Our story begins in the lot of a Milford, New Hampshire, drive-in-not because the locale has some tie-in with Arthur Yancy's beautiful '69 Corvette, but because the surrounding area is picturesque, pleasant, and furnishes a decidedly out-of-the-ordinary backdrop for our photo shoot.
Yancy, patiently waiting in the rising heat as I snap away, begins filling me in on the details of what led him to find, and then create, such a vision of power. It's a story filled with twists, not unlike the ones played out thousands of times on the screen behind us. But perhaps the biggest twist of all is that this production didn't start with a Corvette.
Flash back to 1968. The hero of our tale is Yancy, at the time a schoolteacher and coach at Greater Lawrence Tech School, in Andover, Massachusetts. As in most stories, the villain makes his appearance early on-in this case, in the form of a spun rod bearing inside Yancy's '69 Ram Air IV GTO Judge.
"When I took my GTO in for some engine issues I was having, I saw a '69 Corvette on the showroom floor," Yancy tells us. The dealership owners were a little embarrassed about the superior scripting the producers at GM had cooked up for Chevy's plastic fantastic, as they felt it was making their other celebrities look like B-movie contenders. As a result, they were more than happy to strike up a contract to unite Yancy with his newly discovered costar.
Looking back, this Vette would easily have gotten a G rating during the early part of its career. Yancy was married, and the new Stingray became a family car. From grocery-getting to-you guessed it-drive-in movies, the '69 went everywhere the happy couple went. But it wasn't long before both Yancys wanted to recast the car so it would earn an R rating-in this case, R for "race."
"I started with side exhausts," Yancy reports. "The headers and side pipes were a single unit from Kustom Headers, Inc. They were the actual system used by the [road-racing] Corvettes, with the addition of slip-in mufflers. They were very unusual for the time, and no one knew what they were."
Further enlivened with a set of heads, 4.11 gears, and a few other minor upgrades, the Vette was finally beginning to resemble the big-screen hero Yancy had envisioned. Critical accolades soon followed. "I won my class at the Second Annual NHRA National Open at New England Dragway in 1972," says Yancy.
After shooting on location for a while, producer/director Yancy decided to throw out the script and insert a Hollywood-sized portion of action in trade for plot. His vision called for something he could drive to the track without a trailer, run without changing tires, and drive home afterwards without the rigmarole a lot of owners go through.
While a simple rebuild would have gotten him close to his goal, he opted instead to create a budget-busting blockbuster using an LS7 crate engine ordered from a local dealership. "The tag, which I still own, said 'off road use only'," says Yancy. Fortunately, his plans didn't include anything beyond going fast in a straight line, so he decided to install the engine regardless of the warning from the studio executives.
The supporting cast for the $968 (at the time) LS7 included an Edelbrock Tarantula intake manifold and 4.56 gears, creating what Yancy calls "a whole different animal. It was light years faster," he fondly recalls. "I got what I wanted. I could drive up, race, and drive home-all without slicks."
And race it he did. In one instance, he and a Vette-driving friend traveled to a Sea Coast Corvette track meet in August of 1974. However, due to a couple of problems encountered along the way, the pair arrived a little late. Fortunately, one of the officials let Yancy make a single pass anyway. "I didn't get a chance to dial it in or anything. [I] just pulled up and went." For his efforts, he walked away with the fastest time of the day-just one of the many trophies now sitting on his mantle.
With our story nearly complete, we turn to the item at least one cast member in any popular movie must have: a great body. The '69's physique developed in several stages, receiving its first batch of flares in '72. That job didn't hold up well, however, so in 1974 one of Yancy's students, Mark Gattinella, gave the fiberglass a nip-and-tuck to achieve a nearly from-the-factory appearance.
Around this time, another student Yancy remembers only as "The Glass Wizard" worked his magic on the Vette, etching the windows for a one-of-a-kind look. "That took a huge amount of trust on my part," Yancy says. "I asked him what would happen if it didn't work. He replied, 'You'll have to buy a new set of windows, Coach.'"
To everyone's relief, the job came out better than promised, and the etched windows have stayed on the car ever since. The front-fender venting came later, as did the front spoiler and headlights. The hood was the last addition to the growing list of extras, joining the cast in 2005.
When asked if having his Corvette under the knife so many times was hard to handle, Yancy just smiles and shakes his head. "It's a process. It has evolved over the years, and is still doing so. The hard part, as my painter Carl Burns can vouch for, was matching the shade of BMW Winter Silver. He chose the color, painted the car, put on the Vette Brakes & Products suspension parts, and more. He really helped to finalize the car." With the paint dry, and some "Viper Sniper" graphics applied by Wilton, New Hampshire's Toad Carpenter, the '69 was ready for its close-up when we spotted it at a recent "spring fling" show thrown by the Gate City Corvette club.
While at the show, with its mix of old and new Vettes, we asked Yancy how his noir period piece compared with modern supercars like today's action-packed Z06. "Thirty years ago, I was running the same times as the Viper is now. Yes, there were quicker cars, but they weren't streetable. Mine ran on pump gas and regular tires.
"I can fit in the new Vettes much better," admits the six-foot, three-inch Yancy, "but every time I see mine-and especially when I turn the key-it's an exciting experience. Mine is missing a few things I'd like-A/C, power assists-but it really takes me back to the Golden Age."
While some Vette enthusiasts undoubtedly feel that such a lack of amenities went out with black-and-white movies, there is one thing we can all agree on: Part of the fun of owning America's premier sports car comes from the car's suitability to personalization. Another part comes from telling each Corvette's unique story. This story was written, directed, and produced by Arthur Yancy himself. And with over 600 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque ready to be unleashed at any given moment, this production sounds like "a wrap" to us.
Special thanks to the management of the Milford Drive-In, for providing the site for our photo shoot.