1979 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe - Grunt Of The Litter

A Hollywood Bomb Ignites A Thermonuclear C3

Christopher R. Phillip Aug 1, 2009 0 Comment(s)

Trivia question: What's the most popular model-year Corvette?

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If you said '63 or '67, you obviously didn't glance at the yearly production totals for Vettes since 1953. Frankly, we were surprised too, when we looked up the answer.

The correct year is actually 1979, when Chevrolet produced 53,807 Corvettes, the largest annual production run in the history of the marque. Believe it or not, that's more Vettes than were sold in '63 and '67 combined.

The obvious question, then, is this: What could have prompted the car-buying public to make the then-12-year-old C3 the best-selling Corvette of all time?

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Perhaps we can find our answer in Hollywood. On June 3, 1978, just prior to the Corvette's '79 model-year introduction, the car's icon status was committed to celluloid in Corvette Summer. The movie featured Star Wars hero Mark Hamill, but its real star was a custom C3 Stingray modified by Hollywood car builder George Barris.

Whether Corvette Summer helped propel Vette sales for the upcoming '79 model year is still a point of contention among enthusiasts. Nonetheless, the film left a lasting impression on many children and adults of the '70s, many of whom fell in love with the car for the very first time, thanks to the movie.

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Brad McDonald admits to being one of those children of the '70s who was enthralled with the film. According to him, his current fascination with Corvettes is directly tied to the movie, and that led him to build one of the most sensational supercharged, nitrous-blown C3s on the planet.

"One of my later memories as a child was seeing Corvette Summer and witnessing Mark Hamill's love and devotion for his Corvette," the 43-year-old Australian says. "Although it may seem a bit corny these days, back then it was OK, especially to a young, impressionable child.

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"I was looking for a for a Pro Street project, something that was not common and would stand out in the crowd," McDonald continues. "These days, there are a few Vettes getting around in Australia, but they're mainly stock weekend drivers. Others are built by owners who just like being seen. Others may have grunt, but just don't stand out."

One look at McDonald's 177-blown '79 Vette, and there's no doubt he likes being seen-and enjoys having the power to back up his attitude. Here's how he put his track-terror Corvette together.

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McDonald sourced his Corvette from the U.S. in 2008. It started life as a customer-ordered Corvette Red car with an Oyster leather interior and the optional L82 engine. The St. Louis-built Vette came fully optioned with an automatic trans, power windows and door locks, removable glass roof panels, a rear-window defogger, air conditioning, sport mirrors, heavy-duty shocks, cruise control, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, AM-FM stereo with cassette, power antenna, and dual rear speakers.

Soon after the car arrived in Australia, McDonald was treated to some good news from his country's legislature. Whereas Corvettes had previously required an expensive and time-consuming conversion to right-hand drive, fresh revisions to Australian import regulations did away with this mandate. This was especially serendipitous in McDonald's case, since it meant he could devote his entire project budget to enhancing his car's looks and performance.

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Knowing that the stock L82 wouldn't live long under the supercharged punishment he intended to subject it to, McDonald turned to Denis Mealing, an engine builder in Gulgong who specializes in high-performance Bowties. Mealing replaced the stock long-block with a four-bolt-main 350, bored it 0.030 over to achieve 357 cubes, and stuffed it with a Callies forged crank, Eagle forged rods, and TRW forged pistons. He lavished equal attention on the heads-a set of Edelbrock Performer aluminum units fitted with 2.02/1.60 stainless valves, Crane springs, Comp Cams 1.5-ratio Pro Magnum rockers, and chrome-moly 7/16-inch pushrods. He set the compression ratio at 8.5:1, indicating that lots of boost-15 psi to be precise-was part of his master plan.

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Mealing topped the assembly with a Weiand blower intake and a Holley 930-cfm "double pumper" carb, then finished things off in grand fashion with a polished Weiand 177 supercharger. Other notable powertrain upgrades include a Comp Cams camshaft to direct the valvetrain action, a full complement of MSD ignition components, a Milodon 7-quart pan to keep things lubricated, and polished Hooker headers and side pipes to give the exhaust a plausible escape route.

The power is transmitted to the pavement via a high-stall (2,800 rpm) torque converter, a shift-kitted Pro Comp Turbo-350 automatic, a balanced driveshaft, and a Dana 44 rear stuffed with Richmond 3.70 gears. The result, according to the owner, is a dyno-verified 525 rwhp, or about three times the power the Corvette left the factory with 30 years earlier.

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With the powertrain buttoned up, McDonald upgraded the car's suspension to handle the exponential power increase. He added Edelbrock IAS shocks at all four corners, along with a fiberglass leaf spring and an aftermarket sway bar in the rear. Classic good looks and a comfortable ride come courtesy of Yokohama 255/60R15 tires wrapped in American Racing Torq-Thrust II wheels.

Although it wasn't used in the aforementioned dyno test, McDonald also added an Edelbrock NOS kit complete with a heater blanket and a polished bottle. If utilized, it would infuse the already brawny Vette with an additional 100 to 250 horses of instant muscle power.

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Other accoutrements include a polished March pulley system; an aluminum radiator; braided brake and cooler lines; a chrome power-brake booster, master cylinder, and alternator; and Chevy Bow Tie tall valve covers. Future mods will involve the addition of a Garlits 6-71 SC500 Streetcatcher supercharger and a new custom hood.

"My idea was to have a Vette on steroids, but still a streetable machine," McDonald says. We think he proved his point with one of his recent timeslips, a 10.4-second sizzler down the 1,320.

Considering that the '79 sauntered down the quarter-mile in 15.3 seconds when new, it's clear that McDonald's ministrations have had the desired effect. Now all he needs to do is to install a DVD player to watch Corvette Summer-while he's turning heads and racking up impressive timeslips in his unique C3, of course.

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