By the time the '76 Corvette rolled into Chevy dealers from coast to coast, change was in the air. Not just within the Chevrolet lineup, which said hello to the Chevette that year (and goodbye to the Vega a year later), but also within the styling and engineering labs that created America's Only True Sports Car. Those started emerging late in the '76 model year, when some of the interior changes planned for the '77 were pulled ahead, thanks to the new parts' availability. Those changes continued until the last of the third-generation Corvettes rolled out of Bowling Green Assembly in October 1982.
Though a big change was the switch to a composite single-leaf rear spring for the '81, the C3s used suspension hardware that had stayed the same since 1963. And those outdated chassis parts were among the biggest items to go when Allen Rauch tackled his Corvette project, the results of which you see here.
Rauch found his C3 about five years ago, at which time he says it was neither a Top Flight beauty nor a basket-case horror show. "When I bought it, I was the third owner," he says from his Allentown, Pennsylvania, home. "It was a good driver, but it needed some work." In other words, it was a classic, all right-a classic "20-footer."
At first, Rauch kept the '76 as it was, driving it during the good-weather months and taking it off the highway for repair and upgrade work during the winters. "I actually took it apart every winter in my garage, and we'd do something to it," he recalls. "The final year, I decided that I'd put the C4 suspension on it, and that's when we really tore it apart."
By "we," Rauch means some of his fellow Lehigh Valley Corvette Association (LVCA) members, who'd done this conversion before. "One of the main [club] guys, John Cook, had done a couple of them," says Rauch. "We decided, 'Let's go this other route, instead of putting it back to original.'" Unlike many other Corvette "restifications," this one would not involve replacing the OEM frame, as it had no crash damage or rust that made replacement necessary.
And the conversion wasn't done in a faraway shop, either. "I took the body off on one side of my garage and hung it from the rafters, and then we rolled the frame over to the other side," says Rauch. "We put the frame into a jig, and then I went down to Bristol, Pennsylvania, where Contemporary Corvette is, went to the yard, and picked out what I wanted. I said, 'I want this front, and I want that Dana 36 rearend.'" Once the C4 parts were in his garage, Rauch says it took him and Cook two weekends to adapt them to the now-cleaned-up stock C3 frame. "The rest of the winter, we painted the frame, polished the aluminum components, and then re-assembled the frame until it was one rolling chassis again." One weekend later, it was body-drop time, and before long Rauch's '76 rolled out of his garage under its own power.
Speaking of power, it's no longer an iron-headed 350 that's under the hood. Instead, Rauch swapped in a stroker 383 built by CMS Racing Engines in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, which uses an 0.030-inch overbored block, a Scat stroker crank, KB 10:1 pistons, a Comp Cams roller camshaft, Dart heads, an Edelbrock Super Victor intake topped by a 750 Holley, and a pair of Hedman Hedders. Behind it, the stock Turbo 350 was replaced by an ATI-built 700R4 that includes one of the company's 10-inch, 3,000-rpm-stall torque converters.
Rauch also got some assistance with the body, as he had the crew at Steckel's Auto Body in Steel City, Pennsylvania, help him strip off the original acrylic lacquer paint and primer, getting down to the gelcoat over the fiberglass. No fender flares were added to the body, however. "Everybody who sees the car comments on how the fenders are flared," says Rauch. "It's just that it's so low to the ground, and with the big tires underneath it, it actually looks flared-and longer."
While the paint prep was going on, Rauch found out that the new color he wanted to use was not available. So, he had Steckel's paint it in the Nassau Blue Metallic that was a Corvette color selection in 2000, in basecoat/clearcoat form. Inside, a set of Al Knoch leather seat covers went on a pair of '79 Corvette buckets, and a Flaming River tilt steering column also went in.
In all, it took two winters to transform Rauch's '76 from 20-footer to the beauty you see here.
But he wasn't quite done. "I just changed the rear gears from 3.07s to 3.73s," Rauch says. "That woke [the car] up, like adding a hundred horsepower to it!" Rauch says he's also considered adding one of FAST's "EZ FAST" fuel-injection systems in place of the carburetor and intake that are on now.
Thanks to the C4-suspension swap, Rauch says his '76 now corners like it's on rails. "As we say, 'We took the John Deere out of that C3!'" He adds that when he goes to car shows, guys following him tell him later, "You just don't know what your car looks like until you've followed it up the road. It doesn't lean-all it does is run down the road."
Compared to earlier-generation Corvettes, there's no shortage of project-ready late-C3 Vettes, as at least 40,000 Corvettes a year were built during the '76-'81 model years. If you've found a "20-footer" of that vintage that you'd like to upgrade to C4 chassis hardware, Rauch has this advice: "You don't have to buy a new frame if you don't need one. You can do the job with a little bit of knowledge, the way we did it."