Just because you're building a mouthwatering Corvette doesn't mean you have to be without your favorite ride for months or years. In fact, we found one Corvette owner who transformed his '81 coupe into a trophy magnet over the course of nine years while enduring no more than six weeks of separation anxiety at any stage during its customization.
"I've wanted a Corvette since I saw one racing when I was just a teenager," George Gilby, a 48-year-old Health, Safety, and Environmental officer in Aspley, Queensland, Australia tells us. "It was an early-'70s model, and that shape has always been my favorite."
Fast forward nearly 25 years, and Gilby found it was finally time to make his fiberglass fantasy come true. He turned to Corvette-import and -conversion experts Corvette Queensland (now called Performax International) in Gympie, Queensland, and asked them to source an '82 Vette for him. "Their buyers searched overseas and couldn't locate one that suited me, so I changed my priorities and asked them to locate an '81, but only if it was a four-speed manual," Gilby recalls.
Then, and only then, did his delectable dream begin to take form. Corvette Queensland located a Beige-over-Camel '81 L81 model in Huntington Beach, California, exported it to Australia, and, at Gilby's request (and in keeping with the Australian government's regulations), converted to right-hand drive.
That gave Gilby plenty of time to learn more of his Vette's model-year history. A total of 40,606 Corvettes were produced in 1981, and two factories were utilized: St. Louis and a new assembly plant built in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Gilby's was one of the first 8,995 units to roll off the BG production line, and, like its siblings, it was treated to a brand-new type of paint--an enamel basecoat and top clearcoat. [St. Louis was still painting Corvettes with lacquer in 1981.] Like all '81 models built at both factories, his came with Computer Command Control, which automatically adjusted the engine's ignition timing and air-fuel ratio for optimum performance.
After taking delivery of his Corvette in March 1999, Gilby faced a difficult choice. Specifically, should he start living the dream he had waited more than a quarter-century to see come true, or delay gratification and send the Corvette out for customization?
It didn't take him long to make his decision. "I wanted to personalize my Corvette, so keeping it original wasn't an option. Although I had waited 30 years for it, I sent it in for its paint job one week after I purchased it. At that point, I made up my mind that I would modify any and everything on it," he says.
Nambour Smash Repairs in Nambour provided the award-winning finish. First, the shop's techs stripped the Corvette of its multiple layers of paint, revealing a fiberglass body that was in surprisingly good condition. With that done, they shot the car in a Competition Yellow hue good enough to rival the paintwork found on Australia's finest, and most expensive, custom Corvettes.
Next came an engine freshening. Nev Derrick from Cardiff Garage, also in Nambour, retained the block's existing 0.030 overbore and mild street cam, but ground the crank, added fresh rings and bearings, and reassembled the engine. The stock heads were left unmodified. Derrick completed the long-block assembly with an Edelbrock Performer intake, a Holley 650 double-pumper carburetor, an MSD ignition, 9mm wires, Splitfire spark plugs, and Hooker headers with 1 -inch primaries. The remainder of the exhaust comprises 2 1/2-inch pipes, dual mufflers, and polished stainless-steel tips jutting out from below the rear bumper.