Mar 10

Red & Racy – 1958 Chevrolet Corvette

Article originally printed in the August 1980 issue of Cars & Parts – Cover Car

Photos by Ken New and Ed Heys
1958 Chevy Corvette
No single American model is as instantly recognizable in appearance and name as the Chevrolet Corvette, and one of the sharpest models released during the 28-year history of America’s only surviving sports car is the 1958 edition.

1958 Corvette in Signet Red with white side inserts

With styling that makes it appear at home wherever it’s parked, Decker’s Corvette is painted Signet Red with white side inserts and a white convertible top.

The ’58 model emblazoned on this month’s cover is painted Signet Red accented by white side panel inserts and a white convertible top. Its owner, Chris Decker, Tiffin, Ohio, also has the matching red removable hardtop, but it’s rarely seen on the car, since it is driven only in the best of spring and summer weather.

Decker’s car, which he acquired from a Corvette specialty shop in September of 1975, was meticulously restored with the finished product emerging in 1980 — after five years of detailed work. Decker performed the restoration himself with paint work by Lotes Body Shop, Tiffin. Numerous Corvette articles, an owner’s manual and a shop manual were all used extensively in executing the restoration and assuring optimum authenticity.

Two 1958 Chevy Corvettes

Chris Decker’s immaculate 1958 Corvette (left) is joined by a second ’58 model owned by Jim Scherer, Tiffin, Ohio. Decker has had his Vette since September of 1975.

The car, purchased for $2,700, is now worth three to four times that much. But Decker, who selected the particular make and model because of its obvious sports car image and universally popular body style, is not interested in parting with the car that consumed nearly five years of his “spare” time.

The car is the second restoration for the 23-year-old Decker, who had refinished an- other 1958 Corvette, completing that project in the fall of 1974.

The youthful sports car buff, who is a customer service adviser for Ohio Power Co., exercises his car’s 283-cid engine and four-speed transmission in his hometown area, rarely venturing far from the protective confines of his hobby garage, which is filled with spare parts.

Decker estimates that his red Vette required about 75 percent restoration to regain its original luster, inside and out. The toughest problem faced during the restoration was the acquisition of a convertible top assembly, which was delivered from Pennsylvania by Greyhound bus.

Decker, who is an active member in the Fantastic Plastic Corvette Club of Tiffin, is tremendously proud of his Corvette and thoroughly enjoys owning and driving the red and racy sports car. And, he’s justified on both counts.

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 28

A VCCA Members 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air

by Barry Mastellone

Fully restored 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air

It has been a long, three years to get to the final stages. The Bel Air made it to its first VCCA show, Funday Monday, last September.

This is the story of my 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air. And most of the story has its roots in many aspects of the VCCA. In fact, without the VCCA, I would probably not be writing this at all.

It started three years ago; I decided that when I reached 70, a time when I would have to withdraw from my Tax Deferred Annuity, that I would use those funds to purchase a classic car. My potential choices were three, but only one was a car that I myself, and not my Dad, owned: a 1960, 4 door, Bel Air sedan. Then I figured, why wait until 70? Let’s start the search now, and by the time I get to 70 I would be out and driving. How prophetic that turned out to be!

My next decision was to find a local Chevrolet Club to help me on my journey. The Queens Region VCCA was the logical choice, and I began to attend meetings, listening to advice and ignoring a lot more. Feeling somewhat confident, I looked on Ebay and thought I found what I wanted. I exchanged emails and phone calls with the seller. But I still wanted to be sure. So I contacted the North Carolina Chapter of the VCCA to find someone who could put eyes on the Chevy. The result: I was told NOT to buy the car as it was not truthfully represented. Chalk up another for the VCCA.

1960 Chevy Bel Air on the trailer

Paul Parnes, former Region 11 Director, took me up to where the car was and we put it on his trailer for the trip back to Queens.

I happened to be in the Albany area visiting a High School friend. When he heard my story, remarkably he told me that his neighbor was selling a 1960 Bel Air sedan. Fate handed me the car that I bought after my own inspection.

Next up in my VCCA connection: Paul Parnes, former Region 11 Director, took me up to where the car was and we put it on his trailer for the trip back to Queens.

1960 Chevy Bel Air down to bare metal

Sebastian D’Agostino, Chapter President, and other club members pointed me to shops where work could be done. A lot of work was done at Cap-A-Radiator and AMAP Collision in Farmingdale, and Don’s East Coast Restorations.

Lindenhurst. And along the way, John Mahoney, G&D Tech Advisor for my era car, gave me some assistance that proved invaluable.

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 19

The Italian Corvairs

Original article was first published in the August 1980 issue of Cars & Parts

by Wallace A. Wyss

Covair Testudo conceptualized by Bertone of Italy

The Corvair Testudo conceptualized by Bertone of Italy was a bold design, reflecting in certain respects on GM’s own experimental Corvair model, the Corvair GT. Bertone even painted it silver, one of GM’s favorite show car colors, but GM design chief Bill Mitchell didn’t want it.

The famous Italian coach-building houses, like Pininfarina and Bertone, have tried repeatedly to sell Detroit auto makers on the idea of buying either styling plus coachwork on a new model or adopting just a styling concept.

Pininfarina has had some mild success with Oeneial Motois, having received a contract in 1959 to build the coachwork for the Cadillac Eldorado four-door sedans. But, in that case, Pininfarina had nothing to do with the design and had to build the car to match GM’s full size clay model.

Corvair looking like a stretched Porsche

Since the Corvair was powered by a flat opposed six mounted behind the rear axle line like the Porsche, it was probably natural for Pininfarina to restyle the Corvair into a car resembling a stretched Porsche.

Pininfarina has had a little more ability to influence the design in a couple of semi-secret contracts since then. One contract covered their preparation of a metal prototype for the Chevrolet Monza. Another contract covered the building of the Two Rotor Corvette, a mid-engine Wankel-powered car that was shown briefly and then deep-sixed along with GM’s self-immolation of their costly and fruitless rotary engine project.

Ital Design, the 10-year old f i r m that designed Volkswagen’s complete line of front wheel-drive models, is said to be currently wooing GM.

