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 And those outdated chassis parts were among the biggest items to go when Allen Rauch tackled his Corvette project, the results of which you see here.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."