When Jim Rhea found his next project car in July of 1997, most people told him not to bother. They said the car was too far gone to restore. They said it wasn't worth dragging home. They said...Well, it doesn't matter what they said. Jim Rhea is not an individual who always heeds what others think should be done. Like some of Bowling Green, Kentucky's other products, Rhea marches to the beat of a different drummer. So when he found a '76 L-48 Corvette in dire need of some TLC, he was determined to give it just that.
To be honest, it seems Jim's "diamond in the rough" was hardly suitable for more than parting out, but that barely slowed Jim's determination. When he found it, the car had languished under a pile of scrap aluminum in a Pensacola, Florida backyard for over seven years! According to Jim, "the previous owner claimed that the car needed a brake job when it was parked. Now, instead of a $250 brake job, it would require a $10,000 'resurrection'."
The car was in very dubious shape. After seven years of constant north Florida sun and a partially open driver-side window, the entire interior had to be replaced. The body had been nicked, gouged, and assaulted by the aluminum piled all over and around it. Rats and mice had infested the forlorn Stingray's engine compartment, eating through all of the belts, hoses, and wiring. "My friend (and President of Corvettes Limited of Bowling Green), Gary Cockriel, told me, 'If you handed me the keys and said it's yours if you'll finish it, I'd turn you down.' Undeterred by this claim, I started with little more than a dream, a vision, and a very rough hulk of a car."
Jim spent the following year-and-a-half meticulously restoring the forsaken Shark to its former glory. The car is basically stock, with minor upgrades for better efficiency and performance. Jim replaced or repaired everything from top to bottom, doing nearly all the body, paint, engine, and interior work himself, with help from friends from Corvettes Limited for the heavy stuff like completely rebuilding the suspension and installing a new transmission. The only items Jim had done by outside sources were installing a new windshield, mounting and balancing the tires, and rebuilding the rear wheel bearings.
The Vette was originally a Code 10L Classic White coupe with Code 322 Blue-Green leather interior. The previous owner told Jim that the original owner had requested that the dealer change the seats and door panels to white upon delivery. While Jim has no way to officially verify that claim, only about four hundred Code 322 interiors were produced, and this one was unique. After substantial bodywork, which included replacing the torn and beaten urethane front and rear bumper covers with fiberglass duplicates that he bonded and molded to the body, Jim resprayed the '76 in acrylic enamel Classic White with a clear coat. He also updated the Shark's headlights with Halogen bulbs, then reupholstered the interior-at home-to "dealer specs" with blue-green and white leather supplied by Corvettes Original of Douglasville, Georgia. Creature comforts are a combination of old and new, including the factory air conditioning and a hidden Pioneer CD player with a multitude of Kenwood speakers.