The King of Kustoms’ George Barris’ Most Famous Corvette
Dateline: 6.28.17 (This story was first published in the April 2016 issue of Vette Vues Magazine) – Senior Vice President of GM Design, Bill Mitchell knew how to stoke a crowd. After the basic design of the new Sting Ray Corvette was approved for production, Mitchell kept Vette fans on the edge of their bucket seats with two Corvette dream cars. After the 1959 Stingray Racer won the SCCA C/Modified Championship in 1961 and was retired from racing, the car was refurbished into a show car. But that wasn’t enough. Mitchell had Larry Shinoda design a teaser Corvette to tip his hand, just a little, as to what the next Corvette would look like. The 1961 Mako Shark (the car wasn’t called “Mako Shark I” until after 1965 when the Mako Shark II was created) was based on a 1961 Corvette with styling hints of wild things to come. Actually, the car was a unique blend of a 1961 Corvette and the Stingray Racer.The ploy worked such that when the 1963 Sting Ray came out in autumn 1962, Bob Nordskog bought a new ’63 Split-Window Coupe and after only driving the car for 10 miles, took the new Corvette to Barris Custom Shop to be made into a drag/show car.
What’s not known is if the finished Asteroid was what Nordskog had in mind, or if he handed the new Corvette over to Barris and said, “Customize my Vette.” Custom cars tend to polarize opinions – people love them, or hate them. But from the perspective of 1963, the Asteroid was a hit. Continue reading
A little known Chevrolet/Corvette milestone, a 1958 Corvette marks the 39 Millionth Chevrolet!
Dateline: 6.26.17 – In the early days of the Corvette’s existence, GM had an odd relationship with the car. Power-players such as Harley Earl, Ed Cole, and Bill Mitchell went to bat for the struggling sports car many times. And then there was the wild Russian engineer with the funny name, Zora Arkus-Duntov that pushed to make the car a successful racecar. But GM is all about sales and Chevy wasn’t selling many Corvettes. By the end of 1957 Chevy sold 14,446 Corvettes in total from 1953. In 1957 alone, Chevrolet sold 254,331 4-door Bel Air Sedans!
No, Corvette sales weren’t even a blip on the GM profit margin. So it is peculiar that GM would have chosen a 1958 Corvette to officially be the “39th Million Chevrolet. But bean-counting aside, the Corvette indeed had a special place in GM. No other car was using what was then, a new high-tech composite material Continue reading
Performance Bookends of the Shortest Generation Corvette, the C2 Mid-Year
Dateline: 6.23.17 – The difference between a 1962 and 1963 Corvette is staggering. In 1963, the new Sting Ray looks like the sports car from another planet! The only carryover components used for the new Corvette were the base and optional engines. Everything else (body, interior, suspension, and frame) was all-new. The C1’s basic structure was created in 1952, and over the years was given slight tweaks, such that by the late 1950s, the Corvette was holding on against the European cars. But the new Sting Ray was a game-changer.
We’re going to look back at the first and last “performance” Corvettes – the 1963 Fuelie and the 1967 L71 427/435. The Sting Ray had an all-new parameter frame that would ultimately serve as the foundation of the Corvette up to 1982! The new C2 frame allowed the passenger seats to be located “down and inside” the frame rails, unlike the C1’s frame that located the seats “on top” of the frame, thus allowing the overall design to be lower and more slender. Although the shape looked “aerodynamic, it suffered from severe “lift” at high speeds. The lift issue was a combination of the body shape, and the rear suspension “squat” upon hard acceleration – and was never really solved, just dealt with.The independent rear suspension and updated front suspension made the 1963 Corvette the only American car with four-wheel, independent suspension. This was a very BIG deal then. The new interior was just beautiful. The dash had double-arches with a perfectly laid out array of the proper sports car gauges. From 1953 to 1962, the Corvette was a convertible with an optional bolt-on hardtop. The new Sting Ray was a production of Bill Mitchell’s 1959 Stingray Racer – a beautiful car with big aerodynamic problems. Instead of a convertible-only version, there was a coupe version with the now classic “stinger” design. The hidden headlights were show-car-like, and rotated horizontally along the front leading edge when the lights were turned on.