Back in 1960, the Corvair created a sensation in Europe. It was the first new idea from the U.S.!

The Europeans were understandably inspired by the Corvair. After all, at least on paper, its specifications were much more like a European car than an American car: flat, air-cooled engine; independent rear suspension; magnesium and aluminum engine block; bucket seats; the availability of a turbocharger, etc. The European coach-building houses had no reason to think that the Corvair wouldn’t be around for at least a decade to come, just as the air-cooled beetle had endured since 1939.

Bertone — being one of the biggest coach-builders — could affort to “take a flyer” on a Corvair-based show car; it could afford to absorb the cost of building the car if GM did not place an order for it in the first place. They could then write it off as a “promotional” car.

Their dramatic Corvair-based show car was the Testudo. This silver bomb had many interesting features which have been used on subsequent cars. For instance, the headlights lay retracted into the front deck when not in use, but popped up when summoned. This idea is now used on the Porsche 928.

One not-too-practical feature of the Testudo was the way one entered it — the en- tire front “bubble” cockpit and door panel assembly lifted forward en masse to permit access. This required gas-filled struts to help lift the enormous weight of the assembly. Also, if the car ever rolled over on its roof, how would one get out? A final problem with the tilt-forward canopy was that there was no room for a crank-down window.

The Testudo was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, now one of Italy’s most famous designers and the owner of a 500-man design studio called Ital Design. But, back in the early 60s, he was working for Bertone and it was there that he designed the Testudo.

One Giugiaro touch on the Testudo was his “rolled-and-pleated” silver upholstery, which he used on several subsequent show cars. Although he was famous for flat, angular planes on the exterior, he prefers rounded soft forms on the inside.

The second Italian prototype Corvair that this author has been able to unearth is a 1960 version by Pininfarina, which has very Porsche-like front fender lines but a general uncertainty of line everywhere else. One really gauche feature is the giant 18-inch-wide emblem on the front deck. The roofline is also quite bizarre, as if Pininfarina’s designers couldn’t agree on a shape.

At any rate, all of the Italian efforts to impress GM with their ability to make the Corvair more of a ” w o r l d appeal” car came’ to naught because GM canceled the Corvair, partly out of fear that the hostile feelings toward the car generated by consumer activist Ralph Nader might never go away.

What happened to the Italian Corvairs? If GM was not the prime contractor and this author suspects it wasn’t — then the cars are either still in the possession of Pininfarina or Bertone or possibly have been sold to private buyers. Frequently, show cars are sold, particularly if the coach-builder is running out of storage space.

Pininfarina didn’t include the Corvair prototype in its 50th anniversary display at the 58th Turin Auto Show.

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 15

Those Unglamorous But Rare ‘Blackouts’

Article originally printed in the June 1980 Cars & Parts

by Jerry Heasley

Chevrolet Aerosedan WWII Blackout

Although lacking the glitter and gleam of polished chrome and bright side moldings and hardware, the blackout World War II Chevy Aerosedan acquired by Harry West, Canyon, Tex. in 1975 in Oklahoma is extremely rare and one of only a handful in existence.

Chevrolet Aerosedan WWII Blackout from rear

The ‘blackout’ look was not especially popular in post-war America, but the special war editions were still in demand in the late ’40s as the supply of both new and used autos fell far short of demand.

There it was, sitting on the back row of a used car lot in Thomas, Okla. — one of the rarest vintage Chevrolets in existence. Harry West, an old car collector, was driving a truck for a pipeline company when he spotted the car among the other “clunkers.” That was back in 1975. The car was a “blackout” Aerosedan Chevrolet, tagged and waiting for a new owner.

Harry’s excitement grew as he parked his truck along the highway, walked over to the unusual ’42 model, inspected the trim, and suspicioned it was one of those rare blackout Chevrolets. The car dealer bounded from his office, eager to make a sale, and the quoted price was cheap enough. It was too good to be true.

After work, back home in Weatherford, Harry checked George Dammann’s excellent reference, Sixty Years of Chevrolet, and read that one blackout Chevrolet was known to exist. That one car was a restored coupe owned by Bob Wingate, the former president of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America, and now a prominent vintage Chevrolet dealer based in California.

Harry phoned Wingate, who is a leading expert on blackouts. After Dammann’s book was published, Wingate explained, six more blackouts turned up. Of these, three were parts cars and the other three were not running, but restorable. From Harry’s description, Wingate verified that the western Oklahoma sedan was indeed a blackout Chevrolet. It looked like Harry had stumbled across what could have been the one running, original blackout Chevy in the country at the time.

When Harry first acquired his ’42 Chevy, he detected a definite “miss”and discovered the problem when he pulled the head off the stovebolt six. The top of the number one piston was gone. It was later retrieved from the bottom of the pan. The car had evidently been driven for sometime as a five-banger.

Harry wrote a check for the ’42 model the next evening and asked the dealer to drive the car 15 miles south to Weatherford. Five gallons of fresh regular, a teacup of primer gas in the carb, a battery jump, a turn of the key and a firm press on the starter button, and the stovebolt cranked to life. The 216-cid six was obviously missing on one cylinder, but it ran well enough for daily transportation around town. And, it made the 15-mile trip south with no trouble.

Later, when Harry took off the head, the top of the number one piston was gone. He found it in the bottom of the pan. The skirt and connecting rod had been moving up and down the cylinder wall without the piston top, probably for years.

Since 1975, Harry has learned more about blackouts. Let’s look at Harry’s car and review some general facts and figures relating to these very interesting automobiles.

First, as everyone knows, the 1942 model year was shortened by World War II. By the summer of 1941, it was clear that war for the U.S. was around the bend, only months away. War production had begun and the automobile plants would soon be totally involved. On the first of January, 1942, Washington ordered the assembly plants to build for another month, to February 1st, or thereabouts. They might as well use up the stockpiled engines, sheetmetal and other parts, the government decided. But nickel, stainless, copper, chrome, etc., were restricted, in fact had been restricted for weeks, and the blackout was born. Those were dark days for the auto industry, and the world.

Bright chrome trim were added to this Aerosedan

Although a few bright chrome pieces have been transplanted onto West’s Aerosedan over the years, the car still retains its basic blackout trim. The Oklahoma inspection sticker is dated 1970.

