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.
The reenergized 350 was then mated to a stock replacement clutch, which spins the original BorgWarner T-10 four-speed and Dana 44 rear with 3.08 gears. Factory N90 aluminum wheels shod in BFGoodrich 255/60-15 rubber rounded out the package, making the Corvette ready for its first night out with its new owner.
"I just wanted to get to know the car, so I took some time before going on to the next stages," Gilby says. "During that time, I started taking it to car shows, which were always a few hours drive away. This gave me a chance to really enjoy the Corvette, both from a driving point of view as well as showing it."
After showing the Corvette for a year, Gilby decided his next step would be to upgrade the cabin accoutrements. Blakemores Automotive Upholstery implemented the yellow-and-gray seat motif using the original frames, but added lumbar supports and covered the thrones with velour, leather, and Corvette-logo stitching. "I wanted to be able to sit in the seats, not on them," Gilby says. "They're now very comfortable on a long drive."
One year later, new door panels were made to match the soft gray fabric of the seats. The steering wheel, meanwhile, was treated to a thicker circumference and stitched with flame motifs, and the speedometer was upgraded to a 165-mph unit, replacing the factory 85-mph piece.
Next, Gilby contacted Sound In Motion in Nambour to install a show-quality sound system. "George's brief when we first discussed the installation was `This is a show car, so thesystem has to look like it's part of the vehicle, not an add-on,'" owner Brian Bugenhagen says. "The key to the integration was the custom fiberglass panel, which houses the subwoofer enclosures [and is] loaded with JL Audio 10-inch speakers, an Alpine multi-channel amplifier, and rear-fill 4-inch speakers. The installation took approximately two weeks, including the dash speakers, the Alpine three-disc in-dashCD player,and the security system. We're very proud of the end results."
Gilby's most elaborate mods can't even be seen--that is, of course, until the hood is raised. The engine bay features a plethora of polished pieces, including billet underdrive pulleys; custom, stainless steel radiator-expansion and windshield-washer bottles; an aluminum radiator; a chrome power-steering pump; a ceramic-coated intake manifold; and much more, all further enhanced with carefully hidden electrical and vacuum wiring. The job took more than six years to accom-plish, but Gilby managed to minimize the car's downtime along the way. "The transformation was done progressively, as I did pieces when I could afford to," he explains.
With all that passion and pride invested in the car, it's no surprise that the results have been sizzling. Gilby has entered the Vette in the Australian National Corvette Convention four times and taken First Place in each outing (in 2001, 2003, 2006, and 2007). And if that's not enough to put this car among the world's most successful show Vettes, just take a look at some of its other awards below.
So what does the future hold for this Vette? Gilby says he's holding true to his motto that he's willing to modify anything on the car. Accordingly, he's already planned horsepower upgrades, a complete dash and instrument panel to reflect the curved lines of the exterior, a rack-and-pinion steering upgrade, a six-speed manual trans, new wheels, air vents for the hood, and even fuel injection.
In the meantime, he'll continue driving his Corvette to shows, and driving home with First Place awards. "It took until I was 38 years old to get my first Corvette, and I haven't stopped smiling since," Gilby says. "There's always a new and different idea forming about how to further personalize my car."
2001 - First Place in the '80s Modified section staged by the Combined Coastal Car Club Inc.
2001 - First Place in the Top Standard Paint section staged by the Combined Coastal Car Club Inc.
2001- First Place in the annual Concours staged by Corvettes Down Under Car Club Inc.
2003 - Top Corvette Paint staged by the Classic Muscle Car Festival
2003 - First Place in the Modified section at the Corvettes at Fox show, staged by the New South Wales Unlimited Car Club Inc.
2004 - Best Interior in the Classic Vehicles section staged by the Rotary Club of Toowoomba
2006 - Best Presented Car in the '79-'89 section at the Vintage and Classic Car Show
2006 - First Place in the Modified section at the Queensland Car Club's annual Concours
2006 - First Place in the Modified section at the annual Corvette Classic staged by Corvettes Down Under Car Club Inc.
2007 - First Place in the Modified section at the annual Corvette Classic staged by Corvettes Down Under Car Club Inc.
2008 - First Place in the Modified section at the annual Concours staged by the Queensland Corvette Club Inc.
2008 - First Place in the Modified section at the annual Corvette Classic staged by the Corvettes Down Under Car Club Inc.