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.
With my avenues becoming fewer, I concentrated on the Internet, and particularly on a '71 Stingray in a no-reserve eBay auction with a starting bid of $5,000. As a manual-transmission coupe with a non-matching 350 engine, this car looked to be an ideal candidate. As a bonus, the owner claimed that the body and frame were in good shape, the engine and transmission had been rebuilt, the brakes were new, and the suspension had recently been refurbished with new bushings and strut rods. Contrarily, the paint was dull and sporting numerous imperfections, and the front end had been changed to an aftermarket unit at some point. Also, the windshield was cracked, the interior showed some wear, and the contrast of the bright-red seats against a black interior added to the general poor aesthetics of the vehicle. Still, at $5,000 for a running, driving '71 Stingray, the deal was too good to pass up. Before bidding, however, I checked Mike Antonick's Corvette Black Book to learn a little more about this car.
Whether considering a $5,000 Corvette or a $500,000 exotic collector car, it pays to do your research before purchasing. Consulting the Corvette Black Book, I discovered the car I was considering was a somewhat typically optioned Stingray with power brakes, steering, and windows; air conditioning; a tilt/telescoping steering column; and a manual transmission. Not a special-package car, it likely came with the base 350 engine, though that powerplant had long since been replaced. Another interesting feature I discovered was that the '71 model was the lightest of the early C3s, with a curb weight of just 3,202 pounds, making it a great candidate for a modified build. With these things in mind, I waited until the auction was nearing its end, and purchased the car for just under $5,600 after a short bidding war with another interested party. After paying my deposit, I contacted the seller and made plans to drive my truck and trailer the 12 hours from central Florida to Chesterfield, Virginia, and retrieve my new purchase.
Upon arriving in Chesterfield, I was happy to find the Corvette to be as described in the eBay advertisement. The seller was genuinely sorry to see the car go as I loaded it in my enclosed car trailer. He even included a couple of boxes of extra parts he had accumulated for the project. Excited about my purchase-and feeling a bit like I stole the car-I quickly loaded the Corvette and headed back to Florida to evaluate the latest VETTE project vehicle. Though the return trip wasn't without incident (the injector pump on my truck decided to quit just north of Daytona), I made the necessary repairs and continued home. Once there, I unloaded the car, and after a couple of safety-related repairs took it for a ride around the block. I was pleasantly surprised at its condition, and with the way it ran and drove. This should be a fun project, and we're looking forward to providing some great C3 technical articles as we build and upgrade the vehicle. Be sure to follow our project in future issues, and for more pictures of our latest project visit www.vetteweb.com.
What's In A Name?
Whether intended or not, most magazine project cars generally end up being named. Sometimes this is done purposely, to distinguish the automobile from other project vehicles, and sometimes the name is just a way for us to keep track of which car we're talking about here at the office. Regardless, naming a project can be difficult, as often no single name can truly capture the essence of the car.
In the case of our C3 project, we've considered several names, including the "Recession Special," due to the humble beginnings of the car. We have a feeling, however, that our budget Corvette will soon be anything but, as we modify the suspension, brakes, and drivetrain for maximum performance. With that in mind, we're considering naming the Stingray "C3 Triple Ex." No, we didn't come up with this name because it took three ex-wives to find a girl great enough to let us build it, nor for the somewhat pornographic connotation. Rather, the trio of Exes would stand for "Extreme handling, Extreme braking, and Extreme acceleration."
That being said, we'd like your input as to how we should build this project, and what we should name it. Please email us at email@example.com and share your thoughts, your experiences building your own C3, and your suggestions for a suitable project moniker. And be sure to put "C3 project" in the subject line so we can distinguish your email from the thousands (OK, dozens) of others we receive daily.
We value our readers' opinions, so please share your thoughts on how we should build and name this C3.