"Basically that was it--the search was on," Bernie says. "I used to go tothe States every couple of months looking for cars to buy and sell, so Istarted specifically looking for one I could make into a race car. Butevery time I bought one and got it home, I'd look at it and think, Well,I could do it up, sell it, get some more cash, and get a better one nexttime."
Eventually, during one of his Stateside car-finding trips, Bernie received a call from a friend in the UK who had just bought a '58 Vette and wondered if Bernie might be interested. "I got the very next plane home from Florida," he says.
Bernie went immediately to his friend's place and became the owner of the '58. A quick lick of satin black paint to make it look mean and moody, and the Vette was on the trailer heading home. Bernie's wife wasn't too impressed with the car, what with its huge wheels and tires and its high-rise blower sticking through the hood. "She took one look at it and said, 'What's that?' I said, 'A race car.' 'What do you want a race car for?' she asked. 'To race,' I answer. She didn't speak to me for a couple of days and has never brought the subject up again. That was over 20 years ago," he says, with a huge grin on his face.
Once his Vette was in race condition, Bernie decided to take racing lessons before his inaugural race at the Brands Hatch circuit. "Eventually, I was let out on the track on my own," he relates. "After a couple of laps [the course workers] black-flagged me and called me in, where I was told that I was way too quick, that I was all over the place, and that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Luckily, they let me drive, but they warned me that if I didn't improve on the track they would pull me in.
"On the day of the race, I managed to qualify 20th out of 28 starters. It wasn't because I was a good driver; it was because I had a fast car," he admits. "Come the start of the race it rained, and I couldn't see where I was or what I was doing. All I knew was I was scared and wanted to come in! I have never been so glad for a race to finish," he chuckles.
It wasn't until his second season that Bernie began to develop his unique driving style. "I found out that when driving these solid-axle cars, you have to nail them down the straight, find your point on the apex of the corner, and turn in," he explains. "Then hit the gas and let the tail slide like a dirt-track racer. When you get it right, you think you're doing something fantastic, but what you're really doing is slowing the car down. That's the only way to get these early Corvettes around a corner."
Bernie's '58, nicknamed "Blood & Thunder," was actually built as a dragster back in California in the '60s. Accordingly, it came tubbed and raked, with 15x15-inch rear wheels and a Chevy 396. Under Bernie's stewardship, the dragster began its transformation into a road racer. Over the years the Vette has seen a number of changes, including a new flip-up front, a lightweight rear, a '60s Camaro front end, front and rear disc brakes, an M21 close-ratio trans, and a 12-bolt Posi axle. It currently runs a 400-inch Chevy that pushes out 545 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque.
The overall silhouette of the '58 has remained almost unchanged, save for the four 48 Webber IDAs that ram their way a good five inches through the hood. The flamed car has raced successfully all over the UK and Europe. It even made two trips to Sebring-in 2000 and 2003-where it appeared in a 12-hour support race organized by Bernie and the HSR.
The silver '59 is a very different car. Over the years Bernie has picked up quite a lot of helpful information, both from racing his '58 and from other drivers and engineers. He applied this knowledge to the newer Vette, which took five years to construct and is billed as "the fastest pre-'60s Vette in the world."