The One

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Though this bleach-infused scrubbing cleanser had certainly been effective in removing years’ worth of oxidation, it didn’t exactly improve the paint’s luster. To that end, a 50th-anniversary participant suggested Emerson try a new paint-rejuvenating product that was being promoted at the gathering. He gave it a try, and was amazed at the results. With his shark looking better than ever, Emerson drove to a nearby catfish restaurant for dinner. It was his birthday, and time to celebrate the celebration within the celebration. After parking his Corvette out front, Emerson strode into the restaurant feeling as if he was on top of the world. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for him to be knocked off that lofty perch.

A young, attractive woman entered the restaurant, asking who owned the yellow Corvette convertible. Thinking his night was just about to get better, Emerson raised his hand. That’s when she dropped the bomb: She had hit his car. Not believing it for a second, Emerson was convinced that this was all part of an elaborate birthday gag about to be foisted on him by his buddies. He expected the woman to start taking off her clothes at any second. Instead, she took him outside and showed him the damage. She’d smacked a front fender hard enough to dent the panel and pop the door open. Right then and there, Emerson knew that his original paint job was toast. His high spirits utterly deflated, Emerson faced a long drive home with a duct-taped door.

Upon his arrival back in Northern California, Emerson went to work on his insurance company (the perpetrator had been uninsured). It offered to repair the damage and put the car straight, but said it would only cover the painting of the affected panels. Emerson found this unacceptable; he knew there was no way even the finest paint shop could come close to getting the finish of the repaired panels to match that of the 33-year-old originals. Eventually, Emerson prevailed and the Corvette was given a complete, modern, two-stage paint job. Naturally, he chose to keep the original Daytona Yellow hue.

Before any paint was sprayed, however, Emerson elected to address a number of aging-car issues. For example, the windshield frame had rusted and needed to be repaired. While the stainless-steel exterior brightwork could be buffed clean, the aluminum and chrome bits could not, and would need to be replaced, as would the top. Oh, and the time had come to get a proper LT1 hood. Before he knew it, Emerson had commenced with a full-on restoration, and, as usual, it took a lot longer than he expected it would. He knew the process of tracking down hard-to-find original parts would be tedious, especially since you usually have to buy multiple examples in order to find one that fits properly, but setbacks like his paint-shop guy getting deported were impossible to foresee.

As the project neared its third year, Emerson had finally had enough of his Corvette-less existence and took a drastic measure: He bought a brand-new 2005 Corvette coupe. “It helped me get through the process,” he claims. Though blown away by the C6’s handling—“It’s a go-kart on steroids”—Emerson was even more impressed by the new Corvette’s fuel economy. Even when driven in a spirited fashion, the car got no worse than 24 mpg, and showed well over 30 mpg during steady-state freeway drives—nothing short of “amazing” given the 400-horsepower car’s performance.

While he appreciates the C6 Corvette’s appearance, especially the way the tapered backlight mimics that of a mid-year coupe’s, in his book it just doesn’t compare to an early C3’s looks. He says styling is definitely the ’70 convertible’s finest attribute. He loves the way the front fenders rise to sharp points on either side of the hood, the way the aggressive grille “looks likes it’s going to gobble up everything around it” and the intricacy of the eggcrate side vents. Above all, Emerson thinks his car looks sexy. Recalling the halcyon days of an era gone by, he says, “The girls loved it.” He’s quick to add that it still turns heads today—perhaps even more so.

Given his affection for the machine, Emerson was understandably thrilled to finally get his shark back from the shop. The long restoration had been quite a learning experience. Emerson gained first-hand knowledge of the fact that no two factory LT1 hoods were alike, for instance. Finding one online was just the beginning of the process; getting it to fit his car was much harder, involving lots of bodywork expertise and loads of patience. Though Emerson strived for originality in most aspects of the restoration, he turned to the aftermarket when it came to the soft top, having already watched four replacement factory tops discolor too quickly.

As for other aftermarket upgrades that often find their way into early Corvettes during restoration, Emerson says he was tempted to add power steering and brakes but ultimately resisted the urge. “She is what she is,” he says, referring to the car’s heavy controls. He did, however, give some thought to installing a tilt steering wheel. The re-padding of the seats during the interior restoration left him sitting higher and closer to the wheel rim, and Emerson admits that some extra padding around the waistline might have worsened the problem. But after the seats settled and he lost some weight, he is glad he didn’t monkey with the steering column.

One thing he did monkey with long ago was the shifter, replacing the clunky stock linkage of his M22 four speed with a smoother-shifting Hurst one. Though he drives the ’70 much less than he used to, he doesn’t hold much back when he’s behind the wheel and doesn’t want the shifter slowing him down. Indeed, not that long ago he ran the LT1 down a quarter-mile drag strip at a Northern California Corvette Association event in Sacramento. He posted an elapsed time of 14.01 seconds, exactly what the Chevrolet sales brochure promised over 40 years ago.

The car certainly felt fast during my brief time behind the wheel. The rush of acceleration as the engine sweeps past 5,000 rpm and tears to its 6,500-rpm redline is absolutely intoxicating. Emerson says this 350 pulls harder than the 396 in his ’65, especially at high rpm. Though the LT1 doesn’t like to be lugged around at low revs, I wouldn’t describe it as high-strung. The slick-shifting Hurst linkage makes rowing through the gears a snap. I can only imagine how loud the exhaust was when the car still had its unbaffled sidepipes, because it still plenty boisterous now.

The steering is definitely high-effort during parking-lot maneuvers, but quickly lightens as speeds increase. I didn’t have much opportunity to test the car’s handling, but Emerson was quick to point out that it in no way compares to his C6’s. He gets that car on track as often as his budget will allow, but has no interest in hustling his C3 around a road course. Still, I would love to drive this car up the Northern California coast, retracing one of Emerson’s abalone dive routes with the tall front fenders framing the experience the whole way. This LT1 just begs to be driven.

Also from Issue 80

  • Purifoy C6 Grand Sport
  • Buyer’s Guide: C3
  • Grand Sport Roadster Replica
  • Dick Thompson
  • Tech: C6 Targa Top
  • History of Corvette Aerodynamics
  • Split-Window Funny Car
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