Building an over-the-top road-race Corvette can take more than hard work and dedication. Sometimes, you have to have patience and be prepared to wait more than 25 years for the right car to come around again.
"My '68 Corvette convertible has been special to me since the early '70s," says Gary Harlan, a 64-year-old retired mechanic from Klamath Falls, Oregon. "My sister's husband, Bill Hedekin, bought it from a San Diego wrecking yard in 1972. From all indications, it was a big-block, four-speed that had been stolen and was recovered without its drivetrain."
With the intent of converting the C3 into a Solo 1 and slalom racer, Hedekin lightened it by removing its convertible-top mechanism as well as its window glass and actuators. Then, he turned to the biggest name in Corvette Racing-"Mr. Corvette" himself, Dick Guldstrand. Guldstrand welded the frame solid and reinforced it at all of its weak points, installed the best suspension pieces of the day, and, later, added an eight-point rollcage.
Afterwards, Hedekin yanked the 327ci "fuelie" and Muncie four-speed trans from his '63 split-window coupe and installed it in the Stingray. The car was almost ready to go racing, but first, he wanted to install the fender flares he had seen on the Owens-Corning '68. Remarkably, they were available from his Chevy dealer's parts counter.
Hedekin campaigned the car at events in Southern California until the late '70s. He then retired it from competition, stripped it of its drivetrain and suspension, and put it into storage.
Although Hedekin eventually lost interest, Harlan never forgot about the race-prepped Corvette roadster. "I started thinking about the Silver State Classic Challenge and how his Corvette needed to be brought back to life," he recalls. "I started asking him about it when I would visit my sister for holiday trips. I kept bugging him about it, and finally, in 1997, he told me he wanted it out of his driveway and to come and get it."
Harlan was excited to start the long-overdue project, but he promised his wife that it would wait until she had their house remodeled. Finally, on Valentine's Day 2002, she gave him the good news: "Get started on the Corvette."
Harlan looked at the project as an opportunity to retain the classic Corvette Stingray's vintage personality, yet have it compete successfully against much younger and stronger Vettes in open-road racing. Along the way, he decided that driving the Corvette was so much fun that he should restore it to street-legal status, a configuration it hadn't seen in more than 30 years.
First, Harlan stripped every nut and bolt off of the car, sanded and painted the frame, and modernized the suspension. The latter task involved adding Vette Brakes & Products upper and lower control arms, front and rear monoleaf heavy-duty springs, 11/8- and 3/4-in (front/rear) sway bars, offset rear trailing arms, and a set of shortened Bilstein shocks. He also installed a VB&P braking system consisting of 10.8-in rotors at all corners, factory four-piston calipers modified with dual pins, insulated pistons, stainless-steel lines, braided hoses, and Hawk pads. "I would have liked to have removed the body from the frame, but it was impossible with the rollcage already installed," he says.
For the engine, Harlan chose vintage over modern. The car's 383ci small-block-built by Karl's Machine Shop in Klamath Falls-features a 3.75-inch Eagle forged crank, 6-inch Eagle H-beam forged connecting rods, and 0.030-over JE forged pistons. Topping the assembly are a pair of Brodix RR-200 heads (installed by Harlan), which provide old-school combustion power with their 72cc chambers, 2.05/1.60 Manley stainless-steel valves, and Comp 1.52-ratio rocker arms.