We've heard stories of Corvettes being used for almost everything, but tying a freshly caught shark onto a midyear's decklid just to get the big fish into town is a new one, even on our most jaded staffers. As you'll see, the tale of how one of these classic sports cars came to be temporarily repurposed as a seafood-delivery vehicle speaks volumes about both the Corvette's unheralded versatility and the constantly evolving nature of personal transportation in America.
"Having always admired the '63 and '64 cars, I acquired a '64 convertible after I had just turned 19," says Charles Long, a 52-year-old project manager from Yonges Island, South Carolina. "During those years, a young man's car might be his most prized possession. In many cases, it was his only transportation, and I was no different than anyone else in this regard. It was used for college, for work, for play, and for whatever utility purpose a vehicle could provide. It was a factory street rod, yet it was my date car, even a pick-up truck if needed."
Apparently so, and since GM designer Bill Mitchell penned minimal cargo space into the topless '64 Vette's trunk, Long had to find an ingenious way to get one of his more impressive catches to market. "I became interested in offshore fishing in the mid-'70s, and used the Corvette to go on fishing trips, hauling my catch on top if I could not get it into the car," he says. One day in 1977, that included delivering a 300-pound lemon shark to a local seafood market. "By this time, the Corvette needed a paint job, and since the body was fiberglass and would not rust, I figured what was the harm?" Long laughs.
In 1980, Long sold the Sting Ray to his brother Lewis on the condition that he be given first buy-back rights. As Long recalls, "True to his word, after 24 years, my brother called me in June 2004 and offered to sell the Vette back to me. The car desperately needed a complete restoration. I had no extra garage space, and I did not have the money, but this was the car that had gotten me around in my youth. Very few people would ever be given an opportunity like this, especially after so many years had passed. It did not take me long to say, 'I will take it.' I could worry about the minor details, such as money and garage space, later."
The Vette's original 327/300 had already been jettisoned when Long first bought the car back in 1974, so he felt no remorse in hatching a few high-performance improvements. Chief among them was a GM Performance Parts ZZ383 crate engine, good for 425 horsepower in as-delivered form. This popular stroker includes a cast-iron block, four-bolt main caps, a nitrated and induction-hardened 4340 steel crank, heavy-duty powdered-metal steel connecting rods, and high-silicon aluminum pistons. The standard GMPP Fast Burn aluminum heads come fitted with 2.00/1.55 valves and 1.5-ratio roller rockers, which are actuated by a GM hydraulic roller cam turning 222/230-degree duration and 0.509/0.528-inch lift on a 112-degree lobe-separation angle.
Wanting even more grunt from his not-so-small small-block, Long shipped the engine to Tuned Port Induction Specialties (TPIS) in Chaska, Minnesota. TPIS began by decking the block and milling the heads to bump compression from 9.6:1 to 10.4:1. The TPIS techs also added one of their signature Mini-Ram fuel-injection systems to give the ZZ383 a modern idle and reliability. The Mini-Ram features a short-runner design to boost high-rpm power, a 52mm TPIS throttle body, and Bosch 30-lb/hr injectors fed by a Bosch electric inline fuel pump. Tested on the TPIS engine dyno, the freshly injected motor produced a heady 452 hp and 456 lb-ft of torque.
Meanwhile, Long knew a major commitment would be required to bring his Corvette's body and chassis back to life, so he delivered the ragtop to Jamison's Custom Corvette in nearby Charleston, South Carolina, for a complete frame-off restoration.
Shop proprietor Kerry Jamison was excited about the project. "The body was basically original, and the only piece we had to replace was the hood," he says. "Other than that, it had the normal stress cracks and age cracks typical of a midyear Vette." After a meticulous sanding-and-primering process, Jamison sprayed the car with four coats of Standox Tuxedo Black basecoat and three coats of Standox 2K Premium Clear Coat. "To make the look show quality, we wet-sanded the entire exterior with progressive grits of 1,200-2,000," he says.
Jamison also rebuilt the car's original M-20 close-ratio trans and Posi-traction rearend. To improve ride and handling, he borrowed parts from the '64 F40 heavy-duty suspension package, which included heavier front springs and shocks, along with a 1 1/8-inch front stabilizer bar. A heavy-duty composite rear monospring replaced the original leaf spring, and a big-block rear stabilizer bar was added. "The original drum braking system was retained but upgraded with all-new parts, including [the] master cylinder, stainless-steel brake lines and hoses, and a new power booster."
Engine-bay mods include a custom-made stainless air-induction system with a K&N air filter, GM-style horsepower decals on the valve covers, a DeWitts aluminum radiator and electric fan, and March billet-aluminum underdrive pulleys. Ignition is sourced from a MSD 8571 electronic distributor and directed through MSD Superconductor 8.5mm wires to AC Delco R44LTS plugs. Exhaust gases, meanwhile, are evacuated through Sanderson 1 3/4-inch ceramic-coated headers and into a set of stainless midyear side pipes. A TPIS speed-density computer handles the EFI and distributor functions.
The Vette's interior was restored to factory-correct condition, a process that included the freshening of the original gauges, clock, AM/FM Delco radio, glove box, and power windows. Other details include reproduction black-leather seat covers and door panels from Al Knoch, 80/20 loop black carpet, an upgraded teakwood steering wheel, and custom Corvette-logo floor mats. The exterior was accented with new GM Restoration Parts emblems, P40 cast-aluminum knock-off wheels, and Coker Classic Redline radials.
The restoration, which consumed 20 months from start to finish, netted fantastic results. "I can honestly say it could not have turned out any better," Long says. "It looks and drives better than my wildest expectations, and is better built than what the factory would have produced in '64. The fuel-injection unit provides immediate throttle response with gobs of power available at any speed, which makes for an awesome driving experience."
But aside from its new-age powerplant, Long's car remains mechanically faithful to the midyear formula. "By retaining the original frame, transmission, rear differential, and midyear suspension, the car actually drives much like a new '64 would have," he reckons. "I guess one could say I took delivery of a new '64 Corvette, 40-something years after its original birthday."
When asked if he would rush seafood to market in his '64 Corvette after blessing it with a second lease on life, Long laughs. "That's probably the most common question I get from those who have either seen the shark picture or know of my past. My standard answer among friends and certain acquaintances is, 'No, those days are long gone.' For the article, perhaps a more fitting answer would be, 'No, sir, I have since adopted a catch-and-release policy. And besides, I've found that a pick-up truck does a much better job. The only thing this beautiful Corvette hauls now is ass.'"