in '94 fellow Corvette enthusiast and friend Ed (Simmons) told me of
some Corvettes in a scrap yard he had heard about. Well, needless to
say, we checked them out and WOW they were prototype ZR1's developed
by Lotus for GM back in 1986 (gulp). I contacted people at Lotus (they
remembered my club visit to see the ZR1's back in 1989) and confirmed
that these cars were in fact the ones they had developed. And so the
adventure started!! We stripped, cleaned, dismantled and cleaned, and
cleaned the 6 years of neglect they had suffered in the scrap yard.
Our workshop resembled a high tech, super clean race car development
area (hah!), well anyway we had lots of bags with labels and tagged
parts in the dismantling area.
winter was spent with 3 layers of clothing and endless spare time unbolting
this and cleaning that ooohing and aaahing over special parts and modifications
to the car. Our good friend, CCCUK member and now back home in Boston,
George Everett (who some of you may remember) assisted in the purchase
of an '86 car which was to be used for donor parts, which once over
here gave us even more stripping bagging and tagging to do. Any of you
that have bought our surplus parts, thank you, all money received goes
straight back into the project. My trips to the USA have now become
very frequent, notably attending the 'Legend Lives' weekend in April
'95 to see the last ZR1 come off the production line.
Over 300 ZR1's attended the show, a breathtaking sight. I took my kids,
Mark & Steven with me so that I could completely brainwash them
into Corvettes and we were honoured to meet Dave McClellan, Anthony
Young (author of Heart of the Beast), Gordon Killebrew, many top Museum
personnel and Corvette luminaries, even a boardroom meeting with a GM
Public Relations man who flew down especially to meet us to talk about
a certain engine we had we had with us and our intentions with the prototype
Corvettes. Ray Bataglinni, the Museum director, was kind enough to take
us on a personal tour behind the scenes, allowing us unlimited access
to many of the famous and priceless Corvettes stored in the back. We
also saw a mock up of the then new C5 Corvette interior. He let us in
to the storeroom where the Callaway Sledgehammer was kept, the kids
were really wrapped to be able to have their photos taken next to it.
of the many highlights was being invited to have breakfast with David
McClellan and his wife Glenda. George, the Kids and I, talked generally
about Corvettes, then after breakfast out came my photo albums and David
was enthralled with our project and was quite amazed at our progress,
he is currently writing a book about his life with Corvette, and guess
what, the chapter on the ZR1 will include a piece about the LT5 restoration
project from England, how about that for credibility! He posed outside
for us for the historic Beschi family photo. Allowing time for my head
to stop swelling I spent most of the next four months contacting as
many people as I could in relation to the project, persuading ZF the
gearbox people to strip, check and rebuild the prototype 6 speed gearboxes
that the cars had in them, it turned out that only two people in ZF
Great Britain, in Nottingham knew anything about these boxes but they
proved to be undamaged and have been rebuilt with little problem, it
was fun shifting one of them on their test rig at the factory.
The body shell of one of the cars had now begun to take shape and was
now awaiting further work when time and funds allow. In September I
went off to the Mid America Funfest weekend, held at the Mid America
Supplies office/warehouse in Effingham, Illinois, another certain engine
found its way into the large private museum. Seeing Mike Yager like
a kid unwrapping a new toy was amusing, he really has got the fever
bad! True to form Mike treats his special guests well and with my VIP
badge firmly, and proudly I might add, displayed on my chest. I spent
three days in the company of many Corvette Gods, once again spent time
with Dave McClellan, we are now on first name terms, amazing, I actually
met Zora for the first time, along with many other well knowns. One
of the special treats was a top quality dinner in the marquee, I was
sitting swapping racing stories with Doug Rippie following his ZR1 Le-Mans
the dinner we were bussed off into town for dessert, and yet more drink,
to the 50's cinema which had been hired for the evening for a private
showing of an original copy of American Graffiti, wow. I naturally teamed
up with the group drinking at the bar and Greg Pernula,(Corvette Fever,
Editor), Tim Sublett (Diacom expert and drag racer) and just got louder
and louder. What a great evening, and what a great weekend! During a
small private dinner the following evening I had the chance to talk
to Zora about his memories of England, what a wonderful opportunity.
