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Time Machine: L88 Vette

James Berry Feb 9, 2013

In 1953 Chevrolet introduced the world to a new American icon, in the form of the first Corvette. But while the car would quickly become a trendsetter in its own right, it wasn’t until the horsepower wars of the ’60s pushed output levels into the stratosphere that the Vette developed into a true muscle machine. The ’67-’69 L88s were the purest distillation of this new class of street-and-track warrior.

Back in 1968, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Robert Tortorete heard about the L88 Vette, and he was prepared to do whatever it took to get one. The then-20-year-old Tortorete walked into Jack Sullivan Chevrolet in Etna to purchase his dream car, only to be told that it didn’t exist.

After arming himself with information and a complete parts list that was never made available to the public, Tortorete returned to the same dealer, dropped $7,200 on the desk, and ordered his new car: a ’69 Daytona Yellow Corvette convertible with a Black interior and the 427/430hp L88 engine. Backing the race-spec mill were a heavy-duty, close-ratio four-speed; special front and rear suspensions; a Positraction rear axle; vacuum power brakes; heavy-duty brakes; and a heavy-duty, 10-inch-diameter clutch assembly.

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But while Tortorete was dreaming of breaking speed records in his new muscle-Vette, the car’s production was slowing to a crawl. The body was ready, and the paint had been sprayed, but the low-volume engine was nowhere near completion. The plant put the body in storage to wait until the powertrain was complete.

During this time a lot changed in Tortorete’s life. A week after ordering his Corvette, he became engaged to his girlfriend, Ruth, and the pair began making plans for the future. Nine months after the original order date, the car was finally delivered to Jack Sullivan Chevy. By this time, the newly married Tortoretes were expecting their first child. Robert nevertheless took his new car to the limit, only to state later that, “It wasn’t fast enough, and upon reaching 165 miles per hour, the front end felt light.”

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With a new family to worry about, Tortorete realized that he needed a more accommodating vehicle, so in 1971, he put the 19,000-mile Corvette up for sale. He would go on to establish a business and satisfy his need for speed by drag racing professionally.

Second owner David Bundy held on to the Vette for 37 years, and in 2001 he had Paul Schuster perform a complete restoration on it. During this time, a friend of Schuster’s named Greg Ornazian fell in love with the car. Ornazian contacted Bundy to see if he was interested in selling, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was.

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When we asked Bundy what his favorite memory of the Vette was, he stated, “When you would really get on the gas, because of all of the torque, the frame would twist, and the ‘Door Ajar’ light would come on. It was the coolest thing.”

Third owner Ornazian was delighted to bring the ’69 home to his collection. He was invited to bring the car to the Bloomington Gold L88 Special Collection, where it was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame. It also won an NCRS Top Flight Award, Bloomington Gold Certification, and many other accolades under Ornazian’s stewardship.

Fast-forward to the 2012 Mecum auction in Kissimmee, Florida, where Ornazian decided to put his award-winning Corvette up for bids. To enhance the excitement, all three owners were reunited for the occasion. Robert Tortorete brought pictures of the car from the time when he owned it. As the trio stood there, reviewing the photos, Tortorete said, “It’s funny: After all this time, I’ve aged, but the car looks the same as the day I brought it home.”

When the moment came to drive the Daytona Yellow L88 across the block, Tortorete was handed the keys and asked to do the honors. The bids quickly started coming in like wildfire. When the reserve price was met, the audience erupted in applause. The hammer finally dropped at $610,000, and a new owner became part of the living history of this very special Corvette.



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