What good is a Corvette "shark" if it doesn't have enough bite to live up to its cognomen? That's the problem owners of '74 Vettes had when America's favorite sports car fell victim to increasing pressures from the insurance industry, the rising price of gasoline, and societal fears about high-horsepower street machines.
Nonetheless, 1974 was a banner year for Corvette, the second-largest production run to that date in the marque's history (1969 was the highest). Chevrolet produced 37,502 '74 Vettes, including 32,028 coupes and 5,474 convertibles. Three engines were available: the L48 and L82 small-block 350s, rated at 195 and 250 hp, respectively; and an LS4 454, rated at 270 hp. Today, these soft-bumper Vettes are in plentiful supply and reasonably priced, making them excellent candidates for every kind of restoration imaginable.
That's why we're inviting you to travel with us to Australia, as we dredge up the story of a chromed-out carcharhinus (that's a genus of shark, in case you slept through marine-science class), a '74 coupe that pays tribute to the great Baldwin Motion Vettes of the past.
"My 1974 Chevy Corvette started life with the L48 engine, Corvette Orange paint, and a Saddle interior," says Bob Evans, a private investor in Greenwich, New South Wales, Australia. "I bought it in Detroit, in 2005. Bob Cummings, its third owner, had owned it for 21 years, and his friend had owned it for eight years prior to that. In all that time, the Corvette never saw snow and was never driven in winter."
In the 1990s, Cummings extracted the Corvette's L48 mill, in favor of a GM Performance Parts ZZ3 350 HO crate engine. According to Dr. Jamie Meyer, associate marketing director of GMPP, "The ZZ3 was one of the best-selling crate engines of all time. It featured an iron block with four-bolt main caps, a 3.48-inch forged-steel crank, powdered-metal steel rods, and 4.00-inch high-silicon aluminum pistons. It was topped with GM aluminum heads with 1.94/1.50 valves, 1.5-ratio rockers, and a 9.8:1 compression ratio, giving it a rating of 345 hp. Its successor, the currently available ZZ4, is an improved version with 355 hp."
Cummings didn't stop there. He gave his Vette the best road manners he could rustle up, installing tubular A-arms and a spreader bar from Vette Brakes and Products, along with front Bilstein shocks and a dual-mount spring.
What really gives this Vette its agility, however, is a Phase 3 Dragvette 6-Link Suspension Package, which radically changes the geometry of the car's rear suspension. According to Dragvette owner Steve Yates, "[With the Dragvette package], the Corvette will maintain zero camber on the rear wheels throughout the travel of the suspension. This allows the tire to maintain a flat position on the asphalt, unlike the original suspension that pitches the tire camber all over the place. Zero camber is a desired trait for all three types of driving: street, autocross, and drag racing. Simply explained, the tire remains perpendicular to the road, no matter what the car's relationship is to the course."
Along the way, Cummings volunteered the Vette for its share of appearance mods, too. He painted it Bright Dark Teal, and installed '80 front fenders, '82 rear quarters, '77 sports mirrors, a '78 Pace Car front spoiler, and a Chestnut cloth interior.
Meanwhile, 9,500 miles away, Evans was so intrigued by the Corvette that he flew to Detroit, checked it out, bought it, and transported it back to Australia. While his original plan was to enjoy the car as it was, a peculiar pair of paint dimples ultimately led him down a different path: to transform the Vette into one of the most sinister-looking Stingrays ever to grace these pages.
"I registered and drove it for a while, but there were a couple of little dimples in the paint where the luggage rack used to be," he says. "The idea was to quickly repair them and blend in new paint, but the next thing I knew, I was overwhelmed with the idea of completely redoing it with a total rebuild, color change, and interior retrim."
Enter Detroit Custom Bodyworks, the Sydney-based muscle-car-restoration firm Evans enlisted to strip the Corvette to its shell, gut its interior, and transform it into a sensual road rocket. "We added a '67 Stinger hood and painted the car Arctic Silver with a Corsa Rosa stripe. We also laser-cut some Bowtie-themed front grilles and Chevrolet-logo side-pipe covers to add to its customization," Evans says.
Next, Concord Motor Trimmers in Concord designed and installed the beautiful two-tone interior. The shop utilized four different black and red Belgium leathers to fabricate the seat covers and matching door panels. Additional cabin accoutrements include Simpson racing harnesses, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a custom billet console and gauge bezel, an MSD tachometer and transmission-temperature gauge (augmenting the stock units), and a roll bar.
Next, the ZZ3 was rebuilt using Ross pistons, Manley rods, a Comp Cams hydraulic roller, Yella Terra roller rockers, and an Edelbrock Pro-Flo EFI system. A Hurricane Superduty 700-R4 automatic trans took the place of the Turbo 400, and a B&M Magnum Grip shifter was called upon to manhandle the gears.
Not yet ready to call it quits, Evans turned his attention to the Vette's under-bonnet appearance. He called upon Peter Huckstepp, who outfitted the bay in billet, polished aluminum, and other brightwork, including the alternator, a Tuff Stuff power-brake setup, a five-core radiator, a 3,500-cfm electric fan and shroud, and various trim pieces.
Hooker Super Comp side-mount headers, Spiral Turbo Specialties baffles, Speedy 17x8-inch wheels, and Kumho 255/50ZR17 rubber round out the "restification." What remains original on the Stingray? "Not much," Evans says, "except for the factory four-wheel disc-brake setup and the IRS."
Though Evans says there's still some fine detail work to perform, his Stingray is more than ready to show and go. In fact, it's earned four trophies in its first three events: Best in Class at the Castle Hill RSL Club, Best American at the Silverwater Charity Show, and Top Car of Show and First Place Modified, '73-'79, at the Belle Vista Corvette Show.
The Vette's track times are winners, too. In a recent outing, the car blasted through the quarter-mile in 12.97 seconds, a full three seconds faster than it was capable of when new.
"I always wanted a Corvette, and I'm glad this one wasn't a numbers-matching car," Evans says. "It made the rebuild more fun, and it enabled me to build the car the way I like."
There's no doubt the '74 Vette was lacking in performance by today's standards. But thanks to one dedicated Australian, there's one more shark prowling the waters with the bite it needs to back up its name. "Corvettes are meant to have power, and to draw attention wherever they go," Evans says. "Before, this car was a Corvette in name; now it's a Corvette in spirit. To me, that's the best it can ever be."