Buddy, go down to that dealer and buy the Corvette roadster," his new bride told him. Buddy looked up toward the heavens and said, "Lord, you've given me the perfect woman!" So began Rev. Buddy Merrick's affair with his awesome '87, just 1,500 miles new from its first owner. That was 1988...

And that's still Buddy's favorite way to introduce both of his true loves-his wife Carol, and the simply stunning Corvette. A lady like that is a remarkable and somewhat rare find, but what Buddy has created from that original gift is truly unparalleled indeed! Fifteen years later, the living room of their Denison, Texas, home is filled with ISCA trophies and accolades galore, but the true prize sits in the garage.

As one of only a handful of C4's that received the uncommon "Rick Mears Special Edition" body kit designed by legendary automotive stylist Larry Shinoda, Buddy's '87 would easily stand out in a crowd. Although Shinoda had retired from corporate design work by the time he penciled his iteration of the C4 skin, the artful eye that made major contributions to both the '63 Sting Ray Corvettes and the '68 Mako Shark-inspired C3's, was still keen. Rev. Buddy's convertible is believed to be the 13th "Rick Mears Special Edition" Corvette. "Because the conversion was so difficult," Buddy explains, "we're told that only twelve convertibles were ever built. We got the last parts available, ever." And now the customized beauty is likely to be the dressiest one in existence!

The Shinoda-Williams ground-effects package is an 11-piece polyurethane body kit that entirely replaced the stock nose and tail cones with an integrated rear spoiler, and added flared rocker panels and lower door panels to, as Shinoda put it, "give the car some 'Coke-bottle'". Although the Shinoda-Williams brochure estimated the average labor to do the conversion was "approximately 25 hours, using conventional hand tools," Buddy found the process to take considerably longer. "Yeah, right," says Buddy. "Even with money as no object, the conversions required extraordinary skill and hours of fitting and refitting to complete."

Well, perhaps that is a reasonable estimate for an ordinary installation, but Buddy's bodywork is anything but ordinary. "For six months, four guys and I worked full-time on the body. The whole car was disassembled, and each piece was block sanded and smoothed by hand" before Mike Piper of Best of Show Auto Restorations in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, sprayed every component with PPG Viper Red. Even hidden areas like the headlight wells were fully refinished. Despite hand-forming a custom C5-style decklid that wraps around the seatbacks and drops into a '00 C5 waterfall, Buddy still believes that "the most difficult task was lining up perfect seams, especially fitting urethane panels to a fiberglass body."

Thousands of man-hours have been devoted to prepping the body and in order to achieve a flawless finish on even the most obscure spots. "Sore index fingers testify to hours of intricate sanding in the corners, but the work shows well upon careful inspection." Randy Walker in Durant, Oklahoma, is responsible for welding, boxing, and smoothing the frame, engine cradle, and X-member. For the cleanest look possible, all of the brake and fuel lines were polished, clear-coated, then hidden within the floor pans. The wiring was color-coded and concealed by rerouting it through the frame, hood, and custom wiring harness. Extensive undercarriage refinishing also includes filling and smoothing the floor pans, drivetrain tunnel, and the factory jacking locations. Thus, Buddy welded on four jack points, then covered them with polished stainless caps adorned with gold-plated C4 emblems. Every bolt on the entire car has been replaced by polished Grade 8 stainless steel allen heads, each turned just so "the flat sides are at top and bottom, and the vertical sides are pointed."