The rear glass had a split down the middle so that the crease that started at the front edge of the roof could run uninterrupted back to the end of the car. This was the infamous “split-window” that was a love-it, or hate-it detail and was Bill Mitchell’s pet design element. The split-window was gone after 1963 – making the 1963 coupes a rarity. 1963 convertibles outsold coupes, 10,919 to 10,594. Some coupe owners replaced their split-window with a 1964-1967-style rear glass! Continue reading
June 21, 1996 – Mike Yager helped build and take delivery of “The Last C4 Corvette”
Dateline: 6.21.17 – “First and Last” Corvettes have become a niche specialty in the Corvette hobby. Year-by-year, the “first and last” Corvette is only marginally interesting. They’re cool to own or set aside, but not nearly as unique as the “first or last” of a generation.
Mike Yager of Mid America Motorworks came up with a novel idea. While most collectors think of ” special editions” and “firsts,” Mike thought of the “last” C4 Corvette off the production line. No one had ever considered that before. When GM announced in mid-’95 that the ’96 model would be the last of the C4 Corvettes, Yager launched his plan. Mike leveraged his relationship with Chevrolet with a unique proposal. Yager’s request was to be permitted to buy the very last Corvette to roll off the production line, on the condition that the he would retain ownership of the car and display it at his “MY Garage” (Mike Yager Garage). GM liked the proposal, had nothing to lose, and a lot of publicity to gain.
Mike decided that the Last C4 should be visually unique. In honor of the first Corvette, he chose polo white as the body color. From there he added the Grand Sport rear fender flares, white ZR-1 wheels, red Grand Sport front fender hash marks, special embroidery for the seats, and special “Last C4” decals for the front fenders and the windshield. Under the hood was a (See Videos) Continue reading
Vietnam Vet and Paraplegic, Dave Ankenbauer got one of the BADDEST Baldwin Motion street 454 Phase III Corvettes ever built!
Dateline: 6-22-17 (This story was first published in the March 2012 issue of Vette Vues Magazine) – Dave Belk is a car guy with a taste for supercars – Baldwin Motion supercars that is. Belk is the owner of QC Networks, manufacturer of school gymnasium supplies, in Wheatland, Iowa. Car guys love to troll the internet, looking for interesting cars for sale. That’s how Dave found his latest supercar, a one-owner, Baldwin-Motion 1972 Phase-III 454 Corvette that had been in a garage since 1985 – nearly 26 years! What Belk didn’t realize was that he had just entered into the world of a most unusual and unique young man that is no longer with us.
Our young patriot’s name was Dave Ankenbauer, from Covington, Kentucky. In 1969, at the young age of 18, Ankenbauer enlisted into the United States Marine Corps and after basic training, it was off to South East Asia, Vietnam in-country. Dave Ankenbauer was a decorated foot soldier and a good sharpshooter. About a year into his service, Dave was shot in the back during a fire fight and left paralyzed. Needless to say, Dave also received a Purple heart. Dave Ankenbauer’s sister, Darla Sharp Ankenbauer described her brother this way. “He was extremely fearless, outgoing, and a huge risk taker. Right after he was paralyzed, Dave took a trip to Thailand, by himself. He was worry free and a very giving person. He was a true free spirit – a man’s man.”
A Corvette That’s Never Not Been a Racer!
Dateline: 6-15-17 – Ken Hazelton’s 1963 Split-Window Coupe Corvette Sting Ray is a unique car. Ken’s Corvette has never been a streetcar. Although born to be a street sports car, this Sting Ray has never been anything but a racecar. Zora Arkus-Duntov was the driving force behind making sure that production Corvettes could be easily turned into competitive racecars. He was famous for saying, “I want my customers to enjoy their Corvette.” Even though he was in the engineering department and not sales and marketing, he thought like a salesman. Duntov’s insistence that Corvette customers had access to Chevrolet engineered parts for racing, created the Corvette’s halo of racing.
Unlike any other American automobile, the Corvette was born to be a racer. In 1951 when Harley Earl went to his first sportscar race at Watkins Glen, he saw the raw enthusiasm for the new breed of small cars from Europe – sports cars. Earl was an automotive genius and pioneer, who often saw possibilities where most did not. For the most part, Americans preferred big cars. But Earl reasoned, “Why should the Europeans have all the fun and racing glory? There should be an America sportscar.” The rest, of course, is history.
Because “racing” was built into the Corvette’s DNA, the car attracted others that saw potential for greatness. Without men such as Ed Cole, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Mauri Rose, Bill Mitchell, and many others, Continue reading
The Hands-On Life and Times of a Lifelong Corvette Guy, Allan “Bunky” Garonzik
Even though Zora Arkus-Duntov was “only” the chief engineer, he felt a personal connection with Corvette customers. He used to refer to them as “his” customers. One of the young engineers that worked with Duntov once said that Zora lead with love and passion. Duntov wanted his customers to ENJOY their Corvette. He wanted them to not only drive their Corvette, but also drive them hard – go racing if they wanted, and he and his team would supply the parts to be successful.
Of course, back in the day, up to the introduction of emissions controls, Corvettes (all cars for that matter) were really simple. The cars were 100-percent mechanical. With just modest mechanical skills, a box of Craftsman tools, a tackle block pulley and a few other basic tools, an owner could swap an engine on a Saturday and be back on the road on Sunday. It was easy to learn auto mechanics on your own car.
We all start off knowing nothing about cars until the day arrives when the “car bug” bites us and for many, it becomes a life-long, positive infection. When Allan Garonzik (“Bunky” to his friends) was in school, he started out like all of us car guys, hanging on, watching an “older guy” (usually around 21) do stuff to their cars. Continue reading
Mr. Duntov took care of “his customers” that wanted to go racing!
Dateline: 5-27-17 (Download link is at the bottom of this story) – Before the ax fell in 1957 thanks to the AMA Factory Racing Ban, Zora Arkus-Duntov was planning to take a team of his 1957 Corvette SS Racers to Le Mans. The completed SS Racer was an embarrassment at it’s 1957 Sebring debut and in fact, the Corvette SS mule car showed more promise. The car was rushed in its construction and was actually being finished inside the transported on route from Detroit to Sebring, Florida. Management seemed to be more interested in having the car look good than a developed racecar. In retrospect, the car was terribly underdeveloped. Then, right after the race, GM signed on with the AMA Racing Ban and as Duntov liked to say, the program came to, “… a screeching halt!”
But two major elements from the Corvette SS project survived and eventually made a significant impact on Corvette racing. The finished Corvette SS Racer with its magnesium body was converted into a show car and went on tour with a jet age bubble top. The rough mule car was stripped of it’s cobbled together fiberglass body and the chassis went into storage, only later in 1958/59, to be bought for a nominal fee by then-new GM VP of Styling, Bill Mitchell so that Wild Bill could go racing. His racing effort could in no way look like it was a GM-sponsored enterprise. Mitchell’s racing indulgence became the Stingray Racer, which was the public face of what would eventually become the 1963 Sting Ray. Continue reading
Race-prepared, stock 1990 ZR-1 Shatters a 50 Year 24-Hour Speed Record
Dateline: 5.22.17 (This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of “Vette Vues”) – Racing Corvettes used to have a long history of durability issues. There are many reasons why Corvette racecars had durability issues, but one of the biggest is easy horsepower. It’s always been relatively easy to get a lot of power out of a small-block or big-block Chevrolet engine. If a builder is more oriented towards drag racing, the temptation for an extra 50-horsepower is just too tempting for many builders. That’s fine for drag racing where a car is stressed to the max for a matter a seconds. But in endurance racing, you have to finish to win.
From the perspective of the mid-1980s, the new C4 Corvette was light years ahead of the previous two-generation Corvettes. In the mid-1980s Corvettes were so fierce in SCCA Showroom Stock racing that after two years they were kicked out for being too fast! So, the factory-built Corvette racecars duked it out in their own series, The Corvette Challenge. Breakage with the C4 cars wasn’t much of an issue thanks to the much-improved structure and suspension, plus the cars weren’t powered by massive, torque-monster big-blocks. Continue reading
A C7 ZR1 in full-camo makes a daylight raid on Nurburgring in the snow and rain!
Dateline: 4.20.17 – Before you know it, we’ll know it! Chevrolet and the media are teasing us like never before. Spy photos are now so clear and sharp that it looks like Car and Driver Magazine’s April 2017 cover nailed it.