There is a fascinating story, however, in how the hard-pressed auto makers changed over from the usual brightwork to other materials. With new engineering crews, hired on hours notice and working shifts through the night, they eliminated the high priority metals from the last of the 1942 models. And then, in a matter of weeks, production ended, and America would have to drive without new cars for the “duration.”

Enameled Fleetline script

The enameled Fleetline script on the trunk lid forms part of the special war trim package.

So, these blackouts were the last pre-war cars built. Except for the bumpers and front bumper guards, these cars were supposed to have no “brightwork.” Unofficially, they started converting about two days before Christmas in 1941. Wingate’s blackout coupe was half blackout trim and half painted over chrome. It was built on Dec. 30, 1941. By January 1st, the industry was really clearing out the old stock and by January 15th, everything was baked enamel (over steel). Ford, however, had flat quit by the first of January, and was completely involved in the war effort. We have yet to see a blackout Ford, Mercury, or Lincoln, although there might have been a few blackout Fords built in December. Can you imagine a blackout Lincoln Continental?

1942 Aerosedan interior painted metal

The interior of the ’42 Aerosedan clearly reveals the car’s origin as a war model. Items that were normally finished in brightwork, such as door handles, moldings and the horn button, are painted metal on the blackout models.

Of course, any blackout is fascinating. Detroit had to eliminate the high priority metals and paint over what old stock bright trim they did use. So, where you use to see sparkling chromed grille speaker bars, for example, you instead see woodgraining. And other usually bright, items, such as the horn button, door handles, moldings, etc., are painted, enameled metal.
'Balsckout' treatment of the door panels.

A special pattern graced the top of the door panels on blackout Chevy’s. Woodgraining was also used to cover the brightwork on radio speaker grills.

The blackout turned into a hated car after the war. In the early to mid fifties, they were the first junked if they needed much repair. And many post-war owners updated the dull-looking trim with bright chrome. They disappeared quickly. Of the 25,000 or so blackout Chevrolets produced, about 20 or 25 are now known to exist.

Harry’s ’42 was sold to a rental car outfit. Stenciled on the floor of the trunk is the sign: If Abandoned or Stolen, Telegraph U-Drive-It-Co., 29 W. State Street, Columbus, Ohio — Owner.

It is suspected that rental companies were high priority buyers back during the war. When production halted in February of 1942, the mass of cars was frozen until 18 months later, and then rationed. Bob Wingate’s coupe was sold in June of 1943 as a new Chevrolet, and went to a pharmaceutical man who hauled supplies from one hospital to another.

This writer called the “U-Drive-It-Co.” in Columbus, Ohio, and talked with a man who had been with the business since 1937. He explained that they bought the cars right after the war. They were still in hot demand in 1945 and 1946 and for a few years after that. He said that they had trouble with people renting these “new” cars, driving them to a distant state, getting another title, and selling the car for as much as $1,000 over market value. In fact, back in the forties, they had tracked down and retrieved about four vehicles from as far away as Texas, he explained.

Harry’s Aerosedan has baked enamel side trim, grille, Special Deluxe and Fleetline emblems, door handles, moldings, etc. The dash is also minus fancy brightwork, but it has two options — the three-spoked banjo steering wheel and a clock.

Part of the exterior trim is chrome, including the rocker panel molding along the side, below the driver’s door, but that trim was added after the war. Also, somebody had re-painted the fenders black with a paint brush. But most of Harry’s blackout is there, even if it does need a total restoration. It is an extremely interesting piece of history, viewed with the proper facts. This is where the old car hobby can really get exciting.

A longtime collector like West, who now lives in Canyon, Tex., wants to restore this car to full blackout. He found that the Oklahoma car dealer bought the car in an estate sale in Watonga, Okla. The last owner acquired the car in 1949 and apparently drove it clear into the 1970s, probably running the last few years on the dead cylinder. Fortunately, the last owner left the blackout trim intact. Even the door panels were specially trimmed. There’s no practical way to counterfeit one of these rare cars.

If a collector discovers any 1942 Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, Studebaker, Packard, etc., he should check out the trim. It just might be a blackout. And, there’s also the chance of spotting a Ford, Mercury, or maybe even a Lincoln with special war trim.

A collector lucky enough to uncover a ’42 blackout should remember that after the car is restored and entered in a car show, that the spare should be removed from the trunk for the sake of authenticity. These cars originally came without the spare tire, another war conservation measure.

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 07

The Corvette Shark of 1968

This article was originally printed in the May 1980 issue of Cars & Parts

by Robert C. Ackerson

The shark-influenced design of the restyled 1968 Corvette set the basic body style for the two-place sports car that would transcend 13 model years.

The Experimental Mako Shark II

Top, rear view of the Mako Shark II Top, front view of the Mako Shark II
The experimental Mako Shark II provided the basic styling concept embodied in the ’68 design, even though the idea car was obviously more accentuated in sweep and flair. The 1968 production model, although significantly tamer than Mako Shark II, was considered by many a radical design for the late sixties.

When the 1968 Corvette debuted with its Mako-Shark II inspired appearance, it represented the fourth major body change for the Corvette in its 15-year history. Today, some 13 model years later, the body/chassis combination of 1968 still remains in production; the reigning champion of longevity among General Motors’ current crop of automobiles.

Whether this is a distinction to be proud of or a matter needing immediate redress depends upon one’s view of the Corvette. I t can, for example, be argued that the original form of the Stingray was advanced to begin with; thus the passage of a dozen or so years has, rather than making it obsolete, simply rendered it contemporary. Yet there’s no denying the Stingray is long overdue for a change. Thirteen years of production is a long time for any automobile design and during an age when the technological priorities of the automotive industry have been totally revamped as a result of governmental controls, consumer expectations and changes in the price and availability of fuel, it seems even more drawn out.

As everyone knows, Chevrolet has had replacements for the post-’68 Corvette ready for years but due primarily to uncertainties about the future course of government regulations and the enduring popularity of the Corvette as it is, the conditions just haven’t been right for their introduction. It just doesn’t make sense for a company like GM to tool up for a low volume automobile that could become a supersized headache if new and unforseen government mandates crop up.

