The way in which people view historic Corvettes has changed dramatically over time. When new, models from the 1950s and ’60s were often driven, modified and even abused. In most cases, the ones that survived eventually became little more than used cars, but as the ’70s wound down a clear shift began to emerge. Vintage Corvettes became increasingly collectible and were driven less and less. And those that had been customized were almost always restored back to their stock configuration.
But for every rule there is an exception, and in this case that exception is New Yorker Rich Luebkert. Luebkert bought a 327/340-horsepower ’63 convertible in April of 1971, and for the past 46-plus years he hasn’t cared one bit about changing trends or shifts in the hobby. He bought the car to drive, and drive it he did.
From the moment he acquired it, this ’63 was Luebkert’s year-round, daily driver. It transported him from his suburban home in Long Island to his job in Spanish Harlem day in and day out, through winter, spring, summer and fall. That meant regularly navigating hideous metropolitan New York traffic on terrible roads, and often doing it in awful weather.
The 85-mile round-trip commute to work each day, plus all of the other driving Luebkert did in his Corvette, added up quickly, but in testimony to the reliability Chevrolet engineered into these vehicles, he experienced no serious problems until the car topped 300,000 miles. It was then that he noticed the distinct color and odor of burnt oil in the exhaust. At 335,000 miles, he removed the cylinder heads and had a valve job done to address the problem. This helped quite a bit but did not entirely solve the issue, as cylinder-wall and piston-ring wear were also letting oil into the combustion chambers. And so in 1980, with 360,000 miles on the clock, the original engine came out and a new Target Master 350 went in.
The brand-new engine ran like a fine Swiss watch through 1984, propelling the car 100,000 more miles, but its performance was less than inspiring, so Luebkert decided to fix up and reinstall the original 327. In retrospect, it was hardly a surprising development. Back in the day, besides regularly stretching his Corvette’s legs on the highway when traffic allowed, Luebkert had a well-earned reputation for never shying away from a street race, and he sent many a Mustang, Charger, GTO and Chevelle SS owner home dejected.
The original engine was a high-revving powerhouse that made 340 horses courtesy of an 11:1 compression ratio, a hot solid-lifter camshaft, large-valve cylinder heads and a four-barrel-topped aluminum intake manifold. It was complete and virtually all original, but after 360,000 faithful miles, it needed just about everything. Luebkert had the block’s cylinders bored .030-inches and installed new pistons, rings and bearings, as well as a new camshaft and all the other parts needed for a complete overhaul. Following careful reassembly, the engine was dropped into the car, where it remains to this day. Over the 33 years since the rebuild, it has carried the car another 242,000 fun-filled miles. That makes for a grand total of slightly more than 602,000 miles, meaning this is surely one of the highest-mileage Midyear Corvettes in existence.
All of that use has caused various things in addition to the engine to wear out. The car’s original four-speed manual gearbox was rebuilt along the way, and the wheel bearings in the rear trailing arms were replaced. The alternator, water pump, starter motor and carburetor were all rebuilt, and the radiator was replaced with a new one.