From the very inception of the Corvette brand, America's greatest sports car was synonymous with open cockpits. Although auxiliary hardtops were introduced in 1956, every last solid-axle built was a convertible. In fact, the 1963 split-window was the first-ever fixed-roof Corvette, and '53-55 models were exhilarating, yet crude roadsters that lacked even roll-up side windows. What could be more natural-or fun-than the feel of the wind through your hair while cruising down the road or racing around a track?
Due to declining sales figures and anticipated federal safety regulations, Chevrolet pulled the convertible out of the Corvette lineup in 1976. It would be a decade before GM built another soft top Corvette, but that didn't stop some fans from still going topless.
One such determined soul is Jim Philpott of Dover, Arkansas. In July of 1995, the 36-year-old instrument technician and his wife Julia bought their dream car, a '78 Silver Anniversary Edition "convertible." Unfortunately, the dream was more of a nightmare requiring a six-year investment of loving devotion to reconstruct the decrepit car.
The Shark had been converted into a convertible long before the Philpotts found it. But, it had been done sloppily, and the car had been sitting for some time. "The top was in poor condition with a little Arkansas fix-all-duct tape-holding it together," Jim explains. "It was obvious it had been leaking onto the interior for a while. The carpet was rotted; the dash, seats, and door panels looked as if a cat had been living inside the car. I believe the only place on the drivetrain that wasn't leaking oil was where the dirt daubers had built nests over some of the gaskets!" he elaborates. Beyond that, most of the paint had peeled off.
Jim began working on and restoring hot rods with his father as a kid, so the Shark's significant needs didn't scare him. In fact, resurrecting the '78 became a family project that Jim and Julia, as well as their three kids Jimmy, Jonathan, and Jessica all took part in. They began by stripping the Vette down to a rolling body shell for its frame-on restoration. First on the agenda was to install a new AC Delco brake system with stainless steel-sleeved calipers and braided stainless lines, freshen up the chassis, and add some life under the hood.
For the drivetrain Jim turned to a '91 350 small-block, which has been painted black and massaged out to 383 cubic inches. Held in position by Energy Suspension polyurethane motor mounts, the stroker-motor's internal fortifications include Speed-Pro Teflon-coated hypereutectic dished pistons with 9:1 compression, Hasting rings, a hotter GM XE262H-10 camshaft, Clevite push rods, an APR stud kit, and a double roller timing chain and high-volume oil pump from Melling. The iron heads have been ported, polished, and topped by chromed stock valve covers with Edelbrock breathers.
Air is sucked in via the Edelbrock 600-cfm carburetor atop an Edelbrock aluminum Performer intake, combusted by the full ACCEL ignition system with an HEI Super Coil and vacuum advance, and exhaled through Flowmaster shorty headers and a 2 1/2-inch aluminum exhaust. It puts out an unassuming 375 hp and 450 lb-ft torque through the stock Turbo-Hydramatic transmission and 3.08:1 ring-and-pinion, while chromed-dressed pulleys, an alternator, and a Mr. Gasket water pump add extra shine under the hood.
With the Shark in good running order, they then focused attention on the poor Vette's body. The '78 was taken to Robinsons Brothers Body Shop right there in Dover, where Jim's friends Donald and Ronald began disassembling the fiberglass panels. They stripped the car down to its original gel coat, did all the necessary repairs, and made an '80-82 rear bumper cap blend properly onto the '78. When all the bodywork was complete, they fit a new black soft top onto a '75 convertible frame, and then installed the properly fitting and operating factory drop-top mechanism onto the former coupe. To complete the correct convertible conversion, '75 windows and a windshield top runner were also adapted. All the details from behind the doors back are from a '75, while an '82 nose cone further defines this Silver Anniversary Vette's unique style. Rolling on 15x8-inch Centerline Hellcats that wear 235 and 255/60-15 BFGoodrich radials also give it a timeless yet personal look.
Because the '78 originally rolled of the St. Louis assembly line as a Silver Anniversary Edition, Jim and the gang opted to retain the original color scheme. Robinsons Brothers sprayed the Vette with the factory two-tone Silver Anniversary paint scheme, then augmented it with some tasteful painted stripes. The added stripes, which are the same darker silver used on the Silver Anniversary's lower body, are very subtle and really enhance the shape of the Shark body.
When, at last, it came time to refurbish the Corvette's interior, they took the same approach as with the exterior. The Silver Anniversary Shark was originally sold with an oyster leather interior, and it still appears as so today. Everything short of the gauges has been replaced. A stock AC Delco stereo lies within the factory replacement dashboard, with stock front speakers and a set of Pioneers added in the rear. The replacement oyster door panels and leather-wrapped steering wheel are accented nicely by the gray pile loop carpeting, while seats from an '82 Vette look perfectly natural in the Anniversary's cockpit-disguised in their leather oyster upholstery.
Obviously, many people approve of his enhancements, as it has won a number of show awards, including the National Corvette Museum's Choice Award at Eureka Springs in 2002. Jim is very proud of how unique the Silver Anniversary convertible looks. Jim says, "Yes, I know there have been conversions made on some of the cars, but I consider mine one of a kind. With it being a true Silver Anniversary Edition, a special touch to the striping and with a '82 bumper for some extra curve and the sleek '82 seats, I think mine stands out. But it also looks natural; like it was meant to be from Chevrolet."
It's the convertible Chevrolet never offered, but should have!