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1968 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible - (Re)Born On The Bayou

One Man's Dream Becomes Another Man's Reality

Rob Wallace III Jan 1, 2002 0 Comment(s)
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How many ways are there to say something is perfect? Well, there's flawless, impeccable, faultless, excellent, immaculate, crowning, sublime, or beyond all praise. All of these suit the '68 convertible owned by Lafayette, Louisiana's Francis LeBlanc, but there is one synonym that describes it even better. There really is only one word for perfection in plastic: Duntov.

About two years ago, Francis managed to talk his friend, Bruce Clark, into selling him a wretched-yet mostly intact-big-block '68 convertible. Bruce had owned the car for nearly a decade, intending all along to restore the Shark to glory and street driving. He'd been collecting bits and pieces over the years that would eventually bring the dilapidated '68 back to correct and respectable condition. But the '68 was on the back burner, and when Francis approached him, Bruce was at a crossroads in his life, having just joined forces with long-time Corvette restorer, Paul Johnson. Their joint venture, Dreamworks Restorations based in Southern Louisiana, claimed most of Bruce's attention, so Francis got himself a ragtop in need of a thorough restoration. And Dreamworks got its first major customer.

Restoring LeBlanc's '68 was the first big project for the combined efforts of the Dreamworks team-including Bruce, Paul Johnson, his brother Marvin Johnson, and Todd Landry-and it was a very big project indeed. Although it was a complete car with all its original major drivetrain components, the Shark needed lots of help. According to Paul, nothing had been left untouched by the time they were done. The car didn't seem bad at first, but the deeper they dug, the more they found to be in need of help.

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Because of minor collision damage that was improperly repaired long ago, extensive body repairs were needed. The Shark had a one-piece 'glass nose, and they found rot in the upper doorframes, among many other subtle ailments. Dreamworks did an intensive search for replacement parts, and used only NOS and correctly dated pieces in the restoration. New Old Stock front 'glass, as well as tail and rear quarter-panels were scrounged up. Paul did lots of surgery on the cowl area to correct the damage from the long-ago accident.

When in the pursuit of perfection, there are no shortcuts. Although the entire project was completed in less than a year, many hundreds of man-hours were invested, including research. The '68 was rebuilt with the same methods used by the St. Louis Assembly Plant in the first place. The vacuum-operated panel that hides the windshield wipers shows scratch marks from the milling process, just like it would have on the showroom floor in 1968. Paul sprayed the Shark with two coats of Safari Yellow lacquer, wet color-sanding between coats, to recreate the exact degree of orange peel and over spray in just the right places. He also left hard-to-reach painted areas unbuffed, like the semi-gloss door jams, just as it would have been from the assembly line 34 years ago.

Every number throughout the Corvette matches properly. In fact, all of the major driveline components like the L36 motor, M40 Turbo 400 automatic, and 3.08:1-geared Posi rearend are all original equipment. Under the hood is an immaculate 427/390hp "rat," with correct date-codes on all parts including the Rochester Q-Jet carb and standard points ignition. All chassis pieces are factory correct NOS pieces. Basic four-piston caliper disc brakes are found at all corners, behind RPO P01 bright metal wheel covers. The NOS wheels wear reproductions of the original Firestone F70x15 red-striped nylon tires.

This '68 convertible was a basic, low-options, bang-for-the-buck big-block Corvette. It came with hand-crank windows, "armstrong" (i.e. non-power) steering, no power assist for the brakes, standard (non-telescoping) steering column, and no A/C. It does have the standard AM/FM radio, and among its few upgrades are an auxiliary hardtop adorned in black vinyl, and black leather seats. The upholstery, supplied by Al Knoch in El Paso, Texas, was one of the only aspects of the restoration that Dreamworks farmed out.

At its first outing, an NCRS regional meet near Chicago, the big-block Shark earned its first Top Flight recognition, with encores at every subsequent show. It aced every judging manual point at each show, and never lost a single point for paint. In fact, the only points it lost were on subjective matters, varying from one judge to the next. Even under the toughest of scrutiny by NCRS judges at the Bowling Green Nationals in 2000, Francis left with 98.4%, and the Ladies Choice award, meaning it was the most popular Vette there among the women folk. Perhaps the toughest trial a Duntov candidate must pass is its Performance Verification, where absolutely everything must be perfectly operational, from lights, to interior switches, hinges, even the spare tire jack. Everything. Francis' convertible passed on its first try, at the Stone Mountain, Georgia regional event. Finally, after only one year on the NCRS show circuit, the '68 earned the Duntov award, the highest honor possible for vintage Vettes, at the Galveston, Texas NCRS Nationals last summer.

Now that the Shark has earned the Duntov, Francis is retiring it from the status of "trailer queen" to a life of pleasurable, good-weather driving. He displays it at local shows, and only trailers it to long-distance events, like the World of Wheels in Houston. "The Duntov is done. It's back to being a real car," he says. From the very beginning, the goal was to take the '68 back to original condition, with the very real prospect of Top Flight certification. But, like Bruce, Francis wanted a nice street car. Going for the Duntov was almost an afterthought. Francis appreciates the Vette for what it is, and everyone involved has enjoyed its successes. This Cajun Corvette went from Bruce's good intentions to fruition for Francis, and it all happened among friends.




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