Joe DeBattista has worked most of his life in Ontario, Canada Hydro's power plants, a vocation that has given him a deep appreciation for the power and beauty of high-tech machinery. But he also likes to see a well-presented package. That's how he got the idea to dress up his car, and how he earned the descriptive nickname "Chrome Joe." Consider, for example, that between meeting Joe at Carlisle and visiting him at his home one month later, we found that two more pieces of chrome had been added to his Corvette's engine compartment. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Joe has owned several Corvettes, starting with a white '77 he bought from a doctor. Next, he bought a bronze, one-owner '85. Both cars were driven daily, mostly back and forth to work. When Joe bought his '79, about six years ago, he knew that it was going to be a special car. The previous owner had already started the process of customizing the Vette, adding Viper Blue paint and custom-embroidered white seats. While the car had originally been outfitted with an Oyster interior, the new trim was definitely more striking, not to mention luxurious. In fact, the year before Joe bought it, the Vette had taken First Place in its class at the annual Wasaga Beach Cruise in Ontario.
Early on, Joe didn't entertain the idea of showing the car. In fact, he says he didn't even know there was such a thing as a car show. Once he discovered showing, however, the fever took hold. Joe started by attending shows that were held by his club, the Corvette Club of Durham, in Pickering, Ontario. He soon branched out to include events overseen by the Canadian Council of Corvette Clubs. Joe's first attraction was to chrome accent pieces, and he began adding them with gusto. It was then that his friends started calling him "Chrome Joe."
A quick trip through Joe's garage also reflects the evolution of the car. More recently, Joe's prizes have included judge's awards, First in Class, Best Paint and even Best in Show. But moving back in time, you can see that things weren't always this way. In fact, when Joe started showing his car, there was clearly room for improvement. It wasn't until around 2002 that the awards started to go from Second and Third place to the top of the heap.
In 2000, Joe had his Vette stripped and repainted Indiglo Pearl by Classic Paint in nearby Oshawa. The paint undergoes an interesting color change-from black to purple to blue-depending on the light. Ghosted flames on the hood and side vents provide a striking accent.
Over the next few years, Joe turned his attention to the engine compartment. The car's most notable feature-the Maltese Falcon graphic on the bottom side of the hood-was designed and painted by Longbranch Paint in Toronto. According to Joe, this is a combined tribute to his original homeland, Malta, and to the Humphrey Bogart movies he loves. The rest of the engine compartment was detailed, and the engine itself was freshened. The engine is still an original L48, but it has been updated with an Edelbrock manifold and a gear-driven timing system. Ceramic headers feed the aftermarket side-pipes. There were a few other updates, but Joe, being a show guy, was a little vague about the specifics. He just says the car makes "adequate" power, and who are we to argue?
By 2005, it was time to address the bottom of the car. The suspension was entirely stripped, and worn pieces were replaced. The whole underside was then resprayed, mostly with matching Indiglo Pearl paint. Next came 18-inch TRW chrome wheels, along with Nexen 255/45-18 front and 255/40-18 rear tires. The suspension features a fiberglass rear spring.
When it came time to update the interior, Joe decided to complement the existing white seats with a new set of black carpets. The original Oyster carpets were a bit frayed, after all, and didn't really match the custom upholstery. The leather on the Duntov-style steering wheel was reconditioned and re-dyed in matching white.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Joe's '79 is that it is driven everywhere. The car is immaculate, but it's not a trailer queen. Joe even took the car on the track at Mosport, in the rain, as part of the Corvette Corral's lapping sessions during a recent ALMS weekend. And yes, he also took home a trophy as "Driver's Choice" from Oliver Gavin. Now, that's how a car is supposed to be used!