There is the temptation to compare General Motors’ experience with the Corvette with that of BL and the MGB. Both cars date back to the mid-sixties and both cars in spite of their age have remained extremely popular among American sports car enthusiasts. But beyond that point the two cars have little in common. The changes made in the MGB during the ’70s have for the most part been detrimental, depriving it of its sporting nature for the sake of sales at any price.

The contemporary Corvette admittedly is in some respects also a mere shadow of its former self. The great LT-1 and L-88 Stingray have long since departed from the scene, for example. Yet the Corvette has been honed, refined and in many ways redeveloped to move a lot closer to the lightweight sports car originally envisioned by Zora Arkus Duntov. This is not to say, however, that all is well with the Corvette. Such thoughts, however, are best postponed for now. Instead, let’s take a look at the new 1968 Corvette.

Chevrolet had originally intended to introduce the Corvette with Mako-Shark II styling for the 1967 model run. This plan was shelved for several reasons, the most pressing being that several key areas including driver visibility suffered due to the somewhat extreme body form. A year spent toning down the new body’s fender, hood and rear deck lines was time well

When the 1968 Corvette appeared, there were some critics who faulted it on the grounds that it was too extreme but by and large its new look was greeted with enthusiasm. In terms of space utilization, the Corvette was grossly inefficient but when judged on the standards then acceptable for sports cars the Corvette scored high; still retaining the magic look of its predecessor while at the same time incorporating such features as a Kamm duck tail and flying buttress roof line into its overall styling theme. Both of these features had been used very effectively by Ferrari in the GTO model and certainly the new Corvette did not suffer by the comparison.

While its appearance suggested that the 1968 Corvette was superior in terms aerodynamics over the earlier model, there was actually little difference between the two cars in this regard. However, the new Corvette’s front spoiler was significant factor in reducing front end lift at high speeds.

Changes in the Corvette’s excellent independent four-wheel suspension system were limited to minor camber revisions at the rear and a slight change in the front spring rates. The result was an automobile that garnished high points for its cornering ability, high-speed stability and near perfect neutral steering. Supporting these strengths was a bevy of engines ranging from the standard 300-hp/327-cid V-8 up to the triple carburetor 435-hp/427-cid V-8. Outside the normal realm of Corvette reality lurked the L-88 engine first available in early 1967. The L-88 was a performance brute of the highest order.

Corvette News (Volume 10, Number 3) prefaced its introductory article on the L88 with the admonishment “proceed with caution,” and Karl Ludvigsen was later to write that the L-88 was “as pure a racing engine as Chevrolet had ever supplied for the Corvette.” The L-88 was strictly intended for competition, no heater/defroster system was available, its transmission was the noisy M22 heavy duty bone-crusher” model and no emissions control devices were fitted. Thus in some states it could not be legally used on public highways.

But if the L-88 was the King Kong of Corvettes, then the ZL-1 offered during the 1969 model run was the motoring equivalent of Godzilla. By virtue of its aluminum block (with cast-iron cylinder sleeves), it weighed 100 pounds less than the L-88, while at the same time sharing all of the ultra-strong internal components and 850-cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor of the L-88, which was also beefed up for 1969.

In terms of the competition SS Corvette and Grand Sport scenario of Corvette history that never truly reached full bloom, the ZL-1 was one that escaped the clutches of corporate ” it isn’t nice to build such a fast automobile” thinking. Its top speed wasn’t far shy of the 200-mph mark and to run through the quarter mile with an end speed of 120 mph was easy work for this 585-hp Corvette.

Aside from the thunder of the ZL-1, the 1969 model run for the Corvette was most notable for the attention Chevrolet gave to tidying up some of the deficiencies inherent in the 1968 version. In terms of public image and awareness, the most serious error committed by Chevrolet in 1968 had been to officially abandon the Sting Ray label for the Corvette. This proved to be the wrong step and for 1969 the Real McCoy appeared as the Corvette Stingray. There had also been lots of groans and moans about the poor workmanship and the “Dear Lord it’s going to fall apart before I make the last payment” sensation some Corvette owners experienced while driving their cars on rough roads. The 1969 model was an improvement in both respects, but up to the present time Corvette assembly quality has not always been what it should be.

Among the 38,762 Stingrays built during the 1969 model run was the 250,000th Corvette manufactured. During the same span of time, Chevrolet had built millions of full-sized Chevrolets. By comparison, the output of Corvettes was miniscule but when measured on the excitement scale there was no question where the Corvette stood.

The type of automotive excitement Chevrolet packed into each Corvette was given a new twist for 1970 with the availability of the LT-1 engine option. Whereas most of the Corvette’s performance image since 1965 when the 396 cid V-8 bowed had been spearheaded by its heavily muscled-big engined variations, the LT-1 represented a step back in time to the days when Corvettes hustled down the path with relatively small V-8s nestled under their hoods.

1970 Stingray Coupe

The Stingray for 1970, shown here in coupe form, was the first to offer the hot LT-1 engine option. Although announced for 1969, the LT-1 option was not generally available until the 1970 model year due to the demand on production created by the popular Camaro Z/28.

The LT-1 had first been announced a 1969 Corvette option when the 350-cid V-8 replaced the older 327-cid unit as the base Corvette engine. The three-speed all-synchromesh transmission also became a relic of the past as the four-speed manual became the standard transmission for the Corvette. However, the demand for Z/28 Camaros, which was given priority over the LT-1 (and with good reason sales-wise), forced its real debut into the 1970 model run. In effect, the LT-1 was a Z/28 engine with 350 rather than 302 cubic inches, a big 850-cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor, high-lift cam, hydraulic lifters, plus lots more. The LT-1 was rated at a conservative 370 bhp at 6,000 r p m and 380 pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. It was very easy to click off quarter mile runs of 14 seconds with an LT-1.

1970 Stingray, right/rear view

This 1970 coupe reflects the sublety with which Chevrolet designers refined the Vette’s styling after the major body change in 1968.

