Do you remember your first performance car? Your first Corvette? Chances are, if it was a recent edition, you were fairly bowled over by its performance capabilities, even as a stocker. This is frequently the case with new automotive enthusiasts, who are often so stoked with their new toys, they can scarcely imagine any way of improving upon them. As always, though, there are exceptions to this stereotype. Maxwell Larson is one such exception.
Though the Minneapolis resident had never owned an American muscle car before, he'd been exposed to enough modified performance machines to know that stock simply wouldn't do. He had plans for the car he was to buy.
Stoplight-to-stoplight mayhem is fun for a while, but for Larson, the topsy-turvy backroads of western Wisconsin held far more allure. Though he was attracted to the performance and no-compromise conveniences of a C6, he also knew there were no late-model cars that could compare to the drop-jaw styling of an early shark. Also unlike many new Corvette buyers, he also had a clear objective in purchasing his first: It had to be a big-block '72 coupe.
It can be interesting to ask new Corvette owners how they came to own their particular cars. Usually, if they have a reply beyond a guffaw and a shrug, it will center around a certain powertrain package or color option. But if you ask Larson this question, his answer might surprise you with its poignancy. "It was the last year of the chrome-bumper cars, which have always been very appealing to me. Nineteen seventy-two was also the year I was born, so the car has a little bit of extra meaning to me for that reason, too." And a big-block? "Nothing sounds better than a big-block, especially in a Corvette."
So, when Larson decided the time had come to acquire his first Corvette, he was a man on a clear mission. It didn't take long before this simple ad caught his eye:
For sale: 1972 Corvette coupe, 454 LS5, TH-400 transmission, 73k miles
The car had been previously restored, but wasn't completely original. The correct engine and transmission were still in place, but the body had undergone a couple of color changes in its history. It was now a slightly odd, non-stock shade of blue, a hue ostensibly borrowed from a first-generation Camaro. Riding high on too-tall white-letter tires and OEM rally wheels, it was a solid, if not particularly exciting, prospect. Something about it just felt "off." Unimpressed, he decided to pass.
The consummate researcher, Larson's quest for the right car continued, but that peculiar blue '72 was always on the periphery. With many of his modifications planned before he even had a car to bolt them to, his quest for the right car had grown into an obsession. Then something odd happened. Slowly at first, then with gathering momentum, a vision was forming. A vision based on that blue '72. He called the seller back and made the deal.
Once home in his Minneapolis garage, Larson set about the first phase of his three-pronged plan. Phase one was to improve the car's handling while nailing the stance. Though he had never before performed any sort of performance work on a car, he dove right in. "I installed a complete Vette Brakes & Products front monospring conversion, which replaced the coil springs and A-arms. I also added a rear dual-mount composite monospring and Bilstein Sport shocks at all four corners." The resulting ability to adjust the ride height to perfection is a big part of what makes this car oh-so-right. And that's to say nothing of the total transformation made in the Vette's ride and handling. It was a great first step.
Next on the agenda were the paint and body. Larson asked Bruce Tschida at Lake Marion Collision in Lakeville, Minnesota, to help him realize his vision for a subdued C3. Though the car's panels were in fine condition, the replacement of two key pieces and the modification of a third were paramount in tying together Larson's mental picture. A new L88 hood was fitted, while a side-pipe-style rear valance took up residence beneath the rear bumpers. Next, the rear deck was relieved of its radio antenna and luggage rack.
The car was again re-sprayed, this time with two-stage Sikkens Nantucket Blue. This was topped with a pearl white Baldwin-Motion–style stripe, which flops in direct sunlight and takes on a striking purple hue. Careful color-sanding and buffing ensured a surface with incredible depth and devoid of any orange peel. With the paint and bodywork complete, Max added a stunning set of custom Intro Pentia wheels—18x8.5 front and 18x10 rear—with a matching set of Nitto NT555 Z-rated tires—245/40 front and 285/35 rear—to complete the look. "I didn't want to see myself going down the road in the opposite direction every time I took the car out." Very little danger of that, we'd say.
As with most project cars, Larson's Corvette remains a work-in-progress, particularly when it comes to the powertrain. Internally, the engine is as it was when the car was purchased. During its prior restoration, it had undergone a fairly standard rebuild with a solid combination of quality components, most notably an Edelbrock Performer intake manifold and cam. "It had a nice lopey idle, but it needed more power to back up the sound," says Larson.
In a first attempt to rectify this, he added a pair of Hooker Super Competition headers with Jet-Hot Sterling coating. These feed a pair of polished, 4-inch, stainless-steel Super Competition side pipes with Spiral Turbo Specialties baffles. An MSD E-Curve electronic distributor, along with an MSD coil and wires, were also added. The combination was then dyno-tuned and produced 280 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels. While clearly no match for a modern Corvette (yet), Larson's C3 does run strong for its conservative level of modification.
What does the future hold for this car? "More power, for sure," says Larson. He's currently researching big-block aluminum crate engines, but as appealing as these are, there are other possibilities lurking. A more satisfying backroad experience could be achieved with a better-balanced chassis by way of an LS engine swap with a six-speed transmission, so that combination is under consideration as well.
For now, though, Larson's C3 has the jaw-dropping looks and ear-bending sound that draw stares and thumbs-up every time he drives it. "It's definitely a lot of fun to drive, and I get a lot of satisfaction from having done the mods myself," he said. Not bad for a newbie.