In 1987, 25 Corvettes were shipped to Japan as part of an export program administered by Yanese (pronounced Yah-nah-say) and Company of Tokyo. Identified by RPO code VE1, these special Vettes were fitted with Canadian kilometers-per-hour (kph) speedometer clusters and unique stereo tuning to allow them to receive Japanese radio frequencies. The cars also got amber-colored rear-quarter turn-signal indicators, front and rear fender flares, and a foldable outside rearview mirror, as required by Japanese law.
According to Michihiro "Mitch" Yamamori, Marketing and Communications, General Motors Asia Pacific (Japan) Ltd., "Yanase was the importer of record in 1987 for almost all GM products sold in Japan, including Corvette. As I understand, Yanase was responsible for all upfits of GM products to meet the local requirements. Yanase was also responsible for all sales and marketing activities, such as the dealer network [and] developing sales tools, including product brochures and public relations activities. GM played the role of liaison to support their activities."
Jim Steinhagen, General Motors Overseas Corporation (GMOC) Japan director of Planning and Liaison, says these Corvettes constituted a unique marketing opportunity for Yanese and a very special ride for the customers. "Yanese catered to the wealthy among the Japanese," Steinhagen says, "and some of them really wanted to stand out from the crowd with an American Corvette."
Adapting the Corvette to Japanese roads took some getting used to. "Driving and parking on Japan's right-hand-drive roads was easier than [on] American roads, except when the Japanese had to pay tolls on their expressways," Steinhagen says. "Yanese had to supply owners with an 'arm extender' [known in Japan as a 'magic hand'] that allowed them to [remain seated in the driver seat], put their toll into a metal device attached to a long arm, and stretch it out the right-hand side of the Corvette, so the toll collector could take the fee."
In June 1987, one of these export Corvettes was sold new at Paramount Chevrolet in Paramount, California, and shipped to Japan. Equipped with most of the popular options and the aforementioned Japanese upfit gear, it went for $31,048, or approximately 4,650,000 yen, based upon the currency exchange rate at the time.
Little is known of this Corvette's life in Japan. But in 1999, a gaijin from Australia found the car and imported it to Melbourne. He enlisted Fantasy Junction, also of Melbourne, to convert the car to RHD, then drove and enjoyed it. But when his wife gave birth, the two-seat Vette's failings as a family conveyance became all too apparent. Soon after, it was sold to a policeman from Boonah West, Queensland.
That's where Stuart Thompson, a painter and decorator from New Zealand who now resides in Jindalee, Queensland, enters the story. "I'm the fourth owner," he explains. "I've always loved Corvettes, but when I lived in New Zealand, I couldn't afford one. Since moving to Australia, I've finally been able to buy one."
Thompson found his Corvette through some help from the Corvette Queensland Club. "The owner was a member of the club," he says. "He took me for a run in the car, and then he let me drive it back to his house. I was impressed, as I had never owned a sports car before, let alone a Corvette. By the time we got back, it was dark and not the best light to see a black car. Plus, at the time, I really did not know what I was looking at, but I bought it anyway."
Thompson discovered the Corvette needed some heavy-duty revitalization. "There was oil in the engine gearbox, and the differential was black. The Vette had also been repainted but not very well," he recalls. "It had runs all over the place and orange peel all over it." Thompson's goal was to gradually restore his Corvette slowly, without turning it into an "in-op" in the process. "I wanted to drive it all the time, so I didn't want it off the road," he says.