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  • Writer's pictureFrank Oles

1980 Corvette

Where to begin... It was my first car. But not the first car I drove. That was a Safari Van. And then an infamous ride in a White VW Rabbit with my Parent's screaming. Pro tip: don't try to learn a manual shift on your first day driving with both parents in the car.

So many adventures. Dates. Close calls. Ups and downs in equal measure. After spending age 13-15 analyzing every possible car that could be my first ride, I came home from a trip with my friend Lester and found this parked in my driveway - a surprise from my parents.

Corvettes were not even on my list! "You got a Corvette when you were 15?!!!" Yes, and thinking back on it all it was very surreal. But it would be a year + before I was able to drive that car! It needed a lot of work...For being only 9 years old and 55K miles, this Corvette was in remarkably bad shape, having spent the majority of its life on a horse ranch in Wyoming. Claret (burgundy/purple/brown) with a matching claret interior. And lots of Purple and Orange pin striping.

I spent the entire summer underneath that car, scraping rust off various frame parts and underpinnings. I think there are still some rust particles in my eyes. It needed: exhaust, brakes, a new leaf spring, shocks, new suspension bushings, various engine gaskets and hoses, new seat covers, new carpet, new stereo, headlights, and new door weatherstripping. It needed a new paint job too (cracked lacquer), but that would come later.

It took a while to get all that mechanical work completed. I remember my friends coming over to my house, with me showing off various new parts like instrument cluster bezels or mufflers (Ansa!). "Yeah, but when's it gonna be done?"

Eventually I was able to drive it. From the factory, the L48 5.7 liter V8 made 190hp. But it had a V8 and t-tops and it sounded cool. I recovered the leather seats and installed the carpeting myself.

On the list of early mods was the stereo. JVC pull out (!) head unit with a 350 watt amp dedicated to powering a 12” Bazooka bass tube, that was removeable in case one needed space for t-tops. Yes, it had some bass. I remember one night cruising the River Walk in Naperville (far from my house) with DNA/Tom’s Diner cranked. Some Police approached on foot. “Where are you from son?”; “North Riverside” “Go there and don’t come back!”

I drove it the first winter and it was treacherous. After that, I started taking my parent's Safari Van out instead. "You never drive it" my parents said. I decided to take it to the Chicago Auto Show. Bad idea...

I was broadsided in an intersection in Chicago. What a mess. It would take several years for this car to recover from that accident.

FO VETTE did return, this time in white. It was a much better color for the car. One of my most memorable rides in the car was taking it home from the body shop with the interior stripped out. It was lighter and faster and felt like NASCAR. More power was in order.

This is one of my favorite pictures of me and the car. You can see the pride in this engine. The rebuild took an entire summer: New forged crank, World Products heads, Keith Black pistons, headers, a true dual exhaust, and a variety of intake manifolds culminating with a Holly Street Dominator. Plus a shift kit in the trans and a 3.73 gear. We never dynoed this car, but we probably doubled the horsepower. At 10.5 to 1 compression, it sounded like a built engine - deep and powerful, chirping tires in every gear.

After 13 years, I decided to sell it. I was never completely happy with the fiberglass work on the front, and the rusted frame needed attention (I would have replaced it). Time to move on. Someone actually came to look at the car on the infamous 9/11 – “Can you show the car” I happened to be home from work. That person ended up flaking on the deal (surprise!). Eventually it did sell to a Father and Son (VW mechanic) who understood the mods and intended to race the car. I was sorry to see it go, but used the money to purchase our first home.

I ran into the car again in 2012, with different owners than I sold it to. The front body work had been fixed nicely and the entire car was repainted white again. New seat covers, but there were a couple tell tale signs that it was my car, including the VIN#. New owner said the purchased the car from the original owner, and that it was all original.

My Dad and I tried to explain the history of the car and all the work we did. When we asked to see under the hood so we could point out some things on the engine, the owner replied “I’d rather not.” Not the kind of reunion I wanted with this car. I almost forgot to mention: it also had under glow neon lights...

Maybe, in some alternate universe, I kept every car I ever owned. And maybe I restored my 80 Vette back to original. Maybe that scene would look something like this!

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