Like many other Baby Boomers, Ralph Martino was infatuated with fast cars from earliest childhood. While he liked just about every make and model he came across, his favorite was always Chevrolet’s sports car. So, as soon as he got a driver’s license and saved enough dough, he went on the hunt for a Corvette.
“My first Corvette was a black 1969 convertible with a 350-cubic-inch, 350-horsepower engine and four-speed manual transmission,” Martino recalls. “I purchased it in the early 1980s to fix up and have fun with. What a great car! The body and paint were basically perfect, but it needed a little engine work—including exhaust manifolds and a carburetor—and some other items, such as new tires, wheel-trim rings and a couple other things.”
After thoroughly enjoying the ’69 for a few years, Martino sold it in 1985. He then focused his attention on work and didn’t think seriously about buying another Corvette until mid-1987. Though he appreciated the well-rounded performance and modern conveniences of the new fourth-gen Corvette, the native New Jersian couldn’t get that sexy C3 styling out of his mind. “I had my sights on a used 1981 or ’82,” he remembers, “which had a body style I had always admired.”
But before Martino could locate a suitable late-model C3, a friend steered him in a different direction: “It just so happened that a girl I knew at the time also liked Corvettes and was thinking about buying one herself, but she was interested in a new one. As it turned out, when I went to the dealership with her to check out the new Corvette model, I was floored when I saw how nice the brand-new 1988s were and how they seemed improved over the earlier C4s.”
As Martino scrutinized the gleaming new ’88 at the Chevy dealer, all thoughts of a shark-bodied car faded away. “The showroom floor model was a beautiful coupe with the Z52 package option,” he recalls, his excitement about that car still bubbling over. “It was being displayed with the hood open and was the first factory production car I had ever seen with 17-inch rims and low-profile, 40-series tires all around. At the time, only racing cars and a couple exotic cars had a setup like those. This display car just looked fantastic and really captured my attention.”
The deal was sealed after Martino took a new ’88 for a test drive. Though its output rating of 245 horsepower sounded anemic compared with his previous Corvette’s 350 ponies, the car was faster than he expected. According to Martino, it was a completely different animal: “My ’69 Corvette had the history of the muscle-car era of the 1960s, and although it was great to drive and look at, it had more of a raw hot-rod feel, which in a sense it really was; the new 1988 was a much more refined Corvette. Its handling ability was supposedly almost unheard of for that time period. That’s all it took, I was sold and decided to buy a new one.”
Rather than make any compromises, Martino opted to forego buying something off the showroom floor and instead ordered his new Corvette exactly the way he wanted it. That meant a black-on-black coupe with a manual transmission and the Z52 Sport Handling Package. He also checked off the boxes for leather seat covers, the six-way adjustable power driver’s seat, blue tint glass roof panel, rear window and side mirror defoggers, and Delco-Bose stereo with cassette. In mid-December 1987, only a few weeks after the order was placed, the dealership called Martino to let him know his car was in.