When we first published the photo gallery of Corvettes that were in attendance at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Northeast Florida, the first two pictures we shared were of the #94 Leldon Blackwell Corvette Racer. Since then, we’ve come across some additional information on the former Sebring race car as well as a video
“If what you see is what you get, it may not necessarily be what you paid for.”
There’s a special place in heaven for those folks who have persevered, felt the sting of despair and isolation but, somehow, pressed on to see a pile of parts become their pride and joy.
John Marshall knows that all too well. While many enthusiasts have the privilege to see amazing cars dwelling among shows and featured in magazines, John is rooted in the knowledge that invariably, many didn’t start out that way. Case in point is this amazing and super-powerful ’68 Corvette.
One glimpse under the raised hood of this racy red ragtop and you’ll be smacked right between the eyes with a fistful of aluminum 510ci Donovan mountain motor. This fuel-injected powerhouse sounds great, but before it ever came to life, it went through hell.
Some astute enthusiasts might recall seeing this very monster ringing the bell at 198K as it crossed the block in Scottsdale during a previous Barrett-Jackson auction. While that speaks for its current level of detail and performance, that wasn’t always the case.
John Marshall first contacted AE contributor Chris Petris, of Petris Enterprises and Corvette Clinic Inc. fame, explaining that he had a “’68 Corvette that had all the pieces and just needed assembled.” Apparently, the car was started at a different shop, but the level of work wasn’t up to par with what John envisioned.
Chris headed to South Florida with his trailer to pick up the “some assembly required” Corvette. What he found, shocked both he, and the car’s owner. When Chris arrived, all of the parts, sub-assemblies, and even the engine block and rotating assembly were sitting on the curb, outside of the previous shop’s locked gate. So much for bolting it all together. In Chris’ words, “Here sat this all-aluminum Donovan with rotating components in the South Florida grass and sand. Our paperwork said the engine was assembled and dyno-tested.” If what you see is what you get, it may not necessarily be what you paid for.
As Chris unloaded the parts from his trailer and started documenting the situation, it became obvious that this project suffered from a similar fate as many others — the lack of a clear, concise plan for the project. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t big blueprints for the car, just that they weren’t all on the same sheet of paper. There was a plan for upgrading the entire suspension to C4-grade components, an honorable intention. But, by installing the torque arm for the differential, it all but eliminated the ability to install the passenger’s seat and required the majority of the floorboard and tunnel to be modified. Those gleamingly chromed side-pipe headers that sound so cool didn’t have a prayer of reaching around the modified chassis components either. Another object that went unnoticed until someone tried to line it all up was the core support. 1968 Corvettes use a very similar core support as a ’67 Corvette with limited radiator area available. This becomes a real issue when you consider the 700-plus horses that were planned to live under the car’s hood. That is, if you could close the hood. Turns out that the engine proved to be a couple of inches too high, and at that point, it might as well been a mile.
As the parts began to flow toward the project car, it became even more obvious that at least some would never fit. Items like the ’68 having the ignition on the dash. But, when your “new, but purchased a while ago” dash panel is for a later ’69 version, you’re stuck wondering where you’re going to put the key! Sometimes, one year does make a difference. When the Corvette Clinic installed the custom-built Boyd Coddington wheels, it became obvious that the sleek lines of the Corvette were perched up more akin to a 4×4 than a sports car.
One mistake that many projects suffer from, this one especially, was that the body was painted with the assumption that everything would fit. This fault became more obvious — as things repeatedly didn’t. The ’73 front end that was grafted onto the front of the car was painted with the body. Problem was, no one checked to see if the accompanying marker lights and grilles would fit in the openings. They didn’t.
Once Chris knew what he did, and didn’t have, he knew what he needed to do. That began with lowering the engine 1½ inches and raising the body a full inch. That allowed the hood to close so that all of the panel gaps could be adjusted. But, it created a problem between the crank pulley/harmonic balancer and the crossmember, which needed to be notched to make room. That eliminated the ability to use a typical C4 spring arrangement, so a set of QA1 coilover shocks were implemented at every corner, allowing for ride height adjustments as well.
Chris fabricated custom mounting brackets that used urethane-bushed mounting points to keep the differential planted, instead of the C4’s factory torque arm. The floorboard, trans tunnel and anyone who would ever reside in the passenger’s side of the car breathed a sigh of relief. Truly, this project was living in its darkest hour, but it’s always darkest before the dawn.
As parts started to fit together, the project began to gain momentum, and those grand plans for the car from the beginning were starting to be realized. A set of Baer brakes bolted right up to the chassis and, while they were at it, a complete ABS system was integrated into the car’s abilities. The controller and module were mounted in the rear compartment of the cabin, just like it would have been in a C4. All brake and fuel lines were run in stainless steel with Mr. Gasket Shadow series aluminum fittings and hoses. That issue with the core support was rectified by modifying it to mount a custom Ron Davis radiator with C5 cooling fans fitted for faster cooling.
Chris first focused on making all of the components fit before worrying about making them pretty. That meant that the car was assembled, and disassembled, several times before any further painting or polishing was done. Once he was satisfied that the surprise gremlins were properly exorcised, he began spraying all of the chassis components in red or silver urethane and the body went back into the body shop for another fresh coat of red. Upon returning to the Corvette Clinic, the rest of the car was assembled including that red and faux silver carbon fiber-inserted interior.
As the car came together, John’s dream of finally enjoying the car came into focus and, since he lived in South Florida, he wanted to be able to enjoy the car year around. That’s why this monster has at least one creature comfort, a Vintage Air A/C unit. Even after so many years of toil in trying to realize what his vision of the perfect ’68 Corvette could be, John was now able to hit the key, drive in style and rattle the windows in his gated Miami suburb. It was more than a little gratifying.
Even more gratifying is when someone else appreciates your work and effort just as much as you do. That’s where Barrett-Jackson comes in. You see, when it came time for John and his beloved Corvette to part ways, he wanted to give it the respect and exposure that it was due. He knew that while the sweat and tears had long since dried up, the evidence of their existence would become obvious under the hot lights in a big tent. He debated the sale of his Corvette for some time and then decided it would be best to head west with it to the B-J event. Those who remember, it’s no secret that the phone bidder who wanted John’s car the most was willing to pay $198,000 for it. But John was assured that it would be going to a good home when he saw who signed the paperwork, none other than Sylvester Stallone! Sly has since been seen around Tinseltown in this ’68 Corvette. Apparently, he couldn’t be happier. Neither could John Marshall. “And they lived happily ever after.” What more could you ask for in a great story, even if it started out as a tragedy?