Since their inception in 1953, Corvettes have been marketed as drivers' cars-machines designed and engineered to inspire lively and spirited motoring experiences. Yet in many circumstances, a lot has been lost in the transition from the drawing board, to the test track and, ultimately, Corvette ownership. Some vintages, like the six-cylinder-powered '53s and '54s, and Sharks of the mid '70s through 1982, are better suited as cruisers than as serious sports cars. Many owners of first- and second-generation Vettes view their cars as status symbols to be parked and polished, only venturing out for an occasional Sunday drive. This is particularly true for early models that have been meticulously restored and tend to see more time in climate-controlled garages and enclosed trailers than on real-world boulevards-or race tracks.
So you can imagine Team VETTE's surprise when we showed up at a Super Chevy Show last year, just in time to see Mike Mahowski executing a textbook starting line burnout in his restored '62 solid-axle. Mike seemed totally unconcerned about revving up the 327 and spewing burnt black rubber across the old Vette's pristine Ermine White quarter-panels.
And the car's stone-stock appearance, including the steel wheels and with the sole exception of the 8-inch slicks, made us wonder if we'd been time-warped back into the early '60s-especially when the green light flashed and Mike power-shifted the four-speed Corvette down Virginia Motorsports Park's quarter-mile!
Now, many people would argue that only an automotive masochist would subject a vintage Vette to such a workout. But as a bona fide Corvette enthusiast (he's owned roughly three dozen of 'em) and musclecar aficionado, Mike feels that Corvettes are meant to be driven-and occasionally driven hard. Besides, this particular '62 has already seen plenty of pampering as a touring display piece for GM Restoration Parts.
However, things weren't always so pretty for the Corvette. When Mahowski first purchased it, a previous owner had already parted it out, leaving just a partial body shell resting on a rusty frame. In fact, Mike originally planned to use the sorry remains as a source of spare parts for a restored '62 he owned at that time. But, after selling the restored '62, his friend (and partner in the other car) Jim Broadwell practically dared Mike to attempt a rebuild on the "parts car." Not an individual who'd walk away from a challenge, Mike pulled the body off the frame and shipped it off to Florida, where his nephew, Mark Mahowski, and Ray Walk tackled the reconstruction of the damaged hulk. Meanwhile, Mike stayed home in West Bloomfield Michigan and began repairing the frame.
The chassis was rebuilt to factory specifications with the sole exception of a set of Moser axles in the stock Positraction rearend. Likewise, Mike had Dave Petit adhere to the stock specifications-except for a .030-inch overbore-when he rebuilt and blueprinted the 340hp 327. The small-block was backed by a T-10 four-speed, which was refurbished by Darrell's Transmission.
When both the body and frame were ready, Mike trailered the chassis to Florida, mounted the newly cherried-out body on it, and returned to Michigan, semi-complete Corvette in tow. Four months and over 400 GM Restoration Parts later, the one-time parts car was finished to NCRS standards. Soon after, Mike was introduced to a decision maker at Restoration Parts, who asked to use the '62 as a display vehicle at events like Bloomington Gold and selected Super Chevy Shows. As you can imagine, the car saw very little driving time during its tenure as a showpiece.
At one point during the car's three-year tour of display duties, Mike received a call from a photo service wanting to rent the '62 for an advertising "shoot." No problem! And when he arrived at the appointed location, Zora Arkus-Duntov was there! As it turned out, the photo session was for a promotion of Duntov-authorized, die-cast replica Corvettes. Mike not only got several photos of Duntov in his '62, but also had the legendary first Chief Engineer of the Corvette autograph the 327's chromed air cleaner lid.
After having their Vette in the limelight for so long, Mike and the car's co-owner, Jim Broadwell, decided to tuck it away in the garage for a well-deserved rest. Before long, however, the urge to drive the old solid-axle became too great, and Mike started taking the pristine white fiberglass flyer out for local cruises. And that led to the partners getting the itch to go racing-with the fully-restored '62-so they agreed to mildly revise it into a triple-purpose vehicle, a vintage Vette that could be shown, driven, and raced.
So now this former parts car has metamorphosed into a fully restored showpiece serving three different functions, all in fine style. Occasionally Mike and Jim questioned about their decision to flog the '62 on a drag strip, and to such inquiries, Mike has a hard-core enthusiast's response:
"Everywhere we take the car people compliment us on it and on the fact that we race it. Some tracks that we go to have no other stick-shift cars, and people seem to enjoy watching a manual-shift car being run. We've run low 13s with a 4.11 rearend, and have run a best of 12.68 at 106 mph with 4.88 gears. We intend to continue racing, showing, and driving the '62 Corvette for a long period of time. In this day and age of tube frames, delay boxes, and cubic-money cars, we enjoy being a standout from the crowd!"