Corvettes have always been a big part of Jim Spencer's life. In addition to having owned a handful of C3s at various times, Jim's a fiberglass-tooling specialist and a Corvette autobody expert. So it should come as no surprise that Jim and his wife, Kathy, who live in Cape Coral, Florida, own one of the most creatively and beautifully prepared C3 Corvettes in the country.
"In August of 1988, when we moved to Florida . . . my offshore race boat . . . was my new passion," Jim says. "Then Kathy told me we needed to get another Corvette. We both liked the '80 model, so the search began."
It took a year to find the right car. When they spotted it, the Claret paint was faded and the brakes were shot, but the rest of the 55,000-mile Vette was in solid condition. Jim saw it as the perfect canvas on which to paint his masterpiece.
Since the car was going to require a complete redo, he began with the chassis. "When I brought the car home, it had no brakes," Jim says, "so that was first on the list." To solve the brake problem, Jim installed a set of Stainless Steel Brakes binders at all four corners. To get the Vette to sit at just the right height, he chose custom front coil springs and a 330-pound rear leaf spring. The entire front end was rebuilt with new spindles, bushings, ball joints, and Bilstein shocks. Everything underneath was cleaned, painted, and detailed.
Next, the original 190hp 350 small-block was treated to a new roller cam and a complete roller rocker valvetrain. A chromed Edelbrock Performer intake manifold and Holley carburetor replaced the factory top end, while Hooker headers and chrome side pipes improved the car's looks as well as its exhaust-flow characteristics. Thanks to Jim's sharp eye for detail, just about everything in the engine compartment is now either chromed or polished. Every harness and hose boasts a brilliant luster, and there's not a bracket or panel that isn't perfectly painted. And, just like any other Corvette gearhead, Jim's not yet satisfied with the engine, the MX1 automatic transmission, or the 3.07 Posi rear. "Next, I'm putting in a 400hp 350 and a 200-4R overdrive," he says.
While the theme of Jim's '80 Corvette is pretty radical, he chose to give the doeskin leather interior a complete and faithful-to-stock restoration. "I redid every vent, every light, every gauge, even the clock," Jim says. "I also sent the speedometer out and had it made into a 165-mph unit." Under the new carpeting,Jim installed additional insulation padding to cut down on the usual C3 heat problem. He also cut new panels for the console and fitted them by hand. New speakers were installed front and rear, and N.O.S. parts were used for gauge faces, door pulls, armrests, and console. Jim also re-dyed all the other interior parts to ensure the color was evenly matched from one end of the interior to the other.
Jim's expertise in Corvette bodywork is evident in the radical exterior. He fitted and modified the shovel-nosed Daytona front end first. "It took 50 hours just to fit it properly and finish it," Jim says. "It was a nightmare!" He designed the louvers in the fender tops and in the hood, fabricated the molds, and made the parts himself. "I spent most of my career as a plug-and-mold builder for boats, so I know how to create a splash off the hood and fenders." Also unique are the chrome vents Jim installed right behind the front side-marker lamps.
The rear also received some significant work, starting with the fiberglass rear bumper and concealment of the antenna. Jim added beauty rings to the taillamps and wired them together so all four come on when the brakes are applied. The backup lamps were lifted from an El Camino and grafted to the lower pan. "The car needed something extra in the back," Jim says, "so I decided to add an LT spoiler to balance the lines."
Jim mixed his own color, which he calls Raspberry Ice Metallic. "I used PPG basecoat/clearcoat," he says. "You can't buy this color in the paint store."
It took 12 months to complete the Vette. At first, all Jim wanted to do was drive and enjoy it. His wife had another suggestion-join the local Corvette club. So Jim and Kathy linked up with Corvettes On The Gulf. The club members were so impressed with Jim's creation that they suggested he take it to some local Corvette shows. "In four months we have gone to 13 shows," Jim says, "and we've won 11 trophies."
He doesn't haul the '80 on a trailer to these shows, either. "I drive it one or two times a week. I never planned to show the Vette, but I do get a lot out of the enthusiasm of spectators and their appreciation of a beautifully customized car."