausts, and just about everything else as far as Dennis can determine.
This coming September, 2001, Mid-America Designs' Annual Corvette Funfest show will have as its theme "Corvette Summer". Mark Hamill has agreed to come to the show to sign autographs. Of course, the famous car will be on display, as it always is, in the My Garage collection which is open to the public at no charge. Although neither the movie nor the car has reached cult status, perhaps the time is coming for both.
PS: We understand there were two Corvette Summer Corvettes built for the movie. This one was the "movie version", but there supposedly was also a "stunt version" which is said to have been sold to somebody in Australia about 15 years ago. If you know of the whereabouts of the second Corvette Summer Stingray, send a letter or e-mail to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.