I've always had a thing for '70s-and-later Vettes, but choosing one to modify was a challenge. The early, chrome-bumper C3s are attractive, but modding one of these classics is frowned upon by the Vetterati. The later C3s can be had for a song, but lack power. And while the '96 Grand Sports are undeniably cool, they're pricey and becoming rare enough that driving the snot out of one just isn't feasible.
With these issues floating around in my head, I hatched a plan. I would take a later C3 and transform it into the car Chevy might have built in 1979, had legislative and technological hurdles not intervened. That car? A '79 Grand Sport!
The car would have to be as quick and agile as a '96 GS, and as sexy as one, too. Though built upon a vintage foundation, it would also be a technology showcase, with fuel injection, rack-and-pinion steering, an overdrive transmission, and all the modern amenities. Most important, I would do as much of the work as possible myself.
After six months of scouring the nation for the perfect car, I found it within 30 miles of home. I bought the car, drove it home under its own power (barely), and parked it in the garage. I dubbed my new car "The Disco Vette" because of its faded, two-tone paint job and beat-up, chrome-look vinyl seats.
The first step in the makeover was disassembly. After removing the interior, the running gear, the suspension, and all the auxiliary equipment, I was left with a body shell on a frame. After cleaning things up a bit on the underside, I installed a Vette Brakes and Products Maximum Performance Suspension System. This suspension includes transverse-leaf fiberglass springs (front and rear) and is fully adjustable for height and stiffness. Fabricated A-arms, stainless-steel brake calipers, and new rotors were installed, along with a Steeroids rack-and-pinion steering system.
At this point, it was time to take the Vette to the body shop. Blanchard's Body and Kolor in Portage, Michigan, laid down the GS-style paint job and replaced the body mounts with new polyurethane units. The best way to describe this finish? Deep. The stripe is buried in the clearcoat, and the colors just pop.
While the body was being sprayed, I took the short-block to Irwin's Racing Engines for some freshening and performance work. Irwin's handled the machine work, then built the bottom end using Keith Black forged pistons, along with a steel crank and rods. The assembly was balanced with a billet-steel flywheel. Edelbrock Performer RPM heads with 70cc combustion chambers net a 10.3:1 compression ratio. A Comp Cams XFI hydraulic roller camshaft (0.576-inch lift, 280-degree duration) complements the Edelbrock electronic fuel-injection system and Mallory ignition. I assembled the engine using ARP bolts everywhere, since output is estimated at 450 hp.
Next, a Tremec TKO five-speed was installed using a kit from Keisler. The Keisler kit comes complete with a new, balanced driveshaft and all the parts needed to install the manual trans in place of the C3's factory automatic. The Tremec works in conjunction with a Sachs clutch and a Hurst shifter, while the rebuilt Posi unit uses 3.73 gears and carbon-fiber clutch packs.
After mating the driveline with the body, I got to work on the interior. Dynamat covers every interior surface, while a custom-made insert houses the Racepak dash. The center stack includes a G-Tech meter, an Edelbrock EFI controller, a Vintage Air AC-control panel, a Pioneer stereo, and pushbutton start and run controls for the ignition. Corbeau GTS II seats cradle the driver and passenger in comfort, while custom-covered dash and door panels give the impression of a newer car. A four-point rollcage and a nitrous bottle finish off the rear-package-tray area.
Eckler's front and rear bumpers, late-model ZR-1-style LED taillights, shaved door locks, and other custom touches help set the car apart from the crowd and support the overall theme. A set of Intro Mullholand 17-inch wheels (9 and 10 inches wide in the front and rear, respectively) provide the finishing touch on this one-of-a-kind screamer.
With the exception of the paint and the bottom end of the engine, I did all the work myself, in my garage, over the course of two-and-a-half years. I think the results demonstrate the power of a detailed build plan, a step-by-step approach, and a strong Corvette aftermarket. My '79 Grand Sport truly is more than the sum of its carefully selected parts.