Of course, we still don’t know what’s really lurking beneath all that carbon fiber. Will the ZR1 be powered by the next generation LT5 engine? Will the ZR1 have GM’s Active Aero System? Or, are they saving those gems for the mid-engine C8? Folks, we just do not yet know, which leads to delicious bench racing. Enjoy the below Corvette video.
Even without the LT5 or Active Aero goodies, a goosed-up LT4 sporting a bigger supercharger and intercooler could do the trick. Maybe Chevrolet engineers will employ Continue reading
Car and Driver dishes the C7 ZR1 with “25 Cars Worth Waiting For” cover story!
Dateline: 3-9-17 – I just love paper car magazines! Subscriptions are dirt cheap and once a month your letter carrier delivers a bundle of paper for you to feast your eyes upon and consume delightful automotive stories. For Corvette lovers, its a thrill when one of Chevrolet’s “Plastic Fantastic” Corvettes adorns the cover. The April 2017 issue of Car and Driver arrived yesterday in my mailbox and it was a WOW!
The cover story is, “25 Cars Worth Waiting For” and in front of the Kia Stinger and Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the 2018 ZR1 Corvette. I’ve seen magazines do this before, about a month before the official debut, a publication will show images that are about 98-percent spot on. The image on the April 2017 Car and Driver cover and in the feature story, look Photoshop-enhanced, but not cobbled together.
As an illustrator and stylist, when I look at something “new” I go with my very first, gut reaction. When I saw the Car and Driver cover I said out loud, “WOW! The long article leads with a front/top view of the ZR1. The “25 Cars Worth Waiting For” runs from number 25, backwards to number 1, which is the ZR1 Corvette. Continue reading
Corvette Engine Blueprint Series Salutes the 1967-1969 427/435 L71 and 1990-1995 LT5 Engines
Dateline: 2.3.17 – ATTENTION CORVETTE MOTORHEADS! We are officially announcing the next two classic Corvette engines in our NEW Corvette Engine Blueprint Series – the 1967-1969 427/435 L71 and the 1990-1995 LT5. We’re releasing these two engines together because they are arguably two of the most awesome-looking engines to ever live under the hood of a Corvette. The sight of that big, triangular air cleaner on top of that gigantic 427 big-block engine engine provides owners with instant bragging rights. Continue reading
Dateline: 1.19.17 – C6 Z06 LS7 and C7 Z06 LT4 Engines Kick off NEW Corvette Art Print Series
The Corvette legend has many aspects. Most obvious is the car’s outstanding good looks. Generally it is good to look at the various styles of Corvettes from the perspective of their day – what did regular cars of the day look like. Only then is it obvious how far advanced Corvette styling has always been.
Equally important within the Corvette mystique is what’s under the hood. Many Corvette engines have become automotive heroes and legends. I am launching a new Corvette art prints series called, “Corvette Engine Blueprint Series.” Continue reading
The BIG Return of the Grand Sport
Dateline: 1.17.17 – The long-view story of the Grand Sport now has four chapters. The first chapter told the story of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s vision of offering to the public, lightweight, powerful, all-out racing cars that “could” be driven on the street – not unlike what Ferrari was offering – available through Chevrolet dealerships. It was a great idea, but went over like a belch in church with GM’s brass. The plug was pulled immediately and the five pilot Grand Sports were left to go fallow with no factory development or backing.
Part Two of the story happens 33 years later, in 1996. By this time, unless you seriously followed the early days of Corvette racing, you probably never heard of a “Grand Sport.” Continue reading
Dateline: 1.7.17 – 3D Printing Makes Working LS3 Corvette Model Engine
Most of us are at least lightly familiar with 3D Printing. It’s an amazing leap that has its roots in ink jet printing. Back in 1990 I bought the first HP ink jet printer as an alternative to a cheap $150 dot matrix or an expensive $2,500 laser printer. The HP Ink-Jet Printer cost me $950 and was promoted as a “deal.” But we never dreamed that the basic mechanics of the back-and-forth spraying of ink would one day lead to the spraying of a sub-strait material to build 3D “things”! Here’s the video…
All of the parts of this kinetically functioning LS3 model engine were 3D printed and the parts all go together just like the real thing. Continue reading