Built Back Better

Andrew Barra’s early-morning encounter with a deer set the stage for this ’69 custom’s cosmetic makeover

Photo: Built Back Better 1
May 11, 2023

The expression “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree” has long roots in Western literature, usually as a reference to a child following in the footsteps of their parents. In the case of Andrew Barra, one might say he was the apple that didn’t fall far from the Barra tree, at least when it came to all things Corvette.

In 1982, at the age of 22, Barra’s father, Joe, purchased a 1972 Corvette. Joe Barra still owns the car today, and over time he has gradually massaged it into a unique personal statement. With a supercharged 502 big-block, custom paint, and copious amounts of gold-plated components, it’s an in-your-face custom-Corvette statement.

As Andrew Barra eased into his teen years, he started regularly attending car shows with Joe. Over time, he gradually became more involved with the many tasks required to take a trailered car to these events. So it was inevitable that at some point he would get a taste of that blown 502

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“Once I started driving my dad’s car, that was when I began to think about one day getting my own car,” the younger Barra explains. His familiarity with the C3 naturally shaped his desire to purchase his own “Shark,” to the point that he formulated a very specific list of criteria. The car had to be a 1970-72 model, with red paint, a 350/four-speed drivetrain, and a black interior. But at that point, the one big obstacle between him and any Corvette purchase was a youthful lack of cash.

By the time Barra reached his 23rd birthday, in 2018, things started to look up for him. A decent-paying job working at a railroad company meant that he could start thinking about finally pulling the trigger on his own C3. His focus was initially on a red car, but he soon stumbled on an intriguing ad posted by Jim Glass Corvette in Kingston, New York. The listing was for a 1969 model boasting a frame-off restoration, Lamborghini Orange paint, an upgraded suspension, and a big-block. “Within a day of looking at that listing I gave them a call,” Barra recalls. “I went to look it over, [but] when I drove it, I knew it was my car.”

The ’69 was far from what he wanted, but it was a turn-key C3, and he managed to get it at what he describes as “a very good price.” It also boasted a laundry list of well-executed modifications—Lambo Arancio Borealis paint, an L88 hood, Coys five-spoke aluminum wheels, and more—that contributed mightily to its appeal.

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Under the hood there were further deviations, most notably a 454-ci big-block capped with a Weiand aluminum intake and a Holley 770-cfm four-barrel carburetor, and mated to a Tremec TKO-500 five-speed manual trans. Suspension upgrades included Bilstein shocks, a fiberglass mono-leaf spring, and a Steeroids power rack-and-pinion steering setup.

Since the car was, for the most part, finished, Barra spent the next two years attending shows with his father. But there remained one question he needed to answer about his heavily made-over custom C3: How was it equipped when it rolled out of the St. Louis assembly plant?

A deciphering of the trim tag yielded a build date of December 21, 1968. At that point, the Corvette was dressed in Daytona Yellow paint with a black interior, an L36 427/390 engine, and a Muncie four-speed. Quite a nice car, in other words, but far more sedate than the radical beast into which was subsequently modified.

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Hit and Run

After two years of casual use, the Corvette suffered an unexpected blow, as Barra explains: “I came home one day, and my parents told me that a trophy that was in the garage fell on my car and put two massive gouges on the driver-side fender.”

Rather than simply fixing the affected area, Barra decided it was time for a fresh coat of orange, this time with some gold ghost flames added in. The task, which was executed by the same gentleman who had previously painted the car, took about two months to complete.

Bad things often come in pairs, and in this case the bliss of fresh paint only lasted about two months. “I hit a deer at eight in the morning, right down the road from my parents’ house,” Barra says. “I was only going about 10 mph, and it just jumped out in front of me.”

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That reduced speed was a blessing in an otherwise bad situation, as the car only suffered cosmetic, and not structural, damage. At that point Barra’s insurance company was asked to step in and cut some checks, and that cash flow allowed him to again dive into the Corvette with the determination to make some fresh alterations.

“Once the car went into the shop, I really started thinking about making something good out of a bad situation,” he says. “Because of [the deer impact] I was actually able to consider getting some things done that I previously wanted to do down the road.”

Finding a suitable shop to give the ’69 a makeover came down to old-fashioned word-of-mouth referrals at car shows and on local online forums. Soto Premier Motor Collision in Staten Island was frequently mentioned and highly recommended, so Barra placed his trust in the shop to perform the work.

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The Soto crew’s biggest task was to replace all the fiberglass from the doors forward. Every panel was damaged in the deer hit, so the easiest option was to install a new front clip, which they sourced from Corvette Image in Gresham, Oregon. The L88 hood was equally tweaked, so that was also on the “replace” list. That style of hood is frequently employed on modified C3s, so Barra’s father suggested using a different bonnet to give the car its own vibe. Some online searches led Barra to Florida-based Stinger Fiberglass for one of the manufacturer’s C3 Corvette Stinger hoods. Up front, the only other addition came in the form of a set of Baldwin Motion Phase III fender louvers from Corvette Upgrades.

At the rear, the lower valance was blended into the tail panel and the exhaust cutouts filled in; the Corvette lettering was also removed. The crew at Soto spent almost 13 months massaging the body to the point that it was ready for paint. Barra’s desire was to keep the same exterior color and ghost flames, but the Lambo paint was prohibitively expensive. The shop’s solution was to use a three-stage base coat/clear coat Gold Pearl Orange paint from Spies Hecker. Rather than attempting to perfectly replicate the challenging ghost flames, they sprayed the hood “stinger” and under-hood frame in a similar shade of House of Kolor Candy Sunset Gold for contrast.

Once the paint was completed, all that was left to do was button up a few additional details that could be handled back at home. Part of the thinking in having the exhaust openings filled in was to facilitate the installation of side-mounted pipes. To that end, Barra ordered a set of Hooker long-tube headers and side pipes from Jeg’s. He also added a set of LED tail lights from Corvette Central.

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An original Baldwin Motion gas cap was a gift from Barra’s father, who had purchased it when the famous New York tuner still had a brick-and-mortar business. The last body detail came from eBay: a C7 Stingray fender emblem that was modified to light up, thanks to an LED backing.

The final exterior stone to turn was the rolling stock. As purchased, the car wore brushed-aluminum Coys rims and Coker tires at all four corners. Not wanting to deviate too far from that recipe, Barra purchased an identically styled set of chrome 17×8-inch Coys wheels and wrapped them in Diamond Back Redline Federal Super Steel 595 radials measuring 225/45ZR17 up front and 255/50ZR17 in the rear.

As with the mechanical side of the Corvette, the interior was in excellent shape, but Barra nevertheless decided that it needed some livening up to match the outside. That was accomplished with a new set of Corbeau Sportline Evolution X Seats trimmed in orange, along with some additional “bling” in the form of a Billet Specialties steering wheel, rearview mirror, and pedal assembly. The console was adorned with a carbon-fiber inlay as well as a custom, orange five-speed shift plate.

All of the modifications and repairs to the ’69 were finally wrapped up in early 2022. And while Barra is extremely pleased with the result, he does have some additional plans for the car under the skin, with suspension upgrades and an increase of power.

Also from Issue 162

  • 725+HP ProCharged C8
  • Market Report: Special Editions
  • Owner-Built ’57 Restomod
  • Restored ’66 L36 Coupe
  • History: CERV II Targets Le Mans
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