For those who claim their vintage Corvette is too nice to risk a road trip, meet Ray Robichaud. Ray, whose friends affectionately call him "Minnow," believes a concours-clean Corvette is for driving. Showing it is fine as well, but he'll drive it to the show, thank you. The only time his '71 roadster has been on a trailer was during the trip to the paint shop.
Ray has owned this magnificent Corvette since Christmas Eve 1985. With its high-revving LT-1 small-block and four-speed close-ratio gearbox, it proved a thrilling everyday conveyance. Over the next seven years, Ray, who hails from Clearwater, Florida, racked up the miles, mostly with the top down enjoying the Florida sun. By 1989, the Corvette was displaying stress cracks in the front clip, the 18-year-old interior was fading and worn, and the soft top was getting ragged around the edges. It was time for some cosmetic restoration.
The paint was stripped, the stress cracks were repaired, and the Mille Miglia Red was resprayed. Inside, the seats were re-covered and the soft top replaced. That was good enough to get the roadster and Ray back in action for another three years of top-down cruising. In 1992, he pulled the engine for a complete rebuild. After an 0.030-inch bore cleanup, he slipped in a hotter camshaft and installed a new crankshaft, pistons, a higher-revving valvetrain, and a carburetor. Back on the road, Ray and his wife Bert enjoyed their roadster for another 10 years.
In 2002, after 31 years of service, the roadster was tired again and in need of restoration. The engine still sang sweetly in tune, but the body and interior were showing wear and tear. With the help of friend and employer Sonny Wells, Ray completely tore down the Corvette. Working on weekends for the following 18 months, Ray and Sonny dismantled the car-taking it all the way down to the shell and chassis. Since the engine had been rebuilt 10 years previously, it was left alone. The M21, meanwhile, was sent out for freshening.
Ray chose to replace the front clip, which had again started to crack. While the front end was off, everything from the cowl forward was either restored or replaced, including external engine components, suspension pieces, rotors, calipers, and brake lines. The wheels were bead-blasted and repainted, and the undercarriage was cleaned and resprayed.
By the time the new front clip arrived, Sonny had already stripped the Vette's 13-year-old paint. Once the clip was in place, he applied countless coats of epoxy primer, followed by endless block-sanding between coats. When the two were finally satisfied that the car's surface was smooth and uniform, it was trailered to John Ames, in Brooksville, Florida, who applied a fresh coat of the original Mille Miglia Red paint.
When the roadster returned, it was treated to a complete interior, which Sonny donated for the project. New leather upholstery was installed on new seat frames and buns. From the carpet up and from door to door, everything was replaced with new components or restored to as-new condition. That included a new instrument cluster with a rebuilt speedometer, along with a quartz movement for the clock. Even the radio and trim panels were replaced with new pieces. There wasn't a single interior part overlooked in the restoration. On the outside, new bumpers, moldings, grilles, mirrors, emblems, exhaust parts, and tag bezels were all installed on the freshly painted body.
After almost two years of steady work, Ray and Sonny finally completed the '71 and put it back on the road. The excellent craftsmanship and close attention to detail have resulted in trophies from shows all over Southwest Florida. Sonny owns a '67 Corvette, so now he, Ray, and their wives enjoy driving to shows and tours together.
"It's amazing," Ray observed, "that after all that time of working together and rebuilding the Corvette, Sonny and I are still good friends. If you're ever lucky enough to have a friend to help in a project like this, don't pass up the opportunity!"