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1971 Chevy Corvette Convertible - Historic Handful

This two-owner shark has a "hands-on" history

Scott Ross Apr 3, 2013
Vemp 1304 11 1971 Chevy Corvette Convertible 2/12

Of all the 7,121 Corvette convertibles that rolled out of St. Louis Assembly during the 1971 model year, Jack DiMaggio's has to be among the most original of the bunch.

With right around 62,000 miles on it (as of this writing), the Classic White drop-top shows few signs of age, save for a peeling air-cleaner decal and other patina commonly seen on cars that have survived for more than four decades.

But a look at the underside of the steering column shows evidence that the Corvette was a "handful" for its original owner. Not in an L88-with-manual-steering way, according to DiMaggio. "[He] didn't have the use of his legs, so he had a system put in where he could drive the car with his hands," he says of the setup that operated the throttle and brake with controls similar to those on a motorcycle.

That was the only aftermarket item installed on this shark, though plenty went on at St. Louis. That included an LS5 454, an M40 Turbo-400, G80 Positraction with 3.36 rear gears, J50 power brakes, N40 power steering, A31 power windows, an C07 auxiliary hardtop, and the leather-trimmed Custom Interior group. All those factory options pushed this C3's sticker price well above $6,000, no small amount of change in 1971. (Plus, there was still a federal excise tax collected on new-car sales until late in the '71 model run.)

Sold new by Carter Chevrolet in Manchester, Connecticut—a still-active Chevy dealer that's been in the same family since the '40s—it covered just under 60,000 miles before DiMaggio bought it in 2007. With it came plenty of documentation. "I have the original order copy, Protect-O-Plate, a copy of the original title, original keys, and keychain—the whole nine yards," says DiMaggio, who adds that the '71's first owner added one more item before the sale. "He gave me an affidavit saying the paint was all original. In a couple spots here and there, I found some overspray, which could have been possibly done at the dealership."

Vemp 1304 01 1971 Chevy Corvette Convertible Front Three Quarter 6/12

You'd be hard pressed to locate any of that overspray yourself—except, of course, for the area below the doors where the factory paint-shop crew couldn't reach, and to which Chevrolet added a rocker-panel trim strip as concealment.

Inside, the black buckets have the familiar, comfortable look of well-preserved vintage leather, though the dash trim shows its age here and there. Same goes for the engine bay: Outside of the aforementioned breather decal, you'd be a long time finding evidence of anything other than routine upkeep."The only maintenance I did on it was change little things here and there, like clamps and hoses," DiMaggio says. "The original valve covers are back on, as is the original radiator cap, but otherwise it's been regular maintenance, basically."

After four decades, is it a handful to drive, as some vintage sports cars can be? Not at all, per DiMaggio. "It's a real pleasure, and it's real tight," he says, while adding that it's not the most comfortable car to drive. (If you wanted comfort back then, you bought a Monte Carlo, Impala, Caprice, or something larger from The General's well-stocked fleet of luxo-cruisers.)

Vemp 1304 09 1971 Chevy Corvette Convertible Driver 10/12

DiMaggio says that the miles he's put on his '71 have been mainly weekend touring and cruising ones." I was going to bring it to an NCRS show, and try to get it Survivor certified," he says, "but other than that, I haven't really done much."

Some of those miles included the distance to and from the Yaphank Garage in Yaphank, New York, where Richard Prince captured some great shots of the shark at a classic, Suffolk County roadside filling station.

Does DiMaggio have any advice for anyone looking for a used Corvette, especially an original-owner one? "Do your research and homework prior to buying it," he says. "Make the best educated buy you can. Original-owner cars are getting harder and harder to find."

Vemp 1304 06 1971 Chevy Corvette Convertible Yaphank 11/12

Originality is only one reason why Vette lovers are seeking out the 68,000-plus '70-'72 Corvettes. For some, it's also for the rare LT1 and LS6 engine options (and the ZR1 and ZR2 racing-equipment packages based on them). For others, it's because these are from the last years of the chrome-bumper era, before federal safety standards began influencing Corvette styling. And, for perhaps the largest group of prospective buyers, the early- '70s Vettes represent the time when America's Only True Sports car became quite the grand-touring car, with air conditioning and power everything being specified on more and more order forms.

Yet those order forms, and other items of documentation, only tell part of the story. To determine the rest, you need to find out the car's history from its original owner, like DiMaggio did. Only then will you know what kind of a "handful" that Vette really was.

Vemp 1304 10 1971 Chevy Corvette Convertible Fiber Optic Light 12/12

The '71 model year saw a drop in compression ratios, and it the last year for fiber-optic light monitoring. Original dash woodgrain and plated trim have that 40-plus-year patina that's only found on an original car.

Spec Sheet
1971 Chevy Corvette Convertible
Owner Jack DiMaggio; St. James, NY
Block Stock LS5 cast iron with two-bolt mains
Displacement 454 ci
Heads Stock LS5 cast iron, closed chamber
Camshaft Stock LS5 hydraulic flat tappet
Pistons Stock cast aluminum
Compression 8.5:1
Crankshaft Stock forged steel
Oil System Stock with mechanical pump
Intake Stock cast iron
Carburetor Stock Rochester Quadrajet
Fuel Pump Stock mechanical
Ignition Stock Delco non-electronic points style
Exhaust Stock with cast-iron manifolds and reproduction mufflers/pipes /td>
Transmission Stock M40 Turbo-400 three-speed automatic
Clutch Stock
Rearend Stock with 3.36 gears
Suspension Stock coil springs, stabilizer bar, and tubular shock absorbers (front); stock transverse steel leaf spring, stabilizer bar, and tubular shock absorbers (rear)
Brakes Stock J50 four-wheel discs with power assist
Wheels Stock 15x8-in steel Rally with NOS trim rings and original center caps (front and rear)
Tires Goodyear blackwall bias-ply, F70-15 (front and rear)
Current Mileage Approximately 62,000



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