To many Corvette aficionados, the '73 model is a controversial car. Some argue that it's a misfit of a Vette, built with low horsepower and mismatched ends. But as the years have passed, one thing has proved true with Chevy's performance flagship: The more unique the vehicle, the more attractive it tends to be to collectors. To these pragmatists, the '73 Vette is neither good nor bad, just unique. Many changes were taking place at the time the car was built, and the Corvette was stuck dead in the middle of them.

The exterior of the '73 makes it very recognizable, provided you're able to view it from both the front and back. The rear view might lead you to believe the car was anything from a '68 to a '72 full-chrome-bumper model. If you were heading toward the car, however, you might think it was anything from a '74 through a '79. (Although the "bumperettes" underwent subtle changes during each of those years, each car had the instantly recognizable "rubber ducky"-style front end.) That the '73 is stuck between these two design eras is what makes it unique.

Many other changes were made to the Corvette for '73. The hood was improved, eliminating the troublesome windshield-wiper-lift panel while adding the visually appealing cold-air induction feature. Radial tires made their debut that year as well. Steel beams were added to the structure of the doors to improve side-impact safety. Even a 47 percent reduction in cabin noise was accomplished by adding sound-deadening material throughout the car.

On the debit side, the gas crunch, increased government regulation, and tougher emissions standards led to a huge decrease in the output of Corvette engines. By the '73 model year, the basic 350ci motor was down to 190 hp, compared with the 300hp rating of the '70 model. Things were no better for big-block fans: The available 454 had only 275 hp in '73, far less than the 390hp rating of the '70 iteration.

That being the case, Tom Souter's white '73 convertible wouldn't seem a very menacing presence out on the road. At first glance, it appears to be a very stock-which is to say very slow-Corvette, though a closer inspection reveals that the car is in immaculate condition down to every last nut and bolt. Indeed, most who encounter it assume the Vette is better suited to concours events than to street races.

Hardly. Completely revamped from the ground up, the engine bay holds a new 454 boasting over 460 hp. Upon close inspection, it becomes apparent that every detail of this motor was done to top-notch standards. "I wanted the car to be fast but stock-looking from the outside. I didn't want to change the look of the car, just the horsepower," explains Tom.

He easily rattles off the upgrades: "It has an Edelbrock aluminum intake, Holley four-barrel carburetor, and a K&N air filter. I also put [on] GM aluminum heads, Hooker coated full-length headers, MSD ignition, aluminum water pump, chrome alternator, and a Be Cool aluminum radiator with dual cooling fans." We also noticed a tastefully added Flowmaster exhaust system exiting at the back of the car.

Like most ''73s, Tom's Corvette uses a Turbo 400 three-speed automatic. Although very few convertibles were made that year (4,943, to be precise), the convertible-hardtop option-with which only 1,328 cars were equipped-makes the Vette a true rarity. Further adding to the "wolf in sheep's clothing" theme is a factory rear luggage rack.

The interior has been carefully replaced down to the carpeting and individual knobs; in fact, not one thing remains inside the car that wasn't either replaced or refurbished. The Dark Saddle upholstery contrasts nicely with the Classic White paint, contributing to a classy, subdued look.

We asked Tom how many people he'd surprised with his hidden monster of a Corvette. "You wouldn't believe it. Most people are just admiring how nice it looks. You should see the shock when I take off." Based on numbers alone, the car should easily be able to take on younger Vette siblings such as the ZR-1 and LS1 C5. But with the latest Z06 packing 505hp and weighing in at just 3,130 pounds, Tom better get back to the drawing board.