Buddy, go down to that dealer and buy the Corvette roadster," his new bride told him. Buddy looked up toward the heavens and said, "Lord, you've given me the perfect woman!" So began Rev. Buddy Merrick's affair with his awesome '87, just 1,500 miles new from its first owner. That was 1988...
And that's still Buddy's favorite way to introduce both of his true loves-his wife Carol, and the simply stunning Corvette. A lady like that is a remarkable and somewhat rare find, but what Buddy has created from that original gift is truly unparalleled indeed! Fifteen years later, the living room of their Denison, Texas, home is filled with ISCA trophies and accolades galore, but the true prize sits in the garage.
As one of only a handful of C4's that received the uncommon "Rick Mears Special Edition" body kit designed by legendary automotive stylist Larry Shinoda, Buddy's '87 would easily stand out in a crowd. Although Shinoda had retired from corporate design work by the time he penciled his iteration of the C4 skin, the artful eye that made major contributions to both the '63 Sting Ray Corvettes and the '68 Mako Shark-inspired C3's, was still keen. Rev. Buddy's convertible is believed to be the 13th "Rick Mears Special Edition" Corvette. "Because the conversion was so difficult," Buddy explains, "we're told that only twelve convertibles were ever built. We got the last parts available, ever." And now the customized beauty is likely to be the dressiest one in existence!
The Shinoda-Williams ground-effects package is an 11-piece polyurethane body kit that entirely replaced the stock nose and tail cones with an integrated rear spoiler, and added flared rocker panels and lower door panels to, as Shinoda put it, "give the car some 'Coke-bottle'". Although the Shinoda-Williams brochure estimated the average labor to do the conversion was "approximately 25 hours, using conventional hand tools," Buddy found the process to take considerably longer. "Yeah, right," says Buddy. "Even with money as no object, the conversions required extraordinary skill and hours of fitting and refitting to complete."
Well, perhaps that is a reasonable estimate for an ordinary installation, but Buddy's bodywork is anything but ordinary. "For six months, four guys and I worked full-time on the body. The whole car was disassembled, and each piece was block sanded and smoothed by hand" before Mike Piper of Best of Show Auto Restorations in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, sprayed every component with PPG Viper Red. Even hidden areas like the headlight wells were fully refinished. Despite hand-forming a custom C5-style decklid that wraps around the seatbacks and drops into a '00 C5 waterfall, Buddy still believes that "the most difficult task was lining up perfect seams, especially fitting urethane panels to a fiberglass body."
Thousands of man-hours have been devoted to prepping the body and in order to achieve a flawless finish on even the most obscure spots. "Sore index fingers testify to hours of intricate sanding in the corners, but the work shows well upon careful inspection." Randy Walker in Durant, Oklahoma, is responsible for welding, boxing, and smoothing the frame, engine cradle, and X-member. For the cleanest look possible, all of the brake and fuel lines were polished, clear-coated, then hidden within the floor pans. The wiring was color-coded and concealed by rerouting it through the frame, hood, and custom wiring harness. Extensive undercarriage refinishing also includes filling and smoothing the floor pans, drivetrain tunnel, and the factory jacking locations. Thus, Buddy welded on four jack points, then covered them with polished stainless caps adorned with gold-plated C4 emblems. Every bolt on the entire car has been replaced by polished Grade 8 stainless steel allen heads, each turned just so "the flat sides are at top and bottom, and the vertical sides are pointed."
The original L98, four-speed automatic, and 3.07:1-geared third member have each been freshened up internally, and polished smooth outside. Jeff Campbell of Kustom Machine in Denison, Texas, machined, deburred, and rebuilt the motor (now bored over to 360c.i.d.) using Manley dome-top forged aluminum pistons with Teflon skirts, TRW bearings, a Crane racing cam, tapered rings, and copper gaskets, as well as a polished stock crank, polished aluminum heads with custom valve covers made by Buddy, and a chromed oil pan. The block, transmission case, aluminum driveshaft, and rearend housing were each ground smooth and either polished or painted Viper Red with clear-coat. Chrome headers have been jet-hot coated on the inside using a sponge and coat hanger, and connect to a custom "cat-less," dual 2-1/2-inch stainless exhaust system capped by polished stainless Walker mufflers and hand-made stainless tips. Buddy's entire Rose-Ter theme, however, centers around the intricately laid woodwork throughout. "I drove to Baltimore and emptied my wallet for a beautiful rosewood plank, fresh off the boat from Madagascar." Friend and expert Mennonite woodsmith Don Bartholomew of the Marion Wood Shoppe in Pennsylvania literally carved the interior, then created the miles-deep finish with hand-poured urethane varnish. The mahogany steering wheel is one of the few items that is "store-bought," but it matches the rosewood perfectly.
Despite the myriad of trophies and awards the Rose-Ter has earned-including the ISCA class championship for the past three years (first in the east, then twice in the west), it is the only sports car to ever win the International Highest Achievement Sports award for three consecutive years, and has 13 straight Outstanding Paint awards-Rev. Buddy still appreciates the small praise. "A spectator asked me, 'Is this your car?' at this May's Dallas Super Chevy Show. When I said yes, he responded, 'Holy ****!' We laughed, but it was maybe the neatest compliment I ever got!" Amen, brother!
The polished billet aluminum wheels were sculpted by Boyd Coddington to resemble a budding rose, then Buddy attached rosewood inserts matching the interior with 3M double-sided tape. Baer brakes with chromed calipers and stainless lines stand proudly behind the rims.
The beefed-up L98 looks impeccable under all its chrome and polished billet aluminum. The plugs are covered with polished billet, and the wires are kept symmetrical with chrome keepers.