For around the first quarter century of their existence, Corvettes were commonly modified for enhanced performance and a distinctive look. But by the late-1970s a pronounced shift in enthusiasts’ tastes was evident, with a movement away from customizing. For more than 30 years thereafter, the Corvette hobby was characterized by a widespread desire to restore vintage cars to their original configuration and condition. This was driven in some measure by organizations that rewarded entirely stock examples in impeccable condition, including Bloomington Gold and the National Corvette Restorers Society. Certain influential books also played a role, including Noland Adams’ two-volume Corvette Restoration & Technical Guide and Mike Antonick’s Corvette Restoration: State of the Art.
Over the past decade or so, the winds of change have blown through the hobby once again, with hobbyists’ interest shifting away from purely stock cars in favor of modifications designed to enhance the driving experience. At the extreme end of this trend we find high-dollar “restomods” with aftermarket frames, electronically fuel-injected engines, late-model suspension hardware, and more. Meanwhile, the other end of the spectrum comprises largely stock cars that have a handful of modest changes intended to make them more fun, and perhaps a little bit safer, to drive.
Such is the case with the gorgeous 1967 coupe featured here. This car was sold new by Dwortin Chevrolet in Derby, Connecticut, to a gentleman named Frank Zega. Zega had been drafted into the Army a few years earlier, and while he was away his mother sold his 1964-1/2 Mustang, Upon returning home he purchased a Harley Davidson for transportation, and it was while cruising around on that bike that he happened to spot a gleaming Marlboro Maroon Corvette coupe sitting outside the dealership. Smitten, this fan of American performance hardware stopped by to have a better look.
“I had a friend with a ’63 Split Window,” Zega tells us, “so I was familiar with Corvettes and wanted one. I really liked [this] coupe—and, of course, the Tri-Power 427 with 400 horsepower—so I bought it. I had a lot of trouble keeping the engine in perfect tune because of the three-carburetor setup, but boy, was that car fast. It felt like you could lift the front end off the ground!”
Zega enjoyed his new Corvette for a few months until someone damaged the paint on the driver-side headlight bucket. A shop repainted the bucket, but shortly thereafter the new paint bubbled. Subsequent attempts at remedying the problem proved futile, with the finish always bubbling up again slightly. “Between my frustration with the paint problem and the awful fuel mileage I got driving back and forth to work, I decided to sell the car,” Zega says.
The next owner was New Canaan, Connecticut, resident Randy Kircher. Kirchner had previously saved up enough money to buy a used ’65 Corvette while he was still a junior in high school, so he jumped at the chance to own the newer model. He sold the ’65, added in some of the money he’d saved from his after-school job, and bought the ’67 from Zega in 1968, while in his final year of high school. Over the six years that followed, Kirchner drove the car sparingly, and very carefully.
“My father turned our tool shed into a small garage for the car,” he remembers, “so it was stored in there when I wasn’t driving it. I was in high school and then college, and only drove it during the summer months.”
Amazingly, Kirchner didn’t drive his Corvette the way just about every other teenager lucky enough to own one did, and thus he never damaged its body or mechanicals. “I always obeyed the speed limit,” he recalls. “I wanted to own a Corvette because of what it looked like, and because of what it was mechanically, not because it could go fast. I loved that car and I still hold it close to my heart. [It] was my pride and joy.” He’s not kidding: Nearly half a century after selling the ’67, Kirchner still carries a photo of the car in his wallet.
On September 22, 1973, Long Islander Homer Dellyssee bought the ’67 from Kircher. “I paid $2,650,” Dellyssee recalls, “which seemed like a fair price at the time.” In fact, this was just slightly less than half the car’s $5,305.25 cost when brand new, as shown on its original Dwortin Chevrolet bill of sale.
Dellyssee loved his new acquisition and treated it with great respect, but he was never shy about using it. “It was an everyday car for all needs,” he says, “including getting me back and forth to work at the old Grumman facilities on Long Island, regardless of the weather. I drove it year round, in the rain and snow.
“I also took it to western Pennsylvania for hunting trips, to my grandparent’s place near Johnstown, and to my sister’s house in Massachusetts.”
