Chevrolet produced 2,722 L71 Corvettes in 1969. Like many symbols of American ingenuity, this iconic muscle machine is revered and protected. To see one leave U.S. shores is considered a disgrace by some. After all, American legends belong in America, right?
What would you say if we told you that one of these big-block, big-buck Corvettes made its way down under to Australia, where it was brought back to life by a man we consider more eccentric than Dr. Frankenstein and more determined than General George S. Patton? Would you say it was heresy for certain, or would you thank our English-speaking brother for the time, money, and effort he put into transforming this basket-case classic into an awe-inspiring, top-notch show car?
Tough call? Not when you see the end results. That's why we've titled our story "Latitude Adjustment." It is the saga of a disgraced and dilapidated '69 L71 Corvette that was rescued from an untimely demise in its homeland and later resuscitated from the beckoning throes of quietus by a benevolent foreigner. Will this ultra-rare C3 ever return to its homeland? We will tell you later in the story.
Ross Spurling is the mad scientist of our tale. Mr. Spurling describes himself as having "far more passion, enthusiasm, and commitment than common sense"-an imbalance instantly recognizable to those of us who share it. After seeing our feature car arrive in Australia and witnessing its intended owner "up a gum tree" over its poor condition, Ross bought the Corvette outright and embarked upon an onerous, 2,000-plus-hour, frame-off restoration/revivification project.
The Corvette was bitterly lifeless. Its motor had long since been declared missing in action. Its four-speed, close-ratio transmission had been bargained out or maybe just trophied for another project. The poor, once-glorious car had been laid in a "chook"-that's Aussie slang for a chicken farm-where it had developed a severe case of automotive rigor mortis. The owners were determined to keep their chickens laying eggs all around the car-perhaps they had come to regard it as a giant, fiberglass rooster that kept the chickens happily clucking away-not realizing they had a true golden egg on their hands.
With the car now in his sole possession, Ross Spurling experienced a moment of grandiosity, announcing to all those crazy enough to listen, "I will create new life in what others see as certain death." With electricity surging in his veins, Spurling first set out to adhere to the Australian government's decree that all imported American vehicles be converted to righthand drive.
This is a monumental task, especially on a Corvette. The big-block Chevrolet motor had to be moved across to the left to make room for the steering box. With this done, the harmonic balancer hit the front crossmember. As a result, the balancer had to be altered. The power-steering pump was now getting in the way of the chassis as well; new power-steering brackets were engineered and fabricated. The relocation of the motor caused a problem for the position of the fan shroud; it, too, had to be remade. The transmission hump no longer provided the proper clearance; it also had to be moved. A Ford Falcon XT steering box facilitated the switch to the righthand side.
Australia has since eased its stringent restrictions on forced RHD conversions, allowing cars built 25 years ago or more to remain in original, LHD form. Unfortunately, the new laws cannot reverse the 900 hours Spurling spent in making the Corvette compliant to the old regulations.
With the Australian authorities less than concrete on the specifics of a proper RHD conversion, Spurling used a core set of criteria very popular with Aussie-based Corvette aficionados. His goal was to keep his Vette mirror-imaged to its American design, preserving a stock appearance in every other way. Spurling also decided to integrate current-day technology into the car wherever feasible, with the goal of giving the classic C3 muscle-machine a contemporary rumble and a more pleasing, comfortable ride.
You'll recall that this Corvette's original 427 mill was long gone. Well, Spurling scavenged. He was seen in Corvette graveyards late at night. The local villagers even accused him of consorting with dark forces. Finally, he found what he had come to find: a correct-stamped '69 427 block and a set of No. 840 aluminum heads. "It will come alive," we can almost imagine him saying. "I will prove to them that Ross Spurling is not a madman!"
Spurling called for his laboratory wrenchman, a local engine guru named Bob Sceri. Sceri saw Spurling's feverish commitment to his one and only, implausible dream. He upped the Corvette's motor to an 11.9:1 compression ratio using TRW forged pistons but specified stock, L71-spec gear for the remainder of the rotating assembly. The correct 427/435 heads were ported and polished before being fitted with Crane valves and springs and Harland Sharp 1.7-ratio roller rockers. The cam-also a Crane design-features 326-/326-degree duration, 0.554-/0.554-inch lift, and a 110-degree lobe-separation angle. The correct Holley Tri-Power carburetors and intake setup were found at a swap meet. Their previous owner was never told how the parts would be used. "These are experiments not meant for any man to understand," Spurling told the vendor. All told, Spurling achieved 550 hp from the factory-rated 435hp L71 engine.
A "Rock Crusher" M22 Muncie four-speed and 3.55 rear axle had been bolted into the Corvette before it arrived at its Australian port of call and were retained in the final design. The Muncie is VIN-stamped to a different Corvette, prompting Spurling to observe that "one L88 owner out there would be real keen to get hold of [it]." Stock disc brakes at all corners combine with Kelly Charger 245/60-15 (front) and 255/60-15 (rear) tires mounted on Corvette PA02 15x8-inch wheels to provide period-correct stopping power.
Because Chevrolet didn't keep microfiche copies of build records on '69 Corvettes, Spurling was forced to search for clues to determine whether his Corvette was an honest-to-goodness L71 427/435 vehicle. During this search, he found signs underneath the Corvette's "bonnet" of an original K66 transistor-ignition system. He then found the original rear sway bar in situ. The third clue he found was the in-dash, 6,500-rpm tachometer, date-coded before the Corvette's build date and matching the date code of the other gauges. A final clue made Spurling certain he had unearthed a real L71 Corvette: the nonvented gas tank that was only fitted to the 400hp and 435hp Tri-Power Vettes.
The Corvette's body looks stock, but like a mirrored Narcissus of its factory counterpart, it is a deceptive, though still very beautiful, reflection. It is a strange sight indeed when one is accustomed only to LHD Corvettes; this C3 is stunningly flip-switched to the right.
According to Spurling, the Corvette's pristine body covers a chassis "sandblasted, rustproofed, and powdercoated in gloss black." The underside of the body was "hand-sanded, undercoated, stoneguarded, and painted in gloss two-pack paint." The Vette originally came from Chevrolet painted Fathom Green with a green-vinyl interior. The C3 now wears a Mike Falzom-sprayed Ferrari Green paint hue from the same classic decade and is trimmed with saddle-colored leather interior. The stock-looking body includes modified front guards to provide protection against stones and other road debris. In total, the labor involved in bringing this Corvette back to life exceeded a staggering 2,000 hours.
While Spurling tells VETTE he "enjoys the journey of the build more than maintaining the car once it's finished," he did enjoy his creation for a number of fun-filled years after its completion. His good friends David and Barbara Kelly are the car's current owners. You may remember the Kellys from our March '07 issue, which featured the couple's "Gold Standard" '62 on the cover. The Kellys' third Corvette, a supercharged and heavily customized C5, will appear in a future issue.
Ross Spurling sums up the car's long journey back to respectability thus: "It has gone from being, at the time, the worst Corvette [I'd] ever seen, to now being amongst the best." Do the ends justify the means? In this case, the answer is yes. This is one migr that has rooted proudly in its new homeland.
So, will we ever see this spectacular and rare Corvette return to the land of its birth? Unfortunately, no. Spurling's car is welcome on its new continent and happy with its new owners; with its top down, it is free to enjoy Southern Australia's plenteous December sun and mild July winters. It has left the shores of California and is destined to never return this way again.