As the other body panels were repaired-or replaced, as each one warranted-Barnett and Hutcheson shared ideas and came up with the idea of a completely shaved body. From the door handles to the emblems, everything was removed. Logos-such as the crossed flags on the hood-were instead painted on by Grinlinton Studios in Blue Springs, Missouri, including the anachronistic "Stingray" above the front gill slits. The rear "C-O-R-V-E-T-T-E" letters were also omitted, replaced with a light gray "Corvette" spelled out in C5 script. The effect is subtle, but impressive; you don't realize at first that you're not seeing the customary flash of chrome. And that's the true genius of good custom work: You can tell immediately it's not stock, but it takes a second to register exactly what's been changed.
The interior, while a little less understated, also shows the work of the capable hands at Grinlinton Studios. Carrying on the orange accent line of the body (orange is a favorite color of Barnett's wife, who drives the couple's other Corvette, a '99), custom aluminum door-panel inserts are emblazoned with a bold "ZZ454" and encircled with an orange line. A similar custom console is painted with generation-correct crossed flags and a five-speed shift map; it also contains the Kenwood radio and the controls for the Vintage Air A/C. The stock gauges were replaced with factory-style white-faced units from Corvette Instruments, and the polished Flaming River steering wheel and column add a bit of flash which goes well with the chromed rollbar-like hoops behind each of the C5 seats.
As anyone who's ever really laid into a C3 on a curvy road knows, the factory seats offer exactly zero lateral support, and it's extremely hard to put a car through its paces when you're about to get thrown out of the seat. The C5 seats that Barnett selected, however, offer both more comfort and more support than the originals, and their black-leather covers were modified with the addition of an orange accent stripe and orange crossed flags stitched into the headrest. All in all, it's a beautiful package, well thought out both in terms of performance and presentation.
Perhaps that's what made it catch the eye of Editor Jay Heath at this year's Funfest, where he selected it to receive a Celebrity Choice award. It definitely caught mine as I walked among some of the 15,000 Corvettes that usually come to the annual customer-appreciation party thrown by Mid America Motorworks. Barnett had picked it up the Wednesday before the show and brought it the 300-some miles from Kansas City to Effingham, Illinois, that Friday.
"I didn't know at first if it would be worth it," Barnett told me. After seeing that drop-top '68 brought back from the dead and parked on the Field of Dreams at Funfest, I think we know the answer to that question.