The Pursuit of Perfection

Having undergone a painstaking, eight-year restoration, Lenard Ferraro’s ’69 L89 coupe is even better than new

Photo: The Pursuit of Perfection 1
March 21, 2024

Strolling the grounds of the 2023 Greenwich Concours d’ Elegance, my “interesting car radar” was on full alert, and for good reason. The recently revised format of this long-running show made this year’s Saturday’s field an embarrassment of riches, filling over half the turf with the cars I’d lusted after in my impecunious teen years. Dream car after dream car was arrayed as I shot photo after photo of gleaming chrome and shiny paint—car heaven.

But, as almost always happens at these events, one vehicle tugged hardest on my heart strings, thanks to the magnetic attraction of its color, the passion of its owner, and the attention-grabbing words on its display board. This time it was a Monza Red C3 shown by an owner with enough energy to jump start a V-8 and a placard announcing that, at previous shows, it was declared “the best Corvette [the judges] had ever seen.”

The winner of my attention and affection that day was a 1969 L89. Yes, that’s the dream machine with the massive 427 mill, topped by a tricorne hat of a chrome air cleaner above three Holley 2300 carburetors. The breather’s decal not only boasted the engine’s displacement, it also screamed 435 (gross) horsepower, a number considered conservative even back then.

That’s because the L89’s high-flow aluminum cylinder heads breathed better, thanks to larger exhaust valves—1.84 inches vs. the 1.72-inch units used in iron L71 heads. And because of their aluminum construction, they also dropped 75 pounds from the front end. One thing the L89 heads did add was about $395 to the final cost, or more than $3,200 in today’s dollars.

Photo: The Pursuit of Perfection 2

Today, when even a common economy car can hit 60 mph in less than six seconds, the performance of vintage muscle cars can sometimes seem oversold. But even in 1969, car magazines were driving L89 Corvettes to sub-five-second dashes to 60 and quarter-mile times of 13.6 seconds at well over 100 mph. Only the race-bred L88 and ZL1 were quicker, and they were both vanishingly rare and unsuited to daily use.

There was a UAW strike around the time this car was being built that affected overall production at GM, leaving Chevrolet dealers with unfilled orders. Chevy supremo John DeLorean made the decision to extend the model run to 16 months, which helped set a new Corvette sales record of nearly 39,000 cars. Despite this increase, the number of L89s built only reached about 1 percent of the total delivered, making them quite rare. The price for a loaded L89 like this one—about $54,000 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation—may also have affected the number of sales.

Corvette fans love knowing the numbers of interesting and limited-production offerings, so it was unsurprising that this car’s owner was ready with a well-documented album full of receipts and other original paperwork. The car rolled off the St. Louis assembly line and was delivered to Burney Fooke Chevrolet in Collierville, Tennessee, on November 8, 1968.

The options list on the window sticker showed that it came with the L71 427 motor, the F41 suspension, a 3.55 Positraction rear end, power steering and brakes, an AM/FM radio, an alarm system, shoulder belts, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, the L89 aluminum heads, and an M21 close-ratio four-speed. Checking the total with all the options, and delivery fee, it topped out at $6,509.35. Owner Lenard Ferraro smiled as I scanned the pages, noting, “This Corvette was not a cheap car.”

Photo: The Pursuit of Perfection 3

The Journey Begins

After speaking with Ferraro at the Greenwich event, I made an appointment to drive to his home in a bucolic area in upstate New York to do a formal photo shoot and learn more about his history with the car. He told me his quest to own a Corvette started when he was working at a gas station at the impressionable age of 17, with his ideal model being a C3. But because life is what happens while we dream, it wasn’t until 2014 that the opportunity to acquire his fantasy vehicle presented itself.

Ferraro saw a picture of this car in a friend’s restoration shop, undergoing a body-off restoration. He realized, given the early state of the process, that he had the opportunity to buy it and turn it into what he’d always wanted, “the marriage between the best Concours d’ Elegance car in the country, while [also] meeting NCRS Top Flight and AACA standards.” He described this quest as “the journey to perfection.”

The shop that had the car was in Missouri and had a good reputation for its work. Unfortunately the restorer became ill after the project got underway and had to spend considerable time recovering in a hospital. When it eventually became apparent that the man would not be able to finish the job, Ferraro made a decision: “There was no question [that] I would bring the car home to my garage.

“Within two days…I was on the road headed to Missouri with an enclosed trainer [to] pick up the Corvette,” he told me. “I had never personally seen the car, much less been to the restoration shop.” Pausing for a second, he added, “The anticipation was building with each mile I came closer to ‘meeting’ my car.”