Time to move on the following day.Unfortunately I had a rental with
me and had to turn down a lift to the airport in Mikes private plane
with Dave McClellan and Zora, what dumb luck! Still what a fantastic
weekend. In the January 1996 edition of "Corvette Fever" magazine featured
two LT5 engines: the Phase 1 and Phase 2 engines which came from our
vast stock of prototype parts, promising to be just the beginning of
our tour into Corvette history. I am sure that by now the Corvette world
were looking at the Corvette enthusiasm from Britain. The discovery
of these cars had got the USA Corvette world talking...
dubbed the car '44' as its GM allocated project number was P8Y044. Having
purchased the donor car and imported it into England, we had a little
fun practising wheelies, burnouts and power spins before starting the
restoration work. The car was then stripped, cleaned, bagged and tagged
down to its bare chassis. At this point enter Dennis our welder extrodinaire.
Taking a drill to the factory welds on the damaged roll over hoop, he
removed the broken windscreen frame and then turned to do the same to
the donor, but with a twist... he loosened the whole back end of the
car, bodywork, glass, roll over hoop etc. and simply lifted the donor
back end onto no. 44. The same was done with the windscreen frame. Measurements
and angles were taken and the whole lot stitched back together at the
factory welds, absolutely amazing! The fit was great, roof ,doors and
glass all fitted perfectly.
was then focused on the damaged part of the floor pan which was cut
from the donor chassis and stitched into no. 44. Iit was made to look
so simple, our respect goes to Dennis. This set of tasks took most of
the spring and in the meantime the engine was shipped off to Geoff Jeal
(former Lotus LT5 engineer) who we had tracked down and recruited. The
engine was stripped and declared as rebuildable. The prototype 6 speed
gearbox was shipped up to ZF in Nottingham for a strip and rebuild.
Around this time Ed left the Air Force and flew back to start his real
life in North Carolina, sob sob, no more drunken nights and hangovers
on Alconbury base, he just upped and left me, for his wife and family,
I ask you!!!! Fortunately like all true Corvette nuts his new house
sports a large garage and all of the parts we had bagged and boxed were
sent to reside in there. This left me with the task of finishing off
the minor repairs to no. 44, and painting the interior courtesy of Dennis.
The car was now looking like a real successful project. Time came for
the car to get over to Ed's to be re assembled. Well, when the shipper
arrived there was me, the driver, one engineless car and a container
4 ft in the air.
I was a little worried but Dennis came to the rescue; he and some friends
turned up and we literally lifted the car into the container, you had
to see it to believe it! Off went the container with 44 in it, making
me a little sad as over a year of sweat and tears were driving off down
the road. Ed's present arrived safely and he proudly unloaded it into
the garage, itching to fondle our baby. Much cleaning and prepping then
took place. With clean and painted underside, engine bay plus sparkling
suspension, off the car went to the paint shop. In the meantime the
saga of the engine was unfolding. We had to source many rare engine
parts and modify some of the internals to give the notoriously unreliable
engine some longevity. Geoff finally assembled the engine and built
an engine rig in his garage.
With our new computer and specially produced CAL chip the engine spluttered
into life, a historic moment, but then it died, hummph! It seems there
is an electrical or software problem, we still wait with baited breath
for that roar of life, just what will his neighbours think???? In the
meantime all the major components were to go back in the car, like the
rad pack, fuel tank and rear subframe. In the course of rebuilding the
car we have noticed the many modifications that were carried out by
Lotus in the early development days; mods to the front cross member,
steering column, firewall, transmission tunnel, air ducting, to name
but a few. The mods have been done so well it is only when you compare
with stock parts you realise that something has been modified, such
was the quality of the work carried out back in 1985/86.
We planned to exhibit the car at the Bloomington Gold workshops in 1996,
giving a 2 hour presentation on the 27th June, and were to be introduced
by Dave McClellan himself. The car would alsobe displayed in the Mid
America Collosseum during the show...
travelled a lot in the USA in '95 and along with many shows, I attended
Corvettes at Carlisle in August. The ZR1 registry gathered 400 ZR1's,
the most ever in one location, and our project car was conspicuous by
its absence. I spoke with many of the 'names' about our car. Jim Minnaker,
the then head of CPC engineering, responsible for the LT5 development,
being one. As a GM man he was interested in what we were doing but politely
gave us the corporate response of "that car does not exist"! As some
of you will know the last 10% of any project is the hardest to achieve,
and our project is no different. I spent a lot of time working on the
car while Ed went off to work (some people might think I had lots of
holidays, not quite how I would describe it).
