As a noted historian once observed, "It is always the inclination of man to deny reality, to tidy things up, to wrap perception in a pretty party ribbon..."
As proof of this truism, ancient rulers often covered up military losses with accounts of their debacles chiseled into stone as great victories. Today, spin doctors for celebs explain away tantrums resulting in broken hotel furniture as, "an allergic reaction to medication." And when it comes to early Corvettes, we often look at them through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, romanticizing their real performance abilities.
Jack Blitvich admits to once wearing a pair of those spectacles, but only after taking a bumpy ride down memory lane to rescue an abandoned '62 Corvette. He became wiser for his pain, however, bringing it forward with a modern drivetrain and tubular chassis from SRIII Motorsports. Before focusing on those technical details, we should recount how Blitvich came upon this epiphany.
Like so many of us, his initial experience with Corvettes was imprinted during his youth. "I was 13 the first time I saw the 1961 Corvette," he recalls. "Up until then, I wasn't part of the fan base for the relatively new line of cars. As soon as I saw the new body style, I was a fan. When the 1962 Corvette was introduced, the next year, with the new 327, I was in love."
It would be more than two decades, though, before he could get into his first Corvette. In the meantime, his overly clever but well-meaning relatives would give him Corvette trinkets (tie tacks, pens, pencils, belt buckles, and the like) whenever he said that all he ever wanted for Christmas was a Corvette. (We confess to having that same frustrated yearning, so we feel his pain.)
Fast-forward to the early '80s. A neighbor lost his old British sports car in a fire, and was looking for a replacement. Like something out of a fairy tale, he told of a mysterious and wonderful place called "Bloomington" where Corvettes virtually grow on trees. Only this was no Grimm's fantasy.
"I remember my first sight in the parking lot even before we went in," Blitvich relates. "I saw a guy counting out $2,800 to buy a Fawn Beige '62 right there in the lot. I knew this would be a good time."
He wasn't able to peel off a wad of Benjamins that day, but he did subscribe to Corvette magazines (presumably this one first) and join both the NCRS and the Solid Axle Corvette Club (SACC). He talked endlessly to others about his new "hobby," even though he didn't even have a car yet. Soon, soon, he kept reassuring himself.
Then the neighbor who took him to Bloomington threw even more temptation his way, casually mentioning that he had spotted an abandoned '62, covered in snow, lying next to a body shop. Barely able to contain himself, Blitvich braved blizzard conditions to peer through a fence at the object of his desire, ignoring the cold in his fingers from clutching the chain links. "While it looked awful, even from the street where I stood, I knew I had to have this car," he says.
Easier said than done, however. Turns out the owner of the shop was keeping the car as collateral for a customer's debt, and the owner of the Corvette wasn't all that inclined to pay up. Sensing the time was right, as older Vettes were beginning to increase in value, Blitvich tried to track down the shop owner to discuss buying the car. It took five tries, but Blitvich finally caught up with him one weekend night, struck a deal, and towed the '62 home on a borrowed trailer.
"My wife, Gloria, who had been waiting up, poked her nose out the door when she heard the commotion and said, 'I thought you were getting a Corvette.'" That might sound like a tart remark from one of those reality-TV shows, but in truth, she couldn't tell what the dilapidated hulk was. There was no interior, the soft top was in tatters, the tires were flat and muddy, and the drivetrain was MIA.
This inauspicious beginning, however, was the start of an adventure that has given Blitvich and his family loads and loads of good times. Hours and days were spent looking for the parts that didn't come with the car.
"My sons and I became quite familiar with the swap meets where we thought we could likely get the parts that we needed," he relates. "I got involved with a group that traveled in a Corvette caravan to Bloomington each year. While most of them sat around the pool and chatted, off I went to search for parts to finish another phase."
Blitvich spent hours talking to people who had done just what he was trying to do, since back then, there wasn't the amount of information that exists today. "Some kind souls remembered just exactly how something should appear, and then a year later I'd find out that it wasn't that way at all, and have to redo something that we thought was right," he says.
These exasperating missteps would eventually lead him in an entirely different direction. "About that time I ran into two guys who ran a restoration shop not far from my house. They were doing something you didn't see much of back then," he notes. "They had a '62 Corvette with a tube frame, disc brakes, and a big-block. I thought it was very cool, but at that time all I could imagine was putting mine back to stock."
Yet Blitvich would soon begin to see past his rose-colored rims. He discovered that nostalgia can be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, we reminisce about good times gone by, wistfully observing how, "They don't make 'em like they used to." On the other hand, maybe that's a good thing—at least when it comes to C1 Corvettes. After all, that car's live-axle rearend and drum brakes were barely adequate, and clearly antiquated by today's standards. The driving experience can be described as unnerving at best, and many modern pickup trucks handle better.
Blitvich had gotten to a point where he thought he was done with the Vette, putting lots of miles on it going here and there. But those miles took a toll, and the car started to get tired. The old drum brakes pulled to the right when he applied the pedal, and the paint developed some chips no one could explain. The carpet was faded, and the steering box was plain worn out.
Driving his neighbor's '60 Corvette with a later-model powerplant proved revelatory. "Wow," Blitvich remembers thinking, "what a difference a new engine made. He still had the original steering gear in his, though, and it was as worn as mine. I thought about what fun these cars would be if they only handled." Talk about a revelation—we can almost hear strains of "Amazing Grace" playing in the background.
That's when Blitvich recalled those two guys who had stuck a tube frame under their own '62. He went to see them and found that the fellow who handled the frame side of the business, Mike Stockdale, had gone off by himself and formed SRIII Motorsports, and was putting tube frames under everything he could find.
After many weeks of planning and getting input from his kids, Blitvich and his family hit upon a course of action. After doing an obligatory "last burnout," they stripped out the '62's interior and all the chrome, and took it to SRIII for a chassis transplant.
Blitvich listed the original frame, engine, and driveline on eBay, and those items sold promptly, helping to defray the cost of the more modern mechanicals. The SRIII frame features a round-tube design, cross-linked for superior strength and rigidity. Its three-dimensional network of round tubing creates a space frame to better withstand the twisting forces applied during hard cornering and acceleration.
In addition, when combined with the '84-up Corvette's forged-aluminum suspension and coilover shocks, the unsprung weight is significantly less than that of the original live axle and leaf-spring setup, resulting in a softer, more controlled ride. The overall SRIII package is hundreds of pounds lighter than the original chassis and suspension used on the '53-'62 Corvettes, improving the car's power-to-weight ratio.
Stockdale had already started building the frame for this project, so it didn't take long to equip the new chassis with C5 front and C4 rear suspension bits and QA1 coilovers, plus '04 Z06 brakes. Street & Performance supplied an '07 LS2 mill, backed by a T56 Tremec six-speed tranny.
Taking this contemporizing theme even further, Blitvich had new top, carpet, and floor mats fitted by Mark's Custom Auto Interiors. As for modern electronics, he added GPS, a push-button starter, kick-panel speakers, an amp in the upholstered trunk, and even a cradle in the center console for his iPhone. Power windows and locks, plus HID headlights by Custom Sound Solutions, completed the freshening.
When those rose-colored glasses were tossed out the window, they were quickly crunched under the grippier radial tread of Goodyear Eagle F1 tires. Jack and Gloria Blitvich now roll down the road with a smile on their faces. Life is indeed good—especially when you can rewrite history.