Long Hauler

This restored ’69 convertible has been a fixture in Jack Mannix’s life for more than five decades

Photo: Long Hauler 1
February 4, 2021

When Jack Mannix was four years old, his father, a newspaper advertising executive who did business with most of the area’s automobile dealerships, brought home a promotional model of the then-new 1953 Corvette, which had been given to him by the local Chevrolet dealer. This ignited a love for Chevy’s sports car that only grew stronger as time marched on, and more models found their way into young Jack’s hands.

Mannix’s burning desire to one day own a Corvette developed into a raging conflagration in the fall of 1960, with the debut of the television series Route 66. The show featured Martin Milner and George Maharis crisscrossing the United States in a gleaming ‘60 Vette customized with wire wheels. “I loved the…show,” Mannix recalls, “but I was always disappointed that the car was not in more scenes.”

After getting his driver’s license and starting college, Mannix set his sights on a brand-new ’67 Corvette, but it was simply too expensive, so he bought the next best thing. “To appease my ‘need for speed,’ I bought a 1967 GTO off the showroom floor,” he recalls. “I loved the car, took good care of it, and had lots of fun in it, but I was still lusting for a Corvette, particularly after Chevrolet introduced the C3. I just had to have one.”

Mannix’s yearning for a “Shark” was cemented when his neighbor took delivery of a new ’68. “That was the first C3 I actually saw, and I was just mesmerized by its sleek, futuristic look,” he says.

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After saving every penny he could and selling his GTO for $1,600, Mannix was finally ready to pull the trigger. He started contacting nearby Chevrolet dealers to ask what Corvettes they had in stock for immediate delivery, but quickly learned that very few were available. Most dealers had a limited allotment, and they typically ordered cars to each customer’s specifications. Finally, he found a ’69 convertible at Balise Chevrolet in Springfield, Massachusetts that clicked off enough boxes, so he plunked down a $50 deposit on October 7 of that year.

“On October 15, 1969, my dream came true,” recalls Mannix. “I went to a Kiwanis Club lunch meeting with my father…and afterwards went straight to Balise Chevrolet to pick up my new convertible. I didn’t trade in a car, so they gave me $400 off the sticker. I was disappointed it wasn’t more, but…I remember the salesman telling my dad that they could sell as many Corvettes as they got in.

“Because my father knew the salesman well and had purchased other cars from him in the past, he pumped a lot more gas into the tank than he was supposed to—not an insignificant bonus to a college kid driving a car that probably got 12 miles to the gallon around town. The sticker was $5,215.48, which to a 21-year-old college kid in 1969 felt like a million dollars.”

Though Mannix’s Corvette was not exactly what he would have ordered, it was close enough to make him happy. Propulsion came from an optional 350/350-horsepower engine coupled with a close-ratio four-speed and a Positraction rear end. Power windows and an AM/FM radio made cruising more pleasurable, while Firestone whitewall tires, tinted glass, and front-fender louver trim dressed up the appearance a bit.

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Mannix’s $2,000 savings, plus the $1,600 he got for his ’67 GTO, left him $1,200 shy, so he borrowed that amount to buy the Corvette. “The loan—I still have all the paperwork and monthly payment coupon book for that, along with the handwritten receipt for the deposit and so on—was $106 a month,” he says. “That was the largest ongoing financial obligation of my life at that point, and it killed me every month to stroke that big check. I paid it off in one year and swore I would never have a car payment again.”

Mannix’s first long trip in the Corvette came just a week after taking delivery, when he drove his new Le Mans Blue drop-top to Washington, D.C. On the way back he hit some rain and learned that, like many late-’60s Corvettes, his car’s windshield was not as leak-resistant as one might expect. Aside from that, he had very few problems with the car, even though it served as a daily driver for many years to come. “I drove it full time until 1980, which is when I moved to Manhattan,” he says. While living there, and also in Honolulu, through 1985, Mannix didn’t have much need for a car, so it mostly sat idle in Massachusetts during that span.

The Corvette remained in storage until Mannix prepared to move from Hawaii to Atlanta for work, at which point he got the urge to put his beloved, old car back on the road. In the process of getting it running again, a local mechanic in Massachusetts discovered that the original engine block was cracked, and recommended buying a rebuilt short-block.

“It was 1985, I was living 6,000 miles away, had no convenient way to pick up the original block…and wasn’t thinking long term, so I approved installation,” Mannix laments. “Goodbye, original block. At least I still have the original manifold, heads, valve covers, and some other stuff.”

Photo: Long Hauler 4

The car and Mannix were reunited in Atlanta, and there he continued driving it every day, but only after taking a road test in order to get a Georgia driver’s license. “The test course was a purpose-built facility behind the DMV building. I weaved through cones, demonstrated parallel parking, showed that I could back up in a straight line, and some other basics, then we stopped and lined up at the beginning of a relatively long straightaway,” Mannix says. “The examiner told me she wanted me to, on command, accelerate as rapidly as possible and [then] bring the car to a halt as rapidly as possible.