Ed's lovely new double garage served as the perfect workshop; light,
spacious, warm, well hot actually, with proper shelving and organised
areas (the last bit courtesy of me really, sorry Ed). Ed spent a lot
of time doing all those things you never see, cleaning the underside
of the car, polishing suspension, attaching crossmember, brakes and
pipes and god knows what else. He did the body preparation and arranged
for a local body shop to paint the car, no small task involving trailers,
removing of some trim, glass etc. and a lot of money.
done I waft in and start to bolt the big bits in, well somebody has
got to do it, echoes of Ed 'its just a lot of small jobs' ringing in
my head. EUREKA! - all of a sudden we had a car right in front of our
eyes. Two weeks before Bloomington I flew out again to once again move
into my second home (Ed's house) and together we spent many hours attempting
to complete the car. Aamazingly in one day we got the engine and transmission
in and started to hook all the accessories up, it was really hot and
humid and I think that I was suffering with heat exhaustion at the end,
still plenty of liquids helped (hic). We were still working on the car
10pm the night before leaving for Bloomington.
day arrived. The trip from North Carolina took some time with the car
on a trailer behind Ed's Suburban (15 hours in all). We stopped off
at Bowling Green to pose in front of the museum, show off, then take
some cheeky shots of the car outside the assembly plant over the road.
The museum staff very kindly offered to look after the car overnight,
safely locked up inside the museum Ed and I headed for the bar. Arrival
at Springfield town was a magnificent relief and an enormous high, the
euphoria was stating to take over, we had reached our goal and the car
was about to be announced. The workshops were arranged for us to give
our presentation in the afternoon, so we at least had half a day to
prepare, both ourselves and the car, the butterflies started but in
true Brit. fashion I donned my Union jack shorts and with knotted hankie
on my head, went for it (not quite how it happened but a good mental
started to file into out our presentation, not just ZR1 freaks but famous
faces, gulp, Dave McClellan stood up with us and introduced the proceedings,
then promptly sat down and handed over to us, not what we were expecting
but what can you do. The presentation went very well, and we managed
to get over the nerves feebly injecting a little humour (or should that
Time to unveil the car, off with the cover and up with the hood, oooh,
aaaah, bees to a honey pot, fascinating, well even Dave McClellan was
taking photos of the car and us. Amazing. Suitably proud we wound up
the show and felt the warm glow waft over us (quite lyrical, that eh??).
I have since discovered that was the first time in the 17 years of the
workshops that an Englishman (me) gave a presentation (wow!). We then
took the car to its show place, the car was magnificently displayed
in the Mid America coliseum and attracted a lot of interest, even fans
from the UK came to say hello, Steve Palmer and Eddie Titmus (fresh
from Elvis land) to name but two of the many, thanks for your support.
For us it was a time of total high and relief, after all the hard work
the car was finally there, and our well rehearsed question and answering
session worked well and it was just two days of fun.
Plans for the future? Well the little items that are stopping us firing
up the engine in the car are proving time consuming to complete. There
are a few technical issues to resolve but we expect to have it completed
this summer. The car was featured in Corvette Fever and we were invited
back to give another workshop at Bloomington Gold 97. We couldn't have
done that bad. Apparently we sold out in '96! This was the first time
that a UK car had been shown at Bloomington Gold and we are proud to
have done that.
all of you may realise or know first hand any restoration project is
very wearing on the mind, body and soul, not to mention the pocket.
Well Ed and I decided that since the car was publicly and very successfully
shown at Bloomington Gold 96 we would take some time off from the car
to concentrate on other things, mostly Corvette related but a change
is a good as a rest. We took time to develop the Eurovettes operation
in the UK. It was a welcome break from the intense rebuild of P8Y044
(a number I will not readily forget).
date we have had details and coverage in Corvette Fever, and Corvette
Trader. With Bloomington completed we set off on a summer tour with
the car, spreading the word about CCCUK (Classic Corvette Club United
Kingdom) and proudly flew the Union Jack wherever possible. The whole
Corvette world were interested in our progress. I wouldn't have missed
this part for the world!
Well that's our story, but wait, there's more, we now have to move on
to the other rebuilds. We look forward to more hassle, more sleepless
nights, more empty bank balances, the things I do for Corvettes!