Chevrolet’s supersized rat V-8, now with a 4.25″ x 4.00″ bore and stroke was theoretically available either as the LS5 with 390 hp or the LS7 rated at 460 hp. The latter engine proved to be a phantom option since none were actually sold. The LS7 was a victim of corporate policy (specifically GM’s anti-ultra high performance posture and an attempt to reduce Chevrolet’s lengthy and costly to honor option list), but its demise really represented the beginning of the erosion of Corvette performance by the rising tide of anti-performance sentiment in the U.S.

The Corvette was still a powerhouse machine for 1971, available with four engines ranging from the base 350-cid V-8 through the LT-1 high-output 350 V-8 and climaxing with the LS5 and LS6 versions of the huge 454-cubic-inch V-8. For competition Chevrolet still offered the ZR1 and ZR2 options, the first with the LT-1 engine, the second based upon the LS6.

Since every engine built for GM’s 1971 cars had to operate on 91-octane fuel, all Corvette engines had their compression ratios cut back to 9.0:1. Thus both maximum horsepower and torque dropped by approximately 10 to 12 percent. “Normal street performance (of Corvettes) is off very little,” reported Corvette News, which further explained, “Of course, the top end is down somewhat; this region, practically speaking, is seldom necessary.” Well, maybe so, but there was no denying that a great age of Corvette performance was coming to an end.

Beginning with the 1971 models, horsepower ratings for American cars were reported both in gross and net terms. Either way the trend was headed down the scale. The base Corvette engine dropped from 300 to 270 hp and the LT-1 lost 20 hp to end up with 330. The LS5 and LS6 remained officially unchanged at 365 hp and 425 hp, respectively, but it was virtually a sure thing that the 9.0:1 compression ratio plus a new cam with less overlap had stolen some of their get up and go.

Only the mildest of changes were made in the Corvette’s appearance for 1972. An interesting anti-theft device activated by inserting the ignition key into what appeared to be the trunk lock caused an alarm to sound if anyone attempted to open either the doors or the hood. This was a great idea to discourage people who desired a Corvette without pain (monthly payments), but there was little to toot about when it came to the Corvette’s engine lineup for 1972. Only three engines were offered. The standard engine, now saddled with an 8.5:1 compression ratio churned out 200 SAE horsepower, down from 210 in 1971. The LT-1 lost another 20hp to end up with 255 net horsepower. The days of the 454 V-8 as a Corvette puller were numbered as were those of a Corvette V-8 with mechanical lifters. The big V-8 dropped out in 1975 and the great LT-1 was replaced by the hydraulic lifter equipped L-82.

1974 Chevrolet Corvette

The 1974 Corvette marked the last year for the powerhouse LT-1, which was down to 255 net horsepower by then.

The L-82 with hydraulic lifters succeeded the LT-1 in 1975 as GM continued its push to defuse the super high performance wave that had swept the industry in the late sixties and early seventies.

1975 L-82 Chevrolet Corvette, rear view

A strong image as a spirited and sporty performer with sales to match pretty well negated the need for any major styling revisions throughout the 1970s. The Corvette, as evidenced in this 1975 edition, retains its status as America’s most recognizable car.

Whether or not the Corvettes of the latter seventies are proper subjects of what has been primarily a historical examination of the Corvette’s evolution depends upon one’s own personal perspective. Many enthusiasts will maintain that no automobile produced under such anti-performance conditions as prevail today is worthy of serious consideration. Yet it’s also apparent that performance hasn’t disappeared from the automotive agenda; it’s just a bit tamer. The situation reminds one of Denise McCluggage’s famous retort to a cynic who bemoaned the passing of the front-engined grand prix car, lamenting instead that the new era Coopers and Lotuses weren’t like the older racing cars. ” No,” Denise replied, “that’s true, the new cars are faster.”

Today’s high performance car isn’t, of course, faster than its older counterparts, but as a balanced machine its handling, braking and overall sophistication distinguish it from the super cars of the sixties with honor. Both ages produced great cars but times change and so do the measures by which automobiles are judged. Where does all this put the Corvette? Unfortunately, not where many of its greatest admirers would like it to be. Granted, Chevrolet engineers had endowed it with plastic bumpers front and rear, lightened it by a couple of hundred pounds and managed to give the L-82 enough moxey to avoid embarrassing its drivers. But the fact remains that a two-seater automobile that weighs close to 4,000 pounds ready for the road somehow is not in tune with the times. The Corvette still has an incredibly loyal following and Zora-Arkus Duntov’s successor, David McCellan, is a worthy replacement for Mr. Corvette, but how can a car with a chassis that dates back to 1963 and a body that has been in production for 13 years realistically be considered an automobile truly worthy of carrying the Corvette name into the 1980s?

To underscore the need for an entirely new Corvette that combines both the flavor of past Corvette models and the degree of superiority these enjoyed over their contemporaries, “The Real McCoy” will conclude in the next chapter with a look at some of the Corvettes that could have been but weren’t and how they would have fared against their domestic and foreign competition if they had been placed into production.

Permanent link to this article:

Jan 24

Corvette-powered Biscayne!

by Bob Stevens
This article was originally published in the May 1987 issue of Cars & Parts


One couldn’t envision more of a plain jane than this little non-descript number, but with 425 horses galloping out front under that hood, it’s anything but tame!

Muscle cars don’t always look the part. Under the guise of a family sedan, a pure muscle machine can catch a number of hot-shots sleeping, hence the name “sleeper” applied to those machines which are much more muscular than their appearances convey.

The most notable, or at least the most memorable, sleepers were small, no-frills compact cars with monstrous V-8 engines Novas, Valiants, Dodge Darts, etc., would normally be perceived as tame little economy cars, the kind for the Geritol set. But drop in a 327-cube V-8 or a hemi V-8 and look out! Hidden beneath that deceiving exterior of modestly styled sheet metal and minimal trim is a real beast. Being dusted off by a car that appeared to be barely capable of keeping up with traffic is hazardous to one’s health, and self esteem.

But the “sleeper” is as much an integral part of the muscle car story as the wild colored, heavily decaled machines that sported scoops up front and spoilers in the rear. They certainly provide the more exciting memories and interesting tales of who beat who, and with what!

