Chevy Corvettes stirs collector’s passion

01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, October 18, 2008
By Peter C.T. Elsworth
Journal Staff Writer

SEEKONK, Mass. Al Gouveia Sr., always liked Chevy Corvettes — especially the third generation produced between 1968 and 1982 — but it was his wife Karleen who got him interested in collecting them.

Now he owns four — a turquoise 1968 convertible, an orange 1971 LT-1 convertible, a 1971 coupe, which he is currently restoring, and a red 1974 coupe.

“They came out when I was a teenager,” he said, referring to the C3 Stingray design that was based in part on the streamlined shape of a Mako Shark. “I graduated high school in 1971. That’s when I started to like them.”

He said he’d always thought about buying one, but was put off by their complexity. “They were difficult to work on,” he said. “They were high-tech then, not today.”

Then he said he got “married, kids, you know how that goes.”

So it was Karleen who about 20 years ago suggested that they go look at the 1974 coupe that was for sale.

“It was a little sporty, something different,” she said, adding that while the cars are fun to drive, she is only comfortable driving the 1974 and 1971 coupes, which are automatics.

Gouveia said he was skeptical. But it was red and he said he liked it. So he bought it and soon he was hooked.“I started to work on it and drive it and I liked the handling,” he said in a recent interview at his family’s business, Wayside Auto Sales, where he works with his sons Al Jr. and Jeff while Karleen keeps the books.

Wayside also runs clinics on servicing gas-electric hybrid vehicles for Worcester-based Automotive Career Development Center. A recent clinic included students from afar away as Ireland and Singapore.

“I like the shark body style,” Gouveia said, referring to the C3 design.

There have been six generations of the Chevrolet Corvette, America’s only sports supercar. It was developed partly in response to the success of the 1951 Nash-Healey which was made in partnership with British engineer Donald Healey of later Austin Healey fame. Famed Italian design house Pininfarina restyled the body in 1952 and production continued until 1954.

The success of the Nash-Healey highlighted an interest in sports cars that GIs were bringing home from Europe and General Motors introduced the Corvette — named after a small and fast class of coastal warship — at its Motorama car show in 1953.

The sporty design and fiberglass body set the two-seater apart, but the car was underpowered and sales were mediocre. However, in 1955 Ford introduced its two-seater Thunderbird and GM responded by planting a 265-cubic-inch V-8 engine under the hood of the Corvette. That, combined with a 3-speed manual transmission courtesy of former Soviet engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, sometimes known as the “Father of the Corvette,” transformed the car into a fast, stylish sports car.

Ford took the T-Bird out of the sports car lineup when it changed it into a 4-seater in 1958, but General Motors stayed with the Corvette and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first generation Corvette lasted until 1962 when it was replaced by the C2 Sting Ray design, which ran from 1963 to 1967. Following the 1968-1982 C3 Stingray, the long-running C4 lasted from 1983 to 1996, with the C5 running from 1997 to 2005. Since 1983, the model years have included variations on the basic designs.

Indeed, the new C6 Corvette ZR1 is the most powerful car that GM has ever built, with its 6.2 liter V-8, 638 horsepower engine taking it from 0-to-60 mph in 3.4 seconds. It also runs a cool $105,000.

Gouveia’s C3 Corvettes are more sedate — and less expensive — than that monster. While his current pride is the Ontario Orange 1971 LT-1 convertible, which is a runner — “to cruises and work, but not the mall” — his 1971 coupe is barely recognizable as it sits undergoing restoration in the corner of the shop. Only the sandblasted shell of the cabin and rear end sit on the frame as it awaits a frame-off restoration.

When completed, it too will be Ontario Orange, which Gouviea said is the correct color. He added that while the car started out that color, sandblasting revealed it was painted red and two different tones of blue over the years.

“It’s a fully loaded car,” he added. “Leather interior, power windows, automatic, AC, custom wood grain.”

He said Karleen contributes to the restoration by finding original parts on the Internet and in magazines. “She located the correct carburetors for both (1971) cars,” he said, “Dated to the week of the build-date of the car. We look to connect car numbers, dates and codes.”

The 1971 Corvettes were some of the most powerful made. Gouviea’s coupe has a 454-cubic-inch engine while his LT-1 convertible’s engine is armed with 350 cubic inches and a 4-speed Muncie transmission.

“(The convertible) has no power options, no power steering, no power brake, no power windows,” he said, adding that it was built for performance with “an estimated 365 horsepower.”

Gouveia said he believes the 1971 LT-1 convertible is a “super rare package,” but has been unable to establish exactly how many were made that year.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Chevrolet made a special edition C3 coupe that was chosen as the pace car for the 1978 Indianapolis 500.

Gouviea is a member of the National Corvette Restorers Society and said he hopes to show the 1971 coupe at NCRS shows when it’s finished sometime in 2010.

“It was supposed to be this year, but there’s no way that’s happening,” he said laughing.