Thirty-one years is a long time to remember everything about anything. Sure, most of us can remember who was president of the United States at the time or that the No. 1 show on American television was Happy Days. But how many people remember the shoes they wore that July 4 or the dinner they had that Labor Day? After thirty-one years, it's easy to come up with amnesia.
The same holds true for custom wide-body C3 Corvettes. Most Vette aficionados can recognize a '73 dual-bumper model or a silver-and-black '78 pace car, but how many people remember the Eckler's Can Am Corvettes? Thankfully, our case of "Can Amnesia" was cured when Jeffrey Plotkin of Amboy, New Jersey, sent us the details of his '75 Can Am coupe.
The '70s saw the birth of wide-body C3s from body-kit manufacturers Eckler's and Greenwood. Eckler's, owned by Ralph Eckler and based in Titusville, Florida, was a leader in fiberglass moldings for the Corvette. Greenwood and Eckler's both began designs on wide-body Vettes in 1974, with street versions available soon thereafter.
At first, these Corvettes were created exclusively in Eckler's Titusville shop, but word quickly spread, and soon customers were calling from across the U.S. in the hopes of converting their stock Corvettes into the widened Eckler's version. Eckler's began selling custom wide-body parts-fenders, flares, and hoods-as well as full body kits for installation at shops and in home garages. Famous custom shops from New York to California began to turn out wide-body Corvettes. Customers called the kit "Can Am" after a then-popular SCCA race series.
Many people feel these Can Am Vettes perfectly embody the zeitgeist of the era. There is no doubting the visual impact the cars had on late-'70s and early-'80s American culture. Like bell-bottom pants and knee-high Adidas socks, they continue to stand proud as a testament to the times.
Jeff's Can Am story begins in 1975, when the then-21-year-old car buff bought a '73 Corvette coupe. One night, Jeff, a resident of Brooklyn, New York, left his Vette parked outside. Well, as the story goes, thieves stole the hubcaps ... and the Corvette they were on. Jeff longed for a second Vette, and in 1976, he bought his second coupe-a '75 model-from a friend.
Every big city has its own "most famous Corvette shop in town." At that time in Brooklyn, it was Zaino Brothers Corvette Shop. Jeff was friends with Tommy and Sal Zaino (creators of the famous Zaino car wax and polish products) and knew he wanted his Vette to go to their shop for its customization. Zaino Brothers was already ordering fiberglass from Eckler's on a weekly basis and was familiar with the parts. The brothers ordered the full-body Can Am kit, intending to turn Jeff's Corvette into one of very first kit Can Ams built outside of Ralph Eckler's Titusville shop.
Jeff Plotkin was now 24 and a buyer for an electronics firm in Brooklyn. He spent many days and nights at the Zaino brothers' shop, watching his Can Am take form. "The Can Am took forever to build," Jeff says. Its intensive body change took "a year of dedicated labor from Zaino Brothers" and between $12,000 and $15,000 of Jeff's hard-earned money. That's an incredible amount of cash to put into a custom conversion considering the MSRP of the '75 Corvette was $6,810. Jeff says he wanted the best work in the nation, and although it was expensive, it was worth it.
Zaino Brothers prepared the Can Am to feature a stock rear window and a four-taillight bumper with air vents on either side. The front fenders, rear flares, and high-rise hood, however, were from the Eckler's kit. Thus configured, the car resembled a Greenwood wide-body and was often mistaken for its like-minded competitor. Make no mistake, though: Jeff's Vette is 100 percent Can Am.
It was painted Candy Apple Brandywine over a Black Pearl base using special-order paint from House of Kolors.
Jeff caught the show bug immediately and rushed to enter his first competition, the '77 ISCA Custom Car and Motorcycle Show at the New York Coliseum. He took home a First Place award the weekend before Thanksgiving.
In 1981, Jeff wanted a new look for his Can Am. He felt a rework of the paint color would bring terrific results, so he took the car back to the Zaino Brothers Corvette Shop. Sal Zaino decided to also work an Eckler's fastback window and a six-taillight rear bumper into the Can Am's revised design.
While he was at it, Jeff decided to swap out the interior. He wanted a color contrast to the car's show-stopping exterior, so he chose '80 Corvette Oyster White leather. Tommy Zaino then stripped the paint, and a gold base was shot onto the body, followed by the same Candy Apple Brandywine color. The result was a Candy Apple Red deeply layered in 75 coats(!) of hand-rubbed lacquer.