In August 1967, the all-new '68 Corvette was shown to the automotive press for the first time. Loosely modeled on GM Styling Director Bill Mitchell's Mako Shark II show car, the '68 Vette was a radical visual change from the classic look of the '63-'67 "midyear" models. Thanks to its resemblance to Mitchell's masterpiece, the '68 quickly became known simply as the "shark."
Public reaction was upbeat. Sales climbed to 28,566 units, up nearly 6,000 units from the previous year and a good indication that the new exterior design had made an impression in the heavily contested muscle car market. Priced at what now seems a ridiculously low $4,663 (coupe)/$4,320 (convertible), the '68 Corvette came standard with a 327 small-block, a Turbo-400 automatic, vinyl interior trim, and, in the case of the convertible, a soft top.
Underneath its sleek and sensuous fiberglass body, the '68 Vette boasted an impressive list of engine options. Two small-blocks and four big-blocks were available, ranging from the 300hp base mill all the way up to a 435-horse 427. It was clear Chevy aimed to give car buyers of all incomes a way to indulge in their need for speed while looking good in the process.
The shark body style was so popular that it continued for 15 years, a lifespan that has not been duplicated since in Corvette history. To this day, many C3 owners will pit their generation of Vette against any other in terms of performance, style, and technological innovation.
Brent Lockton, an auto electrician in Narooma, Australia was bitten early by the shark frenzy. "I have always liked Chevrolets, especially the shape ofCorvettes," Lockton says. "My first Chevy was a '56 four-door, which I sold to buy my first Corvette--a red '79. I always wanted a steel-bumper Corvette, so when the opportunity to buy this one came, I couldn't pass it up. I sold the '79 and started building the '68."
To find, buy, and restore his shark, Lockton turned to Corvette specialist Miles Johnson of Thunder Road Restorations in Melbourne. Johnson has performed hundreds of muscle-car and hot-rod restorations and has more than 40 years of experience in fiberglass work. "I've been building cars since the very early '60s, mainly of the hot-rod and custom theme," Johnson says. "My personal love affair with the Corvette started, like so many others, with the TV series Route 66 and its two main characters, Buzz and Todd. There was no going out on a Friday night until the show was finished.
"I purchased the '68 in damaged condition from its registered owner, Dean Toovey of Canberra," Johnson continues. "Toovey, like so many of us, always wanted to own a Corvette. He felt the car was a symbol of success and suited his lifestyle. His story was uneventful until he engaged his local Canberra-based tune shop in regard to an idle and overheating problem. He was assured they would be able to fix it."
According to the story Johnson heard, one of the shop's mechanics took his lady friend out for a spin on his lunch break and had a smashing time--literally--losing control of the Vette in a light rain and colliding with a reinforced road barrier. The battle of fiberglass vs. steel was no contest; Johnson was called in to assess the damage.
"It was my job to quote Toovey the cost of the Corvette's repairs, as the insurance was planning a payout," Johnson says. "I agreed to undertake the repairs but cautioned him that it would be expensive and time consuming. Several months later, he decided to sell the car to me."
At the time, Johnson was working on a frame-off restoration of the only ZL1 Camaro to race in Australia in the early '70s. As a result, the Vette was relegated to the "some day" section of his shop. Meanwhile, he made it a point to tell his friend Wayne Lockton about his new acquisition. Lockton, in turn, told his brother, Brent, who was interested in acquiring the shark in spite of its calamitous condition.