Go to just about any Corvette show, and you'll likely come across at least one car that really stands out from the crowd. That doesn't mean that the rest of the Vettes aren't nice-some cars just have that "something" that makes people stop for a closer look. At a national "happening" with thousands of cars, like Carlisle or Mid America's Funfest, there's usually more than one such car. To be the star at one of these shows is difficult at best; there's just so many incredible cars to check out.
At Corvettes at Carlisle 2001, however, there could be little doubt that the star of the show was Rich and Barbara Lagasse's LS6-powered, Paul Newman-chassised, immaculately detailed '62 roadster. Even the Lagasses were a bit surprised at the reaction to their latest project, completed the night before they had to leave for Carlisle. There was a constant crowd around the car, keeping Rich and Barbara busy answering questions. "People kept coming back," Rich remembers. "They'd comment on how they were still noticing new stuff after two or three looks." Perhaps the biggest compliment, though, came from a member of the Corvette engineering team. An unidentified member of the group came back for another look, telling Rich, "You know, there's not too many cars that we end up discussing over dinner."
So how did the Lagasses, residents of Enfield, Connecticut, end up with the star of Carlisle 2001? Rich's love affair with high-performance started when he was only 10 and began racing (go-karts and endurance events) with his father, doing so into his early 20s. It's possible that Rich's Bow Tie enthusiasm started with his father's '54 Chevy, which, equipped with dual carbs and a high-lift cam, blew away his uncle's Ford. It was only after a long hiatus from American iron, however, that Rich returned to those roots.
Not that he gave up on performance. As Rich and Barbara married, started their careers (Rich ended up as a vice president with The Hartford Financial Services; Barbara still works as a nurse manager for Aetna), and raised their two sons, Rich stayed interested in performance cars. He went through a Porsche "phase;" in fact, he admits to having "been through all the German cars." The problem, according to Rich, is that he couldn't do much of his own work on these cars, and he wanted to get "hands on." The search for performance and a chance to get their hands dirty led the Lagasses to the Corvette hobby. They were involved with NCRS for nearly a decade, showing a highly optioned '66 big-block coupe. And while they enjoyed their time doing so, Rich and Barbara eventually found themselves looking for more variety.
Rich is clear about his reasons for wanting to blaze his own path when it comes to his Corvettes. When Rich found out how rare and valuable the '66 was, it got driven less. So, "we bought the cars to drive," is the first one Rich brings up. "And, we wanted to dive in and build a car that reflects how we think these cars should be. We want to improve the performance, in a package that's readily identifiable. Something creative and unique, but that maintains the integrity of the original. We want to follow our own rules, not 'the book.'" The idea behind these rules follows a concept that Lagasse calls "Pro Classic": the creation of a Corvette with "improved handling, ride, braking, comfort, and performance, while maintaining the integrity of the original classic design."
The first result of the Lagasses' new way of thinking was their '67 big-block convertible, itself a showstopper (see "Been There, Done That," Jan. '01). For their next act, and not wanting to cover what they call "old ground," Rich and Barbara decided to go even farther with their next project. For a starting point, Rich found a '62 roadster that was missing its original engine, and hadn't been driven since 1988. The old solid-axle was a bit too far gone for a restoration, which made it perfect for what the Lagasses had in mind.
Once the donor car was acquired, Rich went to work. His experience as a project manager was invaluable. "I picked the right teams for each task," he says. "People with skill and the proper attitude." What resulted is an assembly and fabrication process we couldn't begin to re-create here. The bulk of the assembly was handled by Lagasse and Arthur Bonneau of Bunjie's Hot Rod Shop in Brimfield, Massachusetts, but multiple tasks wre happening at once; at one point, parts of the '62 were in nine states and Canada. The much-condensed version goes something like this: