Unfinished Business

When this ’91 Corvette was passed from one family member to another, it was clear what needed to be done.

October 29, 2010

Also from Issue 62

  • Two Race-themed Z06s
  • Mid America Motorworks Funfest
  • 1958 Fuelie
  • Buyer's Guide: C1/2
  • 1966 Big-block Coupe
  • C5 Hillclimb Racer
  • Tech: Emissions Testing
  • 1971 LS6 Coupe
  • Race Report: Road America and Mosport
  • How-to: Power Steering
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Most Corvette enthusiasts don’t associate C4s with National Corvette Restorers Society judging. Though it’s been well over two decades since its debut, the fourth-generation machine still seems too new to be thought of in the same light as these mavens of originality. But beginning way back in 1997, the NCRS started judging C4s and established the McLellan Mark of Excellence Award—named in honor of former Chief Corvette Engineer David McLellan, who oversaw the development of the C4 before retiring in 1996. It was this honor that Quentin Nieman set his sights on, having inherited a pristine 1991 coupe in October 2005.

Nieman’s cousin, John Denise, purchased the red Corvette in Louisiana in 2002. Already a decade old at this point, the heavily optioned, low-mileage (less than 18,000 miles) C4 was in remarkably good condition and entirely stock—its air filter, fan belt and tires were all original-equipment items. In other words, it was far from the average C4 you would have found for sale at the time.

This Corvette was also special because it was fitted with the Z07 Adjustable Suspension Package. This included not only the FX3 Selective Ride and Handling (adjustable shocks) option, but also the Z51 option’s stiffer springs, sway bars and bushings, and heavy-duty brakes, as well as the KC4 oil cooler. While a total of 733 coupes rolled out of Bowling Green with this racy setup, only 169 of those had their 245-horsepower 5.7-liter L98 V8 engines paired with automatic transmissions; Denise’s was one of them.

After moving to Florida, Denise began preparing the ’91 for show duty — this Corvette wasn’t destined for the daily grind. Sadly, Denise passed away before he could show the car. In his three years of ownership, he had put only 143 miles on the machine, so focused was he on his goal.

Wanting to keep the Corvette in the family, Denise’s sons, John Jr. and Phil, decided to give it to Nieman. They knew he was a Corvette enthusiast—he had owned several Vettes in the past, including a ’57, a ’63 split-window (sold to buy an engagement ring), a ’69 and a ’92—one who could complete the job their father had left unfinished. He was honored by their generosity, and vowed to keep up his end of the bargain.

Fortunately for Nieman, there was very little that needed to be done to the car. Cosmetically, it was outstanding. The original Bright Red paint (couldn’t Chevrolet have come up with a more original name than that?) was in excellent condition. For a C4, the red interior was in particularly fine shape—rapid wear is a well-known fourth-gen bugaboo. “It only needed a good cleaning and detailing,” says Nieman.

Electrically, however, the car suffered from a number of gremlins. The ABS system did not work properly, one of the window switches was faulty, a headlight motor was on the fritz, the Bose amplifier no longer pumped up the volume and two tire sensors were out of commission. These maladies likely sound familiar to C4 owners; they’re all well-established problems with the model. Some owners choose to ignore them, especially the benign ones such as the tire sensors.

Nieman didn’t have that choice. Exorcising these gremlins was crucial because earning a McLellan Mark of Excellence Award requires receiving a Performance Verification Award. Ostensibly a pass/fail exam, the PV, as it is referred to in NCRS circles, requires that a Corvette function without a hitch, faulty warning lights included. Despite the complexity of some of the repairs needed, Nieman did all of the work himself—no small undertaking. He is not a mechanic by trade; he’s a purchasing manager.