Against all Odds

Despite being originally owned by a young drag-racing enthusiast, this 1969 L89 coupe remains in remarkably pristine and original condition.

January 27, 2012

Also from Issue 72

  • Supercharged C6 Z06
  • Buyer's Guide: C3
  • 1964 Fuelie Coupe
  • 1959 Restomod
  • MacDonald Corvette Special
  • 1966 Big-Block Coupe
  • Spitfire Mk.26B
  • 2003 Convertible
  • Tech: Small-Block V8
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A YOUNG LAD FRESH OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL named Hugh Miller buys a brand-new 1966 427/425-horse Corvette. Two months later, the car is crashed through the giant plate-glass windows of a building under construction and ends up stuffed into a stack of sheet rock. Undaunted, this same young man then buys a brand-new 1967 427/435-horse Corvette, but one week after taking delivery he’s informed by his insurance company that he is persona non grata. A thorough attempt to procure new coverage elsewhere reveals that, at his tender age and with the very recent totaling of a new Corvette on his record, nobody will sell him insurance. In fact, he will not be able to insure a Corvette until he turns 21. With no other options, he reluctantly sells the car. Fast forward two-and-a-half years to January 1969, and young Mr. Miller celebrates his 21st birthday with the purchase of yet another new Corvette, a Burgundy coupe fitted with all of the go-fast goodies, including a potent aluminum-head L89 427/435-horse engine.

Under the circumstances, the likelihood that this car would live to a ripe old age was pretty slim. Yet in defiance of all odds, it not only survived but remains to this day an impressively original and unrestored specimen, with multiple National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) Top Flight awards, Bloomington Gold certification and a Bloomington Survivor award to its credit.

In defense of the car’s original owner, he wasn’t at the wheel of the ’66 when it went off-road and rearranged the façade of that building. His girlfriend did the honors, losing control of the ferocious big block on a curve. But that’s not to say he wasn’t capable of getting into trouble on his own. “I remember doing plenty of things I shouldn’t have back then,” Miller says with a chuckle. “But somehow I did manage to stay out of trouble with the ’69. I don’t even remember getting a single ticket in the car.”

One of the main things Miller did that he shouldn’t have was a fair amount of street racing in and around his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. “One night, I drag raced a 1970 454 LS6 Chevelle up and down White Station Road for close to an hour,” he recalls. “On another occasion, in 1972, I had at it with a 1969 Corvette, a black roadster with a 427/400 engine. A friend of mine owned the car. He was frequently ragging on me to race him, and one time I gave in. That was a mistake!”

Why was it a mistake? “On the bottom of the tach face it says ‘RPM,’ and I looked down at the tach and the needle was over the ‘M’ in ‘RPM,’” he says. “That needle was buried, past 7,000 rpm, and a few moments later the engine sucked a valve.”

Thankfully, the damage to the engine was minimal. But rather than simply repair it, Miller had the engine converted to full L88 spec, with that option package’s high-lift/long-duration cam, 12.5:1 compression-ratio pistons and single four-barrel carburetor instead of the L89’s three carbs. While he was at it, he ditched the factory’s smog-reducing air-injection system. In addition, he bought a set of over-the-counter racing headers from Chevy and had them installed.

Miller had actually ordered an L88 to begin with. A friend of his, whose father owned a Chevrolet dealership in Nashville, had an early 1969 L88 and Miller had every intention of owning one of these beasts. For reasons that remain a mystery, however, Miller’s L88 never materialized. Widespread strikes in the spring of 1969 that shuttered numerous GM assembly facilities, including one at the St. Louis Corvette plant, may have played a role. Several months after his order was placed, the dealer told Miller that Chevy was not building any more L88s, and the only alternative that would get him close was an L89, so that’s what he settled for.

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