Photo: The Pursuit of Perfection 4

When that meeting did occur, the reality of the challenge that lay ahead was sobering. “The body was on the lift, and the rolling chassis was sitting behind the car on the floor,” Ferraro said. “There were shelves and shelves of parts everywhere.”

He spent 11 days in Missouri, working nine-to-five to just to get the body ready to be set on the chassis. This included what he described as “detail work…cleaning the underside, installing the wiring harness and other parts.” He added that mounting the body on the chassis wasn’t a simple task and required a lot of what he humorously called “MacGyver-ship.”

The next challenge was how to make sense of all the boxes scattered around the shop. While Ferraro had a checklist of what went with his car, the lack of organization made gathering and sorting everything a challenge. Once the body was in place, he wrapped and categorized the parts as well as he could, then loaded everything into the trailer for the long journey home.

Getting It Done

“Once I got the Corvette [in my garage], the project seemed overwhelming,” Ferraro said. “I didn’t know where to take it to have it finished to the quality I desired…so I told myself, ‘It looks like you have a restoration project to complete.’” While he had worked on muscle cars since he was a teenager, he knew that this project would definitely test his skills and knowledge.

Photo: The Pursuit of Perfection 5

His approach is one that could serve as a model for anyone embarking on a huge automotive project. First, he purchased all the manuals related to his car. Then, he spent what he describes as “thousands and thousands of hours” doing research and, finally, assembly. “The installation of parts would sometimes take two or three attempts to get to factory specifications,” he told us.

One example was the refinishing and restoration of the steering column. After receiving the column back from a restorer, Ferraro installed it—a job he described as “complex”—only to find that the ignition buzzer didn’t buzz. The restorer was less than helpful in offering a solution, so Ferraro decided to sort things out himself.

He admits that there were numerous such “gut-wrenching moments” along the way, and that there were even times when he considered throwing in the towel. But with each new challenge came fresh resolve. His mantra along the way was, “If you don’t get this done, there’s no one to turn to.”

When Ferraro first told me that there were boxes of parts on shelves in the Missouri shop, I suspected that some hard-to-find pieces were likely among the missing. I was correct. Because of the way GM labels and date-codes things as simple as nuts and bolts with identifying markings, finding exactly the right parts can be a challenge.

Photo: The Pursuit of Perfection 6

One example—a bolt for the intake manifold—was missing from the trove of items Ferraro had packed at the shop. Diligent searching sourced a correct one via the Internet at a cost of $125. Of course, an “ordinary” bolt could have been had for very little money, but it would not have the correct, original stampings.

And so it was that Ferraro’s unrelenting efforts to achieve his goal of restoration perfection stretched this part of the process to about four years. He noted that his poor vision—juvenile retinoschisis has left him blind in his left eye and with “low vision” in the right—posed additional challenges, but added, “That just made me work harder.”

A Little Help From His Friends

Ferraro was keen to note that he always had help along the way. One such assistant was Anthony Hoag, “a young man who would act as my eyes.” They had a system. Ferraro would use a magnifying glass to read the manuals and paperwork, and Hoag would help do the detailed assembly work.

“I have great family and friends, like my sons Kyle and Ryan, and friends Gary, Steve, Mike, and Marty. They were there to help whenever I needed [it].” More important, he said, “[They were also] there when I became frustrated with the demands of the restoration.”

Photo: The Pursuit of Perfection 7

For emphasis, he added that his desire to complete the job to “best in the world” standards was more powerful than any thoughts of failure. And he offered special thanks to his wife, Tammy, who supported him while he was in the garage every day, working to complete this project.

Heavy Medals

In 2021 and 2022 Ferraro started campaigning his car in the most prestigious Corvette concours events on the East Coast. The awards he has garnered since then prove that his desire to build something special has been fulfilled. At an NCRS Top Flight event and Bloomington Gold, his car earned 98-percent-original scores. And at the Simeone Foundation Museum concours, he pulled down the “Best Post War Car” trophy.

Ferraro has also won trophies at five Antique Automobile Club of America events, and four more at Vintage Chevrolet Club of America shows, including “Best of the Best” at the VCCA National meet. He told us that many of the Corvette experts he’s encountered along the way have told him his ’69 L89 is the best example they’ve ever seen.

Having crawled around the car for hours, I have to agree. Pictures can only give an impression of just how incredible this Corvette is. Even the undercarriage is spotless, and for good reason: Ferraro told us he often puts the car on his lift to clean and polish the parts no one ever sees. The ceaseless pursuit of perfection goes on.

Also from Issue 169

  • LS3 '65 Restomod
  • 2004 C5-R Tribute
  • Market Report: Z Cars
  • 550-HP C4 ZR-1
  • History: The "Lightweight" Goes Private
  • Inside PME, Part 2
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