With the Corvette's body shining like a stupendous solar flare, James commissioned a custom cockpit to be sewn and assembled by Jim Badger Auto Upholstery of Fairy Meadow, New South Wales. It features black leather thrones accented with yellow welting, a standard '68 Corvette steering wheel, black cut-pile carpet (replacing the factory's 80/20 loop), and Corvette gauges customized with yellow faces and Chevrolet Bow Tie logos. Other interior mods include a tilt column from Flaming River, a Pioneer CD head unit and speakers, and Corvette-logo sill plates.
Then came the drivetrain. Regardless of his effulgent color preference, James was insistent that he keep one aspect of the Stingray true to its Chevy roots: the big-block. "I learned my Corvette was one of 7,717 equipped in '68 with the L36 427/385 powerplant," he says. "Although the original engine was gone, I vowed that within the fiberglass body would go a GM big-block."
To accomplish this goal, James contacted Eagles Spares of Sydney, who suggested a 454 H.O., GMPP's popular big-block crate motor. It features a cast-iron block, a 4.25x4.00-inch bore/stroke combo, and four-bolt main caps. A forged-steel crankshaft and connecting rods are linked to forged-aluminum pistons. The heads are GM's cast-iron, rectangular-port units with 118cc combustion chambers and 2.19/1.88-inch valves. A GM factory roller cam with 211/230-degree duration and 0.510/0.540-inch lift produces a feral growl with factory 1.7-ratio, stamped-steel rockers.
What James liked most about the big-block crate engine was its easy install. With help from mates Kane Rodgers and Sasho Srbinoski, all he had to do was add a Delco HEI ignition routed to Top Gun wires and NGK plugs, a Rochester 650cfm carburetor, a GM starter, and Hooker headers with side pipes. With that done, he simply reconnected the original wiring harness and coolant system, supplied oil and fuel, turned the key, and the 425hp/500 lb-ft mechanical creature roared to life.
To transfer the Vette's newfound brutal power to the rear wheels, James optioned an RPM super-heavy-duty clutch mated to a rebuilt Muncie M21 close-ratio transmission. A stock driveshaft pushes the power rearward to an original GM housing, Posi unit, and 3.08 gears. The chassis saw improvement as well. He upgraded the suspension to Grand Touring springs up front, fiberglass leafs in the back, and Koni shocks at all four corners. Braking power comes from C5 rotors and calipers up front-where tight gripping is needed most-while stock GM discs remain positioned in the rear. The Stingray rides on 17x8-inch Torque Thrust II wheels shod in Nankang 245/45-17 front and Falken 255/45-17 rear rubber.
Having covered a number of right-hand-drive Aussie Vettes in the past, we inquired as to why James' Stingray retains its steering wheel and driver's seat on the port side. He tells us a recent change in Australia's auto-importation laws has given him an advantage unforeseen by legislators: "I left it LHD because it makes it easier to get parts for the car, sure, but that's not the real reason this is an LHD Stingray," he smiles. "It also makes talking to girls on the side of the road easier."
One other interesting cue on this Corvette is its complement of 427 emblems. They pay homage to the Stingray's original engine, and although the 427 is long gone, James felt it important for the Corvette to retain original-style badges.
After two years of restoration, the Corvette was completed just two days before its first national show, the '06 NSW Corvettes Unlimited Convention in Penrith. Its final, striking detail was an underhood mural designed and sprayed by Smart Arts of Wollongong. The subject: The Yellow Tale Stingray itself, the Las Vegas desert, Betty Boop, and Route 66-an homage to the America that created the Corvette, and the message that this Stingray still carries its American memories close to its heart.