The Missing Link

How a mysterious Corvette with a ’67 chassis and a ’68 body served as a bridge to the C3 era

February 1, 2018
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Much has been written about the sea change in body style from the crisp C2 Stingray to the curvaceous ’68 C3 shape. Famed designer Larry Shinoda’s Mako Shark II concept—which wowed the public with its tumescent fenders and jet-fighter cockpit—was influential in the genesis of the new form. Engineering chief Zora Arkus-Duntov did not care for the change, though, preferring a more streamlined body (even though the C3’s aerodynamics were about the same as the C1’s). But GM Styling VP Bill Mitchell’s insistence on a more market-driven design ultimately won out.

Mitchell, who’d previously clashed with Duntov over the “split-window” configuration of the ’63 coupe, loved to make cars look aerodynamic, even if they weren’t in reality. Ultimately, the C3’s coke-bottle curves were a victory of Mitchell over Duntov, of style over substance. Despite its flaws, which included an alarming propensity for front-end lift at high speed, the third-generation Corvette sold remarkably well over the course of its lengthy production cycle.

Oddly enough, the C3’s fresh look leaked out several weeks ahead of schedule in the form of a Mattel Hot Wheels die-cast model car. But even more surprising is one particular ’68 Corvette that was built in April of 1967, well ahead of the typical new model-year introduction in the fall. This car would prove to be the missing link between these two eras of Corvette design. That’s because it had the new ’68 C3 body forced onto a C2 chassis.

When former Bowling Green Assembly Plant Manager Wil Cooksey saw this C2/C3 “hybrid,” he reportedly speculated that it was built to show GM execs what the new design would look like. But he also wondered how it ever left the St. Louis factory, as it didn’t have a serial number on the frame and should therefore have been crushed into oblivion. (During restoration, a VIN was discovered on the windshield post.)

Yet somehow this “neither fish nor fowl” prototype escaped from the jaws of death and was shipped from St. Louis to Haley’s Chevrolet dealership in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Owner “Hell” Haley was known for his hell-raising antics, along with an unusual collection of Corvettes that he road-raced on his goat farm, where he had built an improvised track. Following a fire at the dealership, he moved to Arizona, taking the ’67/’68 Corvette with him. How it ended up in Pennsylvania is another “missing link” in this mysterious tale. Later on, uncovering the confusing identity of the car took some careful detective work by veteran restorer M.J. “Junior” Redden. First, though, a bit of background on how current owner Ralph Collins Sr. came to possess the car.

A Different Kind of Hybrid

At the age of 19, Collins purchased his first Corvette, a ’69 convertible. But less than two years later, he had to sell it in order to invest in a farm with his father. Like many seasoned Corvette owners in similar circumstances, he found parting ways with his beloved convertible to be a heartbreaking experience, “One of the hardest things I ever had to do,” he admits. Yet long-time disappointment would later fuel a surprising project.

Also from Issue 120

  • 2019 ZR1 Revealed
  • Buyer's Guide: C1
  • '65 L76 Coupe
  • Dual-Purpose C5 Z06
  • '93 40th Anniversary Package Coupe
  • '56 Super Sport Concept
  • Driving a Big-Block '76 Racecar
  • Jan Magnussen Interview
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