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1966 Chevrolet Corvette - Hail To The Chief...

...And The Chief's Favorite Toy

Richard Prince Dec 1, 2002
Vemp_0212_01_z 1966_chevrolet_corvette Front_view 2/8

The car has a brand-new soft top, but Ken loves open air cruising so it never sees the light of day! American Racing mags with custom fabricated spinners look period correct and give the exterior some flash.

As is true in all professions where people put their lives on the line to help others, the men and women of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) regard their positions as far more than simply a means to earn a living. For most, the commitment to save lives is a way of life, equally the most demanding and the most satisfying job they can imagine. Whether they are a first generation firefighter, or as is often the case, the latest generation in a long line of family members who have served before them, all are fully devoted to the department they love so dearly and the public they serve so bravely.

None exemplify this better than Ken Cerreta who reluctantly retired in 2000 after 36 years of service. Even though he's enjoying his well-earned retirement immensely, Ken still misses the job every day. "In all those years," he recalls, "I never minded going to work. In fact, I always looked forward to it. I had the privilege and honor of working with the finest group of men there are-firemen"

When Ken retired he held the rank of Assistant Chief of Department in the Bureau of Operations, which in effect made him responsible for fire operations in the entire city of New York. His wife knows full well where he would have been on September 11 had he still been on the job, and still grows pale at the thought of how her family was spared the depths of personal tragedy so many others close to them suffered on that fateful day.

Vemp_0212_03_z 1966_chevrolet_corvette ZZ3_engine 3/8

The original engine is long gone, but its replacement, a GM Performance Parts ZZ3 late-model, high-performance 350 is perfect for this driver.

Nine years ago he was Commander of Manhattan South and functioned as the Incident Commander at the World Trade Center immediately following the 1993 bombing. After the Chief of the Department arrived on scene and took over as Incident Commander, Ken could have stood at the Command Post but instead chose to spend the next 10 hours in the bomb crater supervising all below-grade operations.

Even in retirement a fireman is still a fireman, and within hours of the Twin Towers collapse Ken was on site lending a helping hand. Interestingly, and to the great anxiety of his wife, also working with Ken at ground zero were his son and son-in-law, who both serve as New York City police officers.

In the aftermath of our nation's great tragedy last year, many, including the Cerreta family, have come to something of a deeper appreciation of the time we are given here, and have vowed to make the most of it. For Ken, that in part means enjoying every chance he has to drive his '66 Corvette convertible.

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Interior is entirely stock except for the custom stereo, which fits in the stock AM/FM radio dash opening.

And drive it is exactly what he does. After performing a body-off-the-frame restoration of a very original silver-on-silver '65 coupe with friend (and fellow fireman) John Misa, Ken found that the car was simply too nice and too correct to use every day. "It was sort of anti-climactic," he says with a touch of sadness still evident in his voice. "It was really a show car that deserved to be shown at NCRS meets and similar events and what I really wanted was a driver."

Knowing that he would take good care of the car Ken sold the '65 to friend Art Nastre and set about searching for a mid-year driver. He was not concerned with matching numbers and date codes, and was not afraid of something that needed restoration work. He did, however, want a solid, complete car with a good body and a sound chassis. As anyone who has tried to find such a Corvette in the past few years knows they are quite scarce. After looking in vain for many months another friend, John Donato, spotted what sounded like a promising ad in the local auto trader and after seeing it Ken knew it was exactly what he was looking for.

Vemp_0212_07_z 1966_chevrolet_corvette Ken_ceretta 5/8

After 36 years of service with the New York City Fire Department Ken is thoroughly enjoying his retirement behind the wheel of his Corvette.

The car's straight body and clean frame formed the perfect foundation for a solid, reliable driver. The original engine flew the coop long ago and an over-the-counter ZZ3 350 crate engine rated at 345 hp rests in its place. The ZZ3's cast-iron block was stuffed with lots of good parts, including Pink rods, a forged steel crankshaft, and a hydraulic roller tappet cam. Aluminum cylinder heads and a high-rise intake manifold bring the Holley four-barrel fed air/fuel mixture into the engine.

Motive force goes through a stock Muncie four-speed and Posi-traction differential before it reaches 16-inch American Racing wheels wearing custom machined spinners and 225/55x16 Michelin Pilots. As with all '66s, stopping power comes from four-wheel disc brakes.

Aside from its 16-inch American Racing wheels and GMPP engine, the only other non-stock feature found in the car is its stereo. A Kenwood AM/FM/cassette custom modified for the application fits in the same opening as the car's original radio. Teamed with free standing Bose speakers it sounds fantastic and can even be clearly heard when top-down cruising at highway speeds, which is a very good thing because 99 percent of the time that's exactly what Ken is doing with his beautiful Corvette.



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