As automotive enthusiasts, we often find ourselves segregated into a certain brand or model of vehicle for one reason or another. For this author, being infected with the performance-automotive disease began in 1974 while riding in a schoolmate's father's '68 426 Hemi-equipped Plymouth Road Runner. Granted, the Road Runner braked and cornered like a dump truck, but in terms of straight-line acceleration, I remember being pinned in the seat as he rowed the gears of the four-speed transmission, feeling like I was aboard a rocket-powered test sled at NASA. It was that initial memory from my sixth year that ignited my passion for building and racing powerful muscle cars. Even while enjoying a rewarding career managing an aircraft-charter service and flying corporate jets worldwide, my real passion was racing and restoring collector vehicles.
Though my automotive endeavors have generally involved Chrysler products, I've always held the Corvette in high regard. Stereotypes aside, Corvette owners have been fortunate to enjoy a car ahead of its time in terms of performance, and Corvettes new and old are well-rounded automobiles for those of us who enjoy aggressive driving. So having always held an affection for the sexy, aerodynamically muscular lines of the C3, it took little prodding from Editor Jay Heath to encourage me to purchase a Stingray and upgrade the car in the pages of VETTE. While all Corvettes exude the image of high performance, the C3 is the first of the Corvettes that really looks aerodynamic. Additionally, the chrome front and rear bumpers of the pre-'73 models hint at the nostalgia of a time when cars were built from more-substantive materials. So with my decision made, I enthusiastically began searching for a '68 to '72 Stingray project vehicle.
Selecting an appropriate magazine project vehicle presents several obvious dilemmas. While landing an L88 or ZR-1 Stingray would certainly be nice, the hate mail we'd get for doing anything but restoring such a vehicle would negate its purpose. As a magazine project, this car will serve as a testbed for parts, and any semblance to a factory Corvette will soon be lost. Since the car will likely be modified with huge brakes, aftermarket suspension components, and an upgraded drivetrain, it just makes sense to start with a car that isn't a high-value collectible. Additionally, having the numbers-matching engine isn't important, since we'll likely modify or swap it during the course of this project. With these criteria in mind, I put the word out to my co-workers, friends, and fellow enthusiasts that I was in the market for a non-numbers-matching, early C3. I also began watching Craig's list, eBay, and other Internet classified sites for potential deals and to get a feel for the market.
As a side effect of the tumultuous economic state of our country, Corvette prices (as well as the prices of most collector cars) are all over the map. Tracking down a lead from the owner of the shop who performs most of my paint work, I discovered a '68 convertible basket case located in the next town, only to find that the car had sold some three weeks earlier. As an alternative, I attended the Imperial Auto Auction classic-car event in Polk County, Florida, but the only somewhat suitable Corvette, a '73 model with the rear chrome bumper, brought more than I was willing to spend on a car that needed substantial work.