Politically Incorect

To the consternation of Corvette purists, the numbers on this '66 convertible don't match, it rolls on aftermarket wheels and its engine has been breathed on—but its owner would have it no other way.

September 14, 2012

Also from Issue 77

  • 2010 Lingenfelter Coupe
  • Buyer’s Guide: $8K
  • 1990 Coupe
  • Tech: Ramjet Injection
  • 1971 Big-Block Coupe
  • Peter Brock on Sting Ray Styling
  • Racing: Mid-Ohio
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The vintage-car hobby never sits still for too long. Like fashion trends and political winds, it’s constantly in flux. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, when today’s collectible Corvettes were new, customizing was all the rage. That changed dramatically in the 1970s, with a clear shift toward returning modified cars back to their stock configurations. By the time the 1980s rolled around, it was widely considered blasphemous to modify a vintage Corvette and those who did were looked upon as obtuse and boorish in certain circles.

New Yorker Rich Fingerhut doesn’t much care if others in the Corvette hobby label him obtuse, boorish or even worse. He’s been madly in love with cars his entire life and has always been fascinated with modifying them. “If I could have put headers on my pedal car when I was a preschooler, I would have!” he says with an ear-to-ear smile.

Fingerhut traces his fascination with all things automotive back to his car-loving cousin Robert. Even though cousin Robert is 13 years older than Fingerhut, the two have always been close. “He was more like an older brother than a cousin,” Fingerhut recalls. “He got me my first go-kart, and he’s the one who introduced me to the Corvette. I will never forget one day, after constantly telling me about this really cool sports car he was going to buy, he came out to visit with this really pretty girl Renee, who was his fiancee, and this really pretty car, which turned out to be a 1961 Corvette convertible.”

Cousin Robert’s ’61 Corvette was a tired old mule with some serious problems—it wouldn’t go into reverse and didn’t want to turn left because of steering-linkage issues—but that didn’t diminish Fingerhut’s infatuation one bit. “The day I saw that ’61 is the day the fever took hold of me!”

The slightly decrepit ’61 went to a new owner when Robert shipped off to Vietnam. When he returned home, his influence over Fingerhut took up right where it left off. Robert bought a blue 1963 split-window coupe, and when that was stolen, he replaced it with a 1965 and then another ’65. That second ’65, which was Glen Green and powered by a 327-cubic-inch/365-horse engine, is the car that turned love into obsession for Fingerhut, because his cousin actually let him get behind the wheel. “I was only 13 years old when he let me drive it, or I should say try to drive it,” reports Fingerhut. “My shifting skills were awful and I could hardly see out the windshield, but it was still an unbelievable experience.”

After graduating from college and getting his first decent-paying job, Fingerhut began looking around for a late-model Corvette. That was in 1981 and he ended up buying an ’80 with about 8,000 miles on the clock. It had a base L48 engine and wasn’t very fast, but Fingerhut loved it just the same. He subsequently discovered that it had been in a pretty serious accident. Once the consequences of questionable repairs started to appear, he started to consider an upgrade. Fortunately, his finances allowed him to trade it in on a brand-new, all-black 1982 coupe, which he purchased from Kinney Chevrolet in Riverhead, New York. The ’82 served as a daily driver, and Fingerhut racked up about 40,000 miles on it before getting married and selling the car.

Fingerhut went a lot of years without a Corvette, but buying another one was never far from his thoughts. In 1998, a distant cousin passed away and left him a decent sum of money. “It was a little strange,” Fingerhut says, “because I had only met the guy maybe five times total.” With a good chunk of unexpected cash in hand, and a very supportive wife (wife #2, not the same wife he sold the 1982 for), he went on a mission to satisfy the dream of owning a C2. His first stop was Unique Corvettes, a Corvette dealer that specializes in very high-end cars. He quickly discovered two things: His inheritance was insufficient to buy a collectible mid-year in mint condition, and even if he could afford one, it would be too nice to drive like a regular car.