For some it was the Motorama car. For others it was the original Stingray. For Roger Suddeth it was the Mako Shark. That was the Corvette show car that rocked the young Kentuckian’s world when he first saw images of it as a teenager. “I couldn’t believe how futuristic it looked,” recalls Suddeth. Naturally, once the third-generation Corvette debuted as a 1968 model, when he was 17, it immediately became his dream car, the one vehicle he was desperate to own. His friends were into muscle cars, not sports cars like the Corvette, but to the longtime Beaver Dam resident, the Chevrolet transcended categories. “The Corvette was the pinnacle,” says Suddeth. “It was the ultimate.” Three years later, after he diligently saved and patiently waited, that transcendently futuristic car was parked on his driveway.
But this 1971 Corvette purchase was far from straightforward. First of all, Suddeth bought the most powerful and exclusive model that was available at the time: a 425-horsepower LS6, one of just 188 built. Second, as a result of unforeseen circumstances, it took an agonizingly long six months for him to take delivery of his coupe. (Fortunately for Suddeth, his Chevy dealer came up with a compassionate way of curbing his horsepower cravings, but more on that anon.) And finally, 45 years later, he still owns the car.
In September 1970, Suddeth, all of 19 years old and having secured his first decent-paying job while still in college, traveled to Tichenor Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Buick in nearby Hartford with money in hand. He told the owner, Riley Tichenor, that he wanted a Corvette, and not just any Corvette. “I ordered the biggest engine I could,” admits Suddeth. “I wanted a hot-dog car.” He could have gone for the “standard” LS5 big-block. Its massive 454-cubic-inch V-8 was rated at a heady 365 horsepower, considerably more than the base small-block’s 270 hp. But no, Suddeth wanted the hottest dog, so of course he checked the LS6 box, meaning his Corvette coupe would have an extra 60 ponies.
That additional output came courtesy of a larger four-barrel Holley carburetor; a hotter, solid-lifter camshaft; a less-restrictive aluminum intake manifold and “open chamber” aluminum cylinder heads—the very same ones fitted on the race-spec L88 and ZL1 mills. No wonder the LS6 engine came with beefy four-bolt main bearings, as opposed to the two-bolt ones on the LS5. With a nominal compression ratio of 9.0:1 and a less radical camshaft due to the presence of newly mandated smog equipment, the LS6 was not nearly as highly tweaked as some it its 427-ci predecessors, but what it lacked in tune it compensated for with displacement. Those additional 27 cubic inches allowed it to crank out 475 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. By comparison, the L71-spec 427 was rated at 460 lb-ft.
All that hot-rodding came at a price, namely $1,221. While that might not sound like much in today’s dollars, it was a considerable amount compared with the $5,496 base price of the Corvette. Interestingly, air conditioning was not available on LS6-engined Corvettes, so the young Suddeth couldn’t go completely crazy with options. But still, after ordering a few creature comforts, the bill came to $7,100. “That was a chunk of change back then,” says Suddeth.
In addition to War Bonnet Yellow paint and a Saddle Leather interior, one of the boxes Suddeth checked on the order form was for an M40 automatic transmission—not exactly the “hot dog” choice. Asked for his reasoning for this selection, Suddeth drew a blank. Though he doesn’t exactly recall his thinking process, he says, “I’m glad I got it.” He would likely be driving the car less now had he coupled the LS6 engine with the M21 four-speed manual transmission, and even less had he opted for the heavy-duty M22 version—ultra stiff and noisy, the high-effort shifter is called the Rock Crusher for a reason. The fact that the M22 would have added $100 to the bill, while the M40 automatic was a no-cost option, may have played a role in the decision; with the auto tranny, it was a bit like getting something for free.