The “sleeper” has succumbed to history apparently the victim of its own unique character. Its unglamorous appearance makes it generally unappealing as a collector car; few souls can fulfill their hobby aspirations restoring plain jane four-door sedans. The rebirth of the sleeper has been a well-kept secret, as the muscle car crowd has a more or less forsaken them for the flashier survivors or the breed. The Shelby Mustangs, the Hemi Cudas, the AMX 390s, the Daytonas, the Z-28 Camaros and all those other cars that made a powerful statement by their mere presence.

But then true “sleepers” were really rare creatures back in their heyday. After all, who wanted a high-performance car that looked like anything but a muscle machine? Who wanted to shock his fellow motorists with sizzling bursts of speed in a non-descript family sedan? Who, indeed.


The huge big block V-8 is truly an amazing engine. Displacing 396ci it has a bore & stroke of 4.09×3.75 inches & a compression ratio of 11:1. It diets on premium leaded fuel & receives its nourishment through a single Holley 4-barrel carb.

The few who had the money to buy an expensive but cheap looking car for the mere thrill of shock therapy, and dispensing a little street justice to the local hot-doggers, normally succeeded in justifying their investment. One unlikely thrill-seeker who might qualify for this analysis was the late Fred Ray, who was already along in years when he “special” ordered his 1965 Chevrolet Biscayne four-door sedan with a thundering 425 horses under the hood. He had outfitted his plain jane Chevy with a 425-hp 396 big block V-8, four-speed manual transmission and Positraction rear end, and very little else. And, in the process, he created what has to be one of the world’s most successful “sleepers”.

The car, still in its thoroughly original condition, looks something that even an elderly, unmarried librarian would refuse to drive. It has four big doors, plain black paint job and is saved from total cosmetic oblivion only by whitewall tires and a bright red interior. Its appearance is truly deceiving. No one would guess that anything but a mild little six banger resides under the hood of this transportation special. The only external hints that things may not be as they seem are the dual exhaust pipes running


The twin flags emblem flashes the 396 Turbo-Jet sign at would-be contenders. It’s likely that most people would assume that a ’65 Biscayne owner merely mounted flags off another car “to look tough.” Not so!

out the rear, and the 396 Turbo-Jet crossed flags emblems on the front fenders. The emblems, though, could have been borrowed from a friskier car, such as the 1965 Corvette, and even the pipes could be bogus. But in this case, they’re legitimate.

Another tip-off is found on the dash, in the form of a built-in tachometer. There’s also the four-speed shifter sticking unceremoniously up from the uncarpeted floor. Unfortunately, that one feature is presently missing, but will soon be reinstated as original by the car’s current owner, Trevis Shepard, Akron, Ohio. Shepard, who bought the Boss Biscayne from the heirs of Fred Ray, said that an automatic transmission and sport console were installed when Ray decided he’d had enough shifting. Even with the slush- box in place, the old Chevy is a real handful. Soon after acquiring the car, Shepard nicknamed it “Old Buckshot”. It is, to be sure, a real blast!

It’s certainly unusual for an elderly gentleman to develop a sincere interest in hot iron of the type presented here. Not knowing Fred Ray, one can only speculate about his motivations in ordering such a unique critter. Judging by his car collection, which included a Torino Cobra Jet 429, and a Studebaker Golden Hawk, among others, one can assume he simply had a simple love of high-performance machinery, or maybe a love of driving fast. But whatever motivated Ray to spec a bottom-line Chevy with an awesome powertrain, one purely incredible car remains as a tribute to the true muscle car sleeper.

It might first be suggested that this rather ordinary Chevy is a non-factory item – the custom creation of some back alley enthusiast with a torch and an engine hoist. Not so! This bold, brazen and just plain bad Biscayne is a factory original, although its history indicates that special arrangements with certain powers to be at the “General” were required. The 425-hp version of the 396 is not listed in most Chevrolet publications of 1965, and where it is mentioned, it’s listed exclusively as a Corvette option, code L78.

Some sources indicate that the 425-hp 396 Turbo-Jet V-8 was indeed available with the full-size Chevy of 1965, on a special order basis only. Still, one would expect that this engine would be limited to the more expensive Impala or Impala Super Sport series, and not the “el cheapo” Biscayne.

Shepard’s car is completely original in appearance, right down to the wiring, engine mounts, etc. It shows no signs of tampering whatsoever, except where the transmission was swapped when the car’s original owner decided he’d be much more at home with an automatic. Also, the car’s numbers match up properly for its year and model. It appears genuine and totally original, and as a final bit of evidence in establishing authenticity, Shepard can produce supporting documents, including the original factory sticker. There really is very little to brag about with this car, beyond the obvious performance characteristics. It is about as plain jane as one could get in 1965, even a basic Nova or Corvair would have a bit more flash. But once that big block eight is fired to life, the whole image changes from one of stark conservatism to one of wild, carefree and completely uninhibited behavior. The car literally pins the body rigidly against the seat; and those seat belts are not just decoration. It’s a matter of holding on for dear life when running one of these sleds at full bore.

Because of its rarity, there are no 0 to 60 or quarter-mile times for this baby, nor is there an estimated top speed. In a Corvette, however, the 425-hp version of the 396 would push the little fiberglass-bodied two-seat sports car to a top end of about 136 mph, with a 0-to-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.1 seconds at 103 mph. Naturally, the larger, heavier and less aerodynamic Biscayne would inflate those figures a bit, but its performance would still be incredible.

Its performance package – keyed, of course, to the 396 mill – encompassed an aluminum radiator, heavy duty suspension and Positraction rear end. Also included were seven-inch rims and a lightweight sheet metal package. Chevy, in essence, had built a factory racer! This Detroit hot rod is also equipped with an in-dash tachometer, an AM pushbutton radio and a heater (a no cost “delete for credit” option). It’s obvious that this mean machine was built for a singular purpose – optimum straight line performance with absolutely no creature comforts and a minimum of gross vehicle weight.