Dellyssee used his Corvette year round into the late 1970s, but after that drove it for pleasure only. I first saw the car in the late-1980s when he began bringing it to my restoration shop for maintenance. At that point, it had gone a total of about 70,000 miles and was in excellent condition overall. Though it had been repainted, the body was undamaged, most of the interior was original, and the majority of its mechanical parts—including the engine, transmission, and rear end—were also original.
Around 1992 Dellyssee asked me to perform a comprehensive restoration of the Corvette and return it to like-new condition throughout. Because the car was still so original and in such nice condition overall, I strongly recommended leaving it alone, but he was determined to go through with a full overhaul.
We removed the body from its chassis, stripped it to bare fiberglass, fixed the typical minor stress cracks, and painted it using factory-correct Marlboro Maroon lacquer. The exterior was finished with re-chromed original bumpers, new emblems, new weather stripping, and refinished original wheels. The factory-issue stainless trim pieces and body glass were all so nice that they were reused.
Most of the original interior parts were in fine condition, but they didn’t look new anymore. Because Dellyssee wanted the car to appear exactly as it did when it rolled off the assembly line, we installed fresh seat upholstery, door panels, and carpet; refinished all of the interior trim pieces; and cosmetically restored all of the instruments.
Even though the Corvette had seen about a dozen winters, its chassis was in superb condition, with nothing more than minor surface rust in a few places and the usual grease and grime. As such, it was completely disassembled, stripped to bare metal, and then refinished using the correct shade of semi-gloss black. All suspension, brake, and steering parts were evaluated and replaced or refinished as needed. Similarly, the engine, transmission, and differential were gone through, renewed as needed, reassembled, and completed with the correct finishes.
When the restoration was complete, the car looked and performed the same as it did some 25 years earlier, when Frank Zega bought it off the Dwortin lot. In the ensuing years Dellyssee took it to several NCRS events, where he earned three Top Flight awards at the local, regional, and national levels. He also continued to drive the car, though now only when the sun was shining.
On the Road Again
In around 2012, with his interest in showing the car significantly diminished but his desire to drive it as strong as ever, Dellyssee got the itch to make some safety, comfort, and performance upgrades. He began by adding factory power brakes and steering, with all of the necessary parts sourced from Zip Products. He then added an aftermarket air-conditioning system from Restomod Air, but instead of using the company’s duct work he chose to use factory-style ducts and outlets beneath the instrument cluster and glove box. He also chose to forgo the factory vent above the clock because he didn’t want to cut a hole in his original dash assembly. To ensure that the car’s original 427 engine remained well within reasonable operating temperatures at all times, Dellyssee had an auxiliary electric fan from SPAL Automotive USA installed in front of the radiator.
In keeping with the desire to improve performance without sacrificing the Corvette’s original look, he replaced the factory four-speed shifter with a Hurst unit modified to work with a stock-appearing shaft and ball. He also replaced the original-style hydraulic Delco shocks with modern gas-charged shocks, though he did have them painted the OEM gray color and adorned with factory-style stickers. One area where Dellyssee did sacrifice the stock appearance for better performance was the car’s battery. In place of a reproduction Delco, he installed a deep-cycle Optima Redtop unit.
For an added margin of safety, Dellyssee replaced his reproduction bias-ply tires with new BFGoodrich radials and added a set of factory shoulder belts from Ssnake Oyl Products to augment the original lap belts.
Sadly, Dellyssee passed away soon after completing all of the updates to his beloved car. In April 2017, after it had sat idle for a few years, long-time Corvette enthusiast Don Mandra became the ’67’s fourth caretaker. Mandra owned a Corvette repair shop in the 1980s, so he was quickly able to get the car up and running again. “Since purchasing it, I’ve rebuilt the original carburetors twice, done a complete tune-up, changed all the fluids, rebuilt the voltage regulator, reupholstered the seats, and changed the battery.”
Looking ahead, Mandra plans to replace the Corvette’s blackwall tires with redlines of the type with which it was originally equipped. He also intends to install aluminum bolt-on wheels, which were an available option in 1967. Aside from that, he is doing what each of the car’s prior owners has done, which is to drive, enjoy, and love this beautiful example of the Midyear breed. m