“I remember thinking, ‘My pleasure.’ Her head snapped back to the headrest as I wound it up, speed-shifting. While they weren’t power brakes, they were discs, and I was used to standing on them when needed. We decelerated quickly, and, with only lap belts, she was hanging on to the door pull to try to stay vertical. Her subsequent demeanor seemed a bit [more polite], and she advised me that that concluded my test. I thanked her profusely for the experience, took my Georgia driver’s license, and disappeared.”

Mannix continued driving the Corvette every day through 1987, though by then its relative lack of creature comforts and safety features, as well as its aging technology, were becoming painfully apparent. “I finally acknowledged that a Corvette from that era is not the most practical vehicle, especially in the winter,” Mannix admits. “So I bought a Honda for daily use and drove the Corvette only for fun after that.”

By 1995, with about 26 years and some 80,000 miles on the clock, the Corvette was pretty tired. Though garaged most of its life, there was a three-year spell in New Jersey when it was kept outside, leading to some crazing in the paint. The years of winter driving had taken a steep toll on the underside as well. While doing some maintenance work, Mannix noticed a little bit of rot in the radiator support and decided to replace it. In the process of doing that, it quickly became apparent that the car needed a lot of work, and he decided to completely restore it himself.

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Better Than New

“This was way beyond anything I had ever tackled,” Mannix says, “but I enjoy the work and love the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing something I’ve never done before. I began disassembling the car on August 13, 1995, and it was not driven again for nearly 22 years.”

Armed with only an assembly manual and a couple of other books, and possessing only basic tools, Mannix worked diligently over the next couple of years, “slowly slogging my way through the thousands of challenges [and] frustrations associated with not knowing what I was doing half the time.”

After removing the body, Mannix completely disassembled the chassis, a task made infinitely more difficult by the considerable rust that had eaten into almost everything. Because he lacked the equipment a pro restorer typically has, he had to improvise. He even went so far as to make his own sandblasting cabinet, using gloves and the lining out of a London Fog raincoat as flexible arm protectors.

Though the blasting cabinet was large enough for wheels and suspension pieces, it wasn’t big enough for the chassis, so Mannix blasted that in his garage. “I had no good means of completely containing the silica dust, so for years I was cleaning it out of everywhere, including inside the house.”

Photo: Long Hauler 6

Most of Mannix’s friends who could help with the project lived far away, so he usually worked alone. But one old pal, Bruce Van De Mark, did live relatively nearby, and on several occasions he came up to help out for a few days.

“When he initially came up to Orlando where I lived at the time, I was still in the process of sandblasting parts,” Mannix says. “The poor guy ended up working his tail off. When we needed lunch, parts, or other things, I’d be the one to go, as he did not know the area. Therefore, for at least a couple of days, I did errands in my air-conditioned car while he stood in front of that sandblast cabinet sweating in the summer heat. [But] we’re still close friends!”

As the years passed, other things demanded Mannix’s attention, so the Corvette restoration was temporarily put aside numerous times. Around 2014, wife Wendi induced a sense of urgency by telling him, jokingly, that he needed to get the car finished before he got too old and the state of Florida took his keys away. With renewed determination, Mannix committed to keep working until the Corvette was done.

“I was very proud of the fact that, with occasional help from Bruce, I had done all of the disassembly and component restoration myself,” Mannix says. “I also did all the body work and enjoyed learning fiberglass repair, but for the final body prep and paint I took the car to Renato Silver at Superior Craftsmen Collision Center in Fort Lauderdale. They really did a great job and…it looks better than the day it left St. Louis.”

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Though much of the interior, including the door panels and dash, are original, the seats and gauges needed restoration. Mannix disassembled, cleaned, and refinished all of the gauges himself, but entrusted the seat restoration and installation of new Al Knoch covers to Southern Auto Trim. The same company also restored the convertible-top frame and installed a new top.

Mannix also outsourced the assembly of a new 383-ci stroker short-block to Five Star Engines in Glendale, Arizona. He installed the rest of the engine’s components, including new Edelbrock e-Force heads and an Edelbrock Performer carburetor, himself. The remainder of the drivetrain, including the M21 four-speed and Posi rear, remain original.

Predictably, some of the parts Mannix installed at the beginning of the restoration needed to be replaced or restored again at the end, just because so much time had passed. “The trailing arms were restored in 1998, and when I first drove [the car] almost 20 years later, the rear had a minor wobble,” he says. “Close inspection with a bore scope revealed that my ‘new’ trailing-arm bushings had dry rotted.” Fortunately, Mannix and fellow Corvette owners Rick DeLuague and Ed Watson were able to remove both arms and install fresh bushings.

All told, Mannix estimates that he put in about 2,500 hours of labor over eight active years, spread out over a total of 22 years, before the Corvette was completed. “The car was finally finished on August 8, 2017, which happens to be my wife’s birthday,” he says. “While I think she was a little apprehensive, I thought it only fitting that we celebrate that milestone [with a drive]. She’s the center of my universe, and the one who pushed me to finish the ’69.”

Also from Issue 144

  • OUSCI-Winning ’87 Coupe
  • Market Report: Special Editions
  • Corvette-Based Customs
  • C5-R Chassis #003
  • ’63 Z06 Prototype
  • History: Fettling the Shark
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