Restoring a classic Corvette can be both a highly rewarding pursuit and a frustrating endeavor. To be sure, bringing a muscle car that has fallen into disrepair back to its former glory provides immeasurable satisfaction. But the challenges that often arise during such a resurrection can prove a test of one's mechanical mettle as well as one's sanity-and some cursed cars require far more effort than others.
Russell Long's '80 Chevrolet Corvette is a testament to the dual nature of automotive restoration. The C3 earned the nickname "Evil '80" not only for its menacing appearance, but also for its painful resurrection process. When Long found the car in the local classifieds in 2000, he was enticed by the Stingray shape to forego the conveniences afforded by more-modern fare. "I like the shape of the C3s, [as] they have more of a muscle-car look than the newer ones," he says. Intrigued by the low asking price, he decided to check it out.
Despite having little background with third-gen Vettes, Long decided to buy the car. But while he had grand long-term aspirations, his Corvette was initially in a poor state and had to be towed home. "It was a bucket of crap before I resurrected it," he concedes. As the owner of Performance World, a speed shop in Brisbane, Australia, Russell felt he was well equipped to initiate a Corvette renaissance, but he did not yet apprehend the true scope of the task ahead of him.
A closer inspection of the car turned up little cause for elation, and Long began to feel he had been ripped off. In fact, the more he looked, the more he was astonished at the number of serious problems the Corvette presented. He explains: "After getting the car home, [I found a] dodgy right-hand conversion, engine mounts tack-welded from about 15 pieces of scrap steel, the latest cardboard-and-fiberglass mix all through the car, the power-steer ram bent . . . It went on and on." While these challenges may have been a source of trepidation for many people, Long committed to making something of his tatterdemalion C3.
Long first sought the assistance of Drift Body Works in Caboolture, Australia, to address the car's damaged body. Revitalizing the fiberglass proved to be no small task, with the process ultimately consuming more than 2 1/2 years. All that hard work paid off, however, as the C3's current pristine body and paint job offer no hint of its once-dilapidated condition. An L88-style hood was added to give the Vette a more intimidating countenance, and the resulting sinister look complements the car's checkered background. The restoration process also called for fresh lights and lenses as well as various other trim items.
After the extensive body repair, Long began to breathe new life into the powertrain. He decided to abandon the lackluster original engine and begin with a clean slate. A rare (in Australia, anyway) four-bolt SBC block was chosen for the foundation. Inside, a set of Probe forged pistons were united with a Scat forged crankshaft and Scat steel rods.
Crowning the potent small-block is an Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold that is fed by an AED 750 carburetor and topped with a K&N 3-inch air cleaner. The top end benefits from a pair of AFR 195cc aluminum cylinder heads equipped with Milodon valves and Crane Gold roller rockers. The camshaft is a rowdy solid roller with a custom grind and confidential specs.
Ignition-system components include an MSD Pro distributor, a Proform alternator, and Queensland Ignition Leads plug wires. All of the action is supported by a Holley Dominator fuel pump, a custom aluminum radiator, and a High Energy oil pan. Exhaust gases exit through custom headers and a 3-inch exhaust system built by Fat Pipes.
The snorting small-block delivers impressive results despite its relatively diminutive displacement. While Russell is coy about the exact details, he will divulge that on 98-octane fuel the C3 produces more than 500 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque.
With the powerplant successfully resuscitated, a Tremec five-speed manual transmission was installed to handle the new bounty of power. The drivetrain is bolstered with a heavy-duty Exedy Button clutch and a custom driveshaft.
Not content to retain the Vette's "crappy gray interior," Long decided to infuse the cockpit with some American spirit. "I didn't want to go back to the plain-Jane standard interior, so I made up my own-custom Yankee red, white, and blue." Nundah Auto Upholsterers covered the original seats with the American-flag pattern and swapped the dull carpeting for brilliant red. "It's a good thing black paint goes with everything," he says. Modern audio amenities include an Alpine CD-player head unit, a 10-inch subwoofer, and 6x9-inch rear speakers.
The Americana theme is carried into the engine bay with various components painted red and blue. The spotless compartment also contains an assortment of chrome-plated accessories and braided stainless steel hoses. The effect is to combine the custom look of a show car with an air of serious old-school muscle.
Suspension in later-year C3 Corvettes skewed toward a softer, grand-touring car ride, and the cars accordingly lost some of their edge. Long installed Koni shocks and a faster steering rack from a Toyota Cressida to counter the luxury orientation. The aging braking system was enhanced with DBA slotted rotors and Racing Brakes pads, and all four corners received chrome 15x8-inch Eagle Alloys wheels shod in Road Hugger 255/60-15 tires.
With Long spending most of his time overseeing his busy performance shop, the Corvette sees road time only about once a month. Still, he insists that it's not merely a show car. "I built this car to be driven, so it is not a show pony. It just looks nice and neat with some bling and a lot of go," he says. The car is mostly employed as a weekend cruiser, but it also pulls occasional duty at the dragstrip.
With the tribulations of the restoration behind him, Long is happy to finally enjoy the product of his labor. "The car is finished after seven years-thank God," he says. While he describes the Vette as fantastic to drive, with heaps of power, he does plan to add a nitrous system at some point in the future.
Russell Long's Corvette is a demonstration of both the highs and the lows of Corvette restoration. The process was protracted and extremely demanding, but the astounding finished project is well worth the effort. More than just a restomod, Long's "Evil '80" is evidence of a hard-won victory over automotive wickedness.