The car, again, is bone stock original as the factory built it back in the ’65 model year, except for the transmission, and even that will soon be put straight. Shepard bought the car primarily because of its novelty as a real sleeper, and its thoroughly original nature. And i f anyone is familiar with well muscled machines it’s Shepard. He’s the owner of Shepard’s Automotive, an engine and speed shop in Akron, Ohio. He’s also a veteran of the dragstrip campaigns back in the exciting days of the 1960s and early ’70s. Trevis and his son, Larry, were regulars at strips throughout Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

The year 1968 was a banner season for Trevis and Larry, as the father-and-son team set three national records. And Larry became the world’s youngest national record holder. They ended the ’68 campaign with 36 wins, one forfeiture and just one loss. The victories included two Ohio state championships, a class national points finale in Kansas City and first place in the seventh division in top stock wins. It was a banner season for the Shepards.

So the high-flying Biscayne is right in character for Trevis Shepard, and his son. Both are intrigued by big, brutish engines… and quite excited about rebuilding, fine tuning and racing them. And the 396 in its highest form is one heck of an engine.

Conceived and developed primarily as a race engine (what else would you do with 425 hp?), the premium 396 V-8 is a cast iron engine that weighs about 680 pounds. It features a single Holley four-barrel carb, modified wedge-type combustion chambers, and a very beefy bottom end with expansive bearing surfaces and four bolts per cap. The engine is a real workhorse, and one designed for durability as well as performance.

The spirited 396 V-8 is, of course, the main reason Shepard was interested in aquiring his ’65 Biscayne, which he bought just last year. The car, carrying serial number 154695F-323899, shows only 16,000 miles on its odometer, and its documented authentic, Shepard says.

During his 35-plus years in the old car hobby, Shepard has owned many cars, including a number of 1955-57 Chevys, and he currently has a ’63 Dodge two-door hardtop, ’63 Dodge convertible, ’69 Barracda 440, ’56 Mercedes 300C and a 1970 Subaru convertible.

Shepard may own a number of interesting collector cars, but his 396 Turbo-Jet Biscayne is the “real sleeper” of the bunch.

Click image to view.

Permanent link to this article:

Jan 24

Saluting the First Corvair

by Bob Stevens

This article originally ran in the July 1987 issue of Cars & Parts, pg. 58

1960 Chevy Corvair Monza 900

The revolutionary Corvair, the Chevy compact entry with rear mounted engine, had its debut in the 1960 model year. This pristine example is a Monza 900, the rarest model offered.

They called it revolutionary, futuristic and radical. Practically everyone was at least intrigued by it, and most car enthusiasts

Corvair nameplate is on the front fender; gas filler lid is also front mounted. This example carries the accessory locking gas cap.

were captivated by this novel little newcomer. The object of all this attention was Chevy’s all-new entry in the burgeoning compact car market of the late 1950s and early ’60s. Its nameplate read: “Corvair”.

Although the name would generate a lot of excitement when the car was first introduced on Oct. 2, 1959, it would become dead weight around the corporate neck of General Motors, and a nameplate that Chevy would have gladly shifted to another GM division. The Corvair would receive what has probably been the worst rap an automobile has ever endured, except for possibly the Edsel. And it was all because of Ralph Nader’s relentless attacks on the car’s safety characteristics. His book, Unsafe at any speed, showered criticism on the newest Chevy with uncontested vigor.

His charges, many without substance, were nonetheless given credibility when it was discovered that GM had hired private detectives to investigate Nader’s business dealings, his personal life and even his sexual activities. Nader not only won a huge settlement in his subsequent suit against GM for invasion of privacy, but he also used the publicity to catapult his previously unheralded book to the top of the best seller’s list. GM, by virtue of its own investigation of Nader, had given credence to his book, and his allegations.

The incident would erupt into an avalanche of government regulations dictating automotive design and equipment, and a huge bureacracy would be formed to manage the whole thing. Eventually, the much maligned Corvair itself would die a slow, painful death. Although its tarnished reputation can not be blamed completely for its demise, as the car did endure for 10 model years (the ’69 edition was the last), it played a major role in the car’s eventual ouster as a GM model.

But the Corvair also developed a true cult following. It was so different from anything else available at the time, in both styling and mechanical integrity, that it attracted many buyers. And many of them, in turn, became fanatically attached to the novel little critters. They are cute!


Monza 900 identification in the form of a colorful winged medallion is affixed to the lower quarter of the front fenders.

Corvair production in the car’s debut season amounted to 250,007, including just 11,926 Monza 900 coupes. The Monza was a mid-year introduction. Production remained strong for the Corvair, topping 200,000 every year through 1965. But then, reacting in part to the Nader book, the public suddenly turned its back on the car and sales diminished dramatically to 103,000 in ’66, about 27,000 in ‘67,15,000 in ’68 and just a paltry 6,000 in 1969. The Covair’s declining years of 1966-69 also coincide with the arrival of the very popular pony cars, the Mustang, Camaro, Barracuda, Challenger, Javelin, etc., indicating that it couldn’t compete effectively for the youth market against such formidable opposition. So Nader wasn’t solely responsble for the Corvair’s demise.

Still, any car that can tally 1,786,24 sales in a 10-year model run must have something appealing. And the Corvair did, even though its handling virtues were suspect. Engineering changes in 1964-65 dramatically improved the car’s handling qualities, but even the early models were fun drivers, once one became accustomed to the expected peculiarities of a light weight, rear-engined car with an “extra light” front end.

The car was definitely a champ in snow, with superb tractability thru the white, fluffy stuff.

Air cooling also meant no radiator, coolant, hoses, etc. And, the rear engine design translated into more floor space for feet, grocery bags, or whatever. The car had its obvious attributes, and more than 1 3/4-million Americans recognized and appreciated them.

That first-year edition featured a 108-inch wheelbase and a base weight of 2,280 pounds for the top-of-the-line Monza 900 club coupe, a two-door, six-passenger model with a base list price of $2,238. In line with its basic mission as a compact economy car, the diminutive Corvair was just 180 inches long, 66.9 inches wide and 51.3 inches high, with a ground clearance of six inches. Front and rear tread were both an even 54 inches. Front headroom and legroom, at 33.6 inches and 43.8 inches, respectively, were generous enough for a compact.

That air-cooled engine was a bit of a marvel, and reflected the dedication and reflected the dedication and talent of noted engineer and future GM president, Ed Cole, among others. It was a horizontally-opposed six with overhead valves, dual one-barrel Rochester carbs, an aluminum block, four main bearings, and hydraulic valve lifters. With a bore and stroke of 3.375×2.60 inches, it displaced 139.6 cubic inches and developed 80 hp at 4,400 rpm, and 125 ft./lbs. of torque at 2,400 rpm. The compression ratio was 8 to 1.

Our Family Album feature car is fitted with the optional Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission, a $146 option over the standard three-speed manual transmission (a four-speed manual was also offered). The Corvair also came with 6.50×13 tires and an 11-gallon gas tank. It would cut a turning circle of 41.3 feet in diameter. Its independent suspension consisted primarily of coil springs at the four corners and swing axles in the back.


Special wheel covers were part of the Monza package, but the whitewall 6.50×13 tires were optional ($21 for a set of five).

Corvair buyers had to be content with the cheaper 500 and 700 series until the fancier Monza 900 appeared about midyear in the 1960 run. The Monza, in addition to all the standard features of the 500 and 700 models (windshield wipers, dual headlamps, twin sun visors, dual horns, cigarette lighter, etc.), came standard with dual bucket seats, carpeting, glove box light, special wheel covers, stainless steel rocker moldings, rear ash trays and a folding rear seat. It was definitely the top of the line for Corvair in 1960, and its production numbers would have been significantly higher had the car arrived with the rest of the lineup at the launch of the 1960 season.

The first-year Corvair was quite a package, one brimming with innovation from an engineering and technical standpoint. It did have some handling and stability problems, but then so did a lot of compact cars (and so do a lot of modern front-wheel-drive small cars). It represented a unique automotive experience, one to be shared by the more adventuresome. As the former owner of an inaugural edition of Chevy’s bold new compact, the author can attest to the car’s ability to inspire the curious. The Corvair was such a novelty in its first year on the market that even Chevy haters had to know more about it. Also, the automotive press was quite enchanted with the little charmer.

And, as previously mentioned, it was a car that would develop a real cult following — not as widespread and active as the Mustang or Corvette, but just as sincere and sometimes even more intense.

One Corvair loyalist who has devoted considerable time, money and effort to the restoration and preservation of a first-year example is Joseph Miceli, of Birmingham, Ala. He owns the gorgeous 1960 Corvair Monza 900 coupe pictured in this month’s Family Album. The car was acquired by Miceli in 1983 thru an ad in a local Birmingham newspaper. He was delighted to discover that the car was a one-owner, 81,000-mile car.

“Mechanically, the car was sound, but cosmetically it was in need of considerable repair,” Miceli recalls. The potential was tremendous, though, as there was no rust and no major accident or other damage to the car. “At the time, I knew nothing about repairing or restoring Corvairs, and my wife thought I was crazy for wanting to buy a car in such condition.”

He started his restoration of the car September of 1983, stripping the body, cleaning the engine compartment by hand, etc. The drivetrain would be left intact with nothing more than a good cleaning and some serious detailing.

Joe handled the body prep and painting work, both interior and exterior, himself, with help from his brother. “The entire body was then hand sanded with 600 sandpaper and machine buffed to the gloss sheen it has today. Every cosmetic part was replaced with either “NOS” or orignal used parts in excellent condition,” Joe said.

The interior was refurbished with exact reproduction seat covers, door panel headliner, interior luggage compartment, carpet, and vinyl dash. The fuel and brake systems have also been replaced. Tires are 650×13 reproduction 2-1/2″ wide whitewalls. “With my wife’s help, I completed most of the interior work myself,” Joe stated.


Chevy bow-tie mirror is a popular option with Corvair restorers.

Miceli’s Monza is a really loaded Corvair, starting with the optional gas heater. It was the only year that the Corvair would come with a gasoline-fueled heater. Other options on the car, including a few added during the restoration, are a radio, seat belts, locking gasoline cap, compass, tissue dispenser, bumper guards, door edge guards, gas filler door guard, defroster, light group, outside rearview mirrors with Chevy bowtie emblems, vanity mirror, windshield washers and back-up lights. The car was repainted in an original dark gray color, and the interior was done in black.

The various options appearing on the Monza add significantly to the appearance, serviceability and value of the car, Joe observes, adding that he invested alot of time and money locating and purchasing them. “Since replacement parts and accessories came from all over the United States and Canada, we have nickname our Monza, Frankenstein,” he says.

Miceli is fully aware of Ralph Nader’s vicious attacks on the Corvair, and he takes issue with the well-known consumer advocate. “I am a proud Corvair owner, he says, “and I must disagree with Mr. Nader’s opinions. I believe our Corvair is a perfect example of the automobile’s durability, styling and beauty, despite some of the problems for which the car is noted.

Joe believes that the Corvair is appealing to collectors, in part, because of its availability, drivability, economy and affordability. And “Corvairitis” can be contagious. “I am now seeking a 1964 Corvair Spyder convertible in restorable condition,” he says. Obviously, the first restoration was rewarding enough for Joe and his family to inspire a repeat performance.

He’s gotten a lot of support from his wife, despite her initial misgivings. “We have become a real ‘Corvair family’ just from the experiences we have shared in restoring and driving our little collectible compact,” Joe says.

Isn’t that what the old car hobby — or any hobby — is all about?

Permanent link to this article:

Nov 27

Ad for The Master Chevrolet-Chevy Quality

The Master Chevrolet Ad

Permanent link to this article:

Oct 13

The Chevrolet El Camino’s Beginnings

1959 Chevy El Camino

1959 Chevy El Camino

A very short mention, on Oct. 16, 1958, Chevrolet began to sell the El Camino. The El Camino was a car-truck hybrid that was inspired by the Ford Ranchero. The El Camino was built on the Chevy Impala body with similar cat’s-eye taillights. The El Camino was billed by Chevy as “the most beautiful thing that ever shouldered a load.”

Permanent link to this article:

May 12

Queens County Region, VCCA Antique Car Show 2017 Date Change

If you are planning to attend the Queens County Region, VCCA Antique Car Show 2017, please notice that the date has been changed to September 24, 2017. Make sure you update your calendar!

Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «