The List… One reader’s top ten wishlist was made up entirely of glassfibre-bodied sports cars. We put him in a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette C2 roadster for the day. The List Your dream drive made real TVR owner Chris Walker’s list had a glassibre theme so we put him in the most colourful of his ten choices – a Corvette. Words Russ Smith. Photography Charlie Magee.
‘My preconceptions have just been shattered’
Our TVR-owning reader confessed to his Corvette dreams. We made them come true.
We were all intrigued, so we will start this feature by dealing with the elephant in the room – what is the story behind reader Chris Walker’s all-glassfibre dream drive wishlist? ‘To be honest, I just thought I’d look for an angle when I made my list, to make it stand out from all the others.’ Which worked. ‘And I’d owned my TVR for donkey’s years and glass-reinforced plastic seems an eminently sensible choice of material for a classic car body, so my list celebrates this. It’s such an intriguing material and I like the way it doesn’t age like steel. The knocks and scars you pick up don’t get worse but become part of the car’s character and story.’
Even within those strictures Chris’s list is rather eclectic, avoiding at least half a dozen more obvious glassfibre-bodied classics. But we picked the more mainstream Corvette from the list – and made it the C2 version that just happens to be Chris’s favourite, not least because this summer was serving up record helpings of the perfect weather for tooling around in a Corvette roadster. I even knew where I might find one. Bill Riches lent us his Jaguar MkIX for the dream drive feature in our July issue. I remembered the Corvette that sat alongside it in his garage and made a call. ‘Of course you can – any time.’
It’s hard to turn down an offer like that, so we’re back in Essex just three months later, déja vu turned up to max as we sit round Bill’s kitchen table drinking tea, cranking up Chris’s anticipation – hardly lacking already because he’s driven down from Cumbria for this – with some background on the car before we reveal it to him. Bill has owned his Corvette for eight years now, and it’s not your usual import but a rare original UK car, probably the last C2 ’Vette sold by Lendrum & Hartman of Piccadilly because the C3 had already come out and they had to respray it Rally Red because no one wanted it in Ermine White. It also has the higher-output L79 350bhp 327ci V8 and has only clocked up 37,000 miles from new. Better still, it has escaped the temptations of the tuning catalogues so often dipped into by American car owners. The only deviations from what rolled out of the factory in 1967 are electronic ignition and a set of period-style American Racing Salt Flat Special alloys – and even those are in the standard 6×15 wheel size.
Led out to the garage, Chris’s pent-up excitement is released in a big ‘Wow! They got these so right in the Sixties – the look captures the era perfectly. It its right in with Apollo missions and jets. God bless the Americans. We don’t say that often today.’ Bill gives a little tuition, then it’s time to put Chris behind the wheel, which brings the surprise confession, ‘I’ve never driven a V8 before. But just the sound of them gets you very excited. We’re planning a trip to the US next year and hiring a Mustang – not an old one sadly – but I’ve got my V8 ix early.’ So that’s two boxes we’re ticking for Chris today, and he marks them carefully, treating all that horsepower with plenty of respect at first.
‘It its right in with Apollo missions and jets. God bless the Americans. We don’t say that very often today’
‘My first impression is that the clutch is not heavy at all, at least compared to what I’m used to in the TVR, and with quite a short travel. But I can’t slide across from the throttle to the brake pedal; I have to lift my foot up so I need to take care with that.
‘There’s such a continual wave of torque, it just picks up and goes from nothing and you hardly need to use the gears, which helps when you’re a bit nervous. With the top down it’s all exhaust noise, you can’t hear the engine itself or the carburettor sucking. But it’s not too loud – you can ride along like this at 60mph, there’s surprisingly little buffeting, and you can still hold a conversation without shouting. Dare I say it’s like a modern in that respect?’
Where this particular Corvette does show its age is in the lack of power steering and a servo for the brakes – options in 1967 that would have added just $136.95 to the US list price but weren’t boxes that were ticked for VJD 5G. But Chris doesn’t seem to mind.
‘I’m used to a lot of kickback from the wheel on my TVR on manholes covers and stuff and I’m not getting that at all with the Corvette. But it is a very big wheel, practically on my thighs, and I’m not used to that. There’s a nice weight to it though. It has got that vintage ‘shimmy’ – is that the right word? – as you cross road joints, but other than that you have to tell yourself this is a 50-year-old car; it really doesn’t feel its age. The brakes are good, which I wasn’t expecting. You have to push the pedal firmly, obviously, but there’s good braking straight away and if you want more you just push harder.’
A series of dual-carriageways and roundabouts have carried us into the quieter parts of central Essex in search of empty and more challenging roads to play on, and Chris grins broadly at the pops and bangs emanating from the exhaust on the over-run as we take an offramp from the A130 somewhere north of Chelmsford. ‘That’s a nice crackle. I just love that guttural sound and occasional pop-back. It’s like what they’ve tried to engineer into the Jaguar F-type to make it sound sporty, but this is for real.
‘What also strikes me is how easy it is to drive. And it has a much better ride than the TVR. You could go on a long road trip really comfortably – there’s loads of space behind the seats for a couple of soft bags. I don’t know if you’d want the roof up though, I think too much heat would get trapped and there’s already quite a bit of that coming through the bulkhead.
‘It’s a docile old thing on country lanes but really goes when you want it to’
‘Compared to a Sixties British car this looks so much more up-to-date inside. It’s surprisingly roomy too – at six-foot-four I struggle in a lot of cars. Maybe Americans were big then too? It could use a bit more seat travel but it’s not a problem, I’ve got enough legroom and I’m looking through the screen, not over it; comfortable not squashed. Despite that it doesn’t feel like a big car from the driving seat; I don’t suppose it is, especially by today’s standards. With the lack of pillars and the top folding under the rear deck, visibility is perfect and makes it really easy to place, even sitting on the left. We have the perfect weather and backdrop; just need to get some Californian music on the stereo to complete the picture. What?! Well I’m a big Eagles fan, but maybe the Beach Boys suits the Corvette better – California Girls would do it.’
Rumbling along almost deserted dusty blacktop surrounded by wheat fields puts me more in mind of Kansas, but California does have the better tunes so we’ll stick with Chris’s choice.
Along with some sun we’ve got some nice bendy bits out here in Essex farming country too, so how are the Corvette’s sporting credentials hanging together in the hands of a TVR devotee?
Chris smiles, ‘My preconceptions have been shattered, it’s so much better and more modern to drive than I expected. A remarkably docile old thing around country lanes but really goes when you want it to. The engine has everything you want from a V8; it picks up without a stutter in any gear at any revs, then really takes of at above 2000rpm. And you have to rev the engine to get the best out of it, which is also not something I expected, brought up on the notion of American V8s being lazy understressed things. This has a really linear power curve and the surge never seems to tail of. My TVR runs out of puff at 4000rpm. The Corvette can be driven in a lazy manner but can also be a devil if you push it.
‘I love the mechanical feel of the gear-shift too – that adds to the car’s sporting appeal, as does the chunky chrome ball on top of the lever. It slots into each gear beautifully. I’m glad this ’Vette is the four-speed manual version; for me it wouldn’t be the same with an automatic. I don’t mind them that much for everyday but to my mind they don’t belong in a sports car.’
And what about that unpowered steering now? ‘OK, I see the need for that big wheel when I’m manoeuvring at low speeds, and I’m having to work hard when it starts loading up in corners. On these twisty lanes I’m working up quite a sweat but it is a hot day. Anyway, it feels right that it’s physical to drive and when you get hold of the car it corners really well. I don’t know where the limits are but don’t intend to find them.’
Time, then, to cool down and take refreshments at a handy airfield café. Chris though is struggling to take his eyes of the ’Vette. ‘It is a really beautiful car – I could never tire of looking at it. My first love was aircraft and I actually did an apprenticeship with Bristol at Filton. There’s something so appropriate to that in the Corvette’s styling and the more you look, the more detail you see – from the old-fashioned clap-hand wipers to the way the taillights are reflected in the rear quarter bumpers. To be honest I like everything about it. I wonder, could they have made it look like this in steel with all those curves and bumps, or did moulding it in glassfibre allow the designers to be more creative with the shape?’
Back in the car, it’s time for the 30-mile run back to the Corvette’s home. Chris is clearly a lot more confident behind the wheel now and knows it’s not waiting to bite him. I think we’re both going to enjoy this bit. Accelerating up through the gears, Chris says, ‘It does what it’s meant to do and does it very well. Goes and doesn’t feel like it ever wants to stop, is very stable at motorway speeds, and it’s nice driving it in traffic and finding it doesn’t overheat, is well-behaved and doesn’t lose its brakes. It would be great for touring Europe now I’ve retired. The tall gearing is good too, there’s such a long “reach” in first [it will pass 60mph in first gear] that it’s great to just leave it in that gear on short runs between roundabouts to enjoy the growl and crackle as you come on and of the throttle.’
The devil is obviously creeping from car to driver as Chris blips the accelerator in a petrol station to enjoy the V8 echo of the overhead canopy. Heads snap round followed by warm smiles. ‘It’s the engine and exhaust that gets you first, then… well it’s beauty and the beast all in one package. I could live with one of these very comfortably and wouldn’t change a thing about it. But would it fit in my garage?’
Thanks to Bill Riches and Andrewsfield Aviation
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1967 Corvette C2 Roadster
Engine 5354cc cast iron V8, ohv, Holley 4160 four-barrel carburettor
Max Power: 350bhp @ 5800rpm / SAE gross
Max Torque: 360lb ft @ 3600rpm / SAE gross
Transmission Four-speed manual (option), rear-wheel drive
Steering Worm and roller
Suspension Front: unequal-length wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar. Rear: independent by trailing arms, transverse leaf spring and telescopic dampers
Brakes Discs front and rear
Weight 1437kg (3168lb)
Performance Top speed: 130mph; 0-60mph: 6.8sec
Fuel consumption 17mpg
Cost new UK 1967 £4162
Classic Cars Price Guide in UK 2018 £18,000-£72,000
Chris finds amusement in the size of the steering wheel, but it’s short-lived… Our reader prefers the ‘Vette in its optional manual four-speed flavour. The afterburner-style taillights remind Chris of his apprentice days at Bristol.
Chris had assumed the V8 would be lethargic. Salt Flat Special alloys are non-original but period-perfect. Chris is surprised by the C2’s eagerness and tactility – even compared to his TVR. According to our reader, hustling the ’Vette is hot but extremely enjoyable work.
CHRIS’S DREAM DRIVE LIST
Marcos 3-Litre GT
‘With the Ford V6 under the bonnet it has the same ethos as my TVR and I think it would be fun to compare them’ Gilbern Invader ‘Yes, there’s a theme developing here – another glassfibre coupé with a Ford 3.0 V6’
Reliant Sabre Six
‘Rare forerunner to the Scimitar is another lightweight six-cylinder Brit, this time with the cylinders in line’
‘Wow, what a thing! When I started to go to car shows you’d see them and they were still affordable then’
‘Any model would do but the C2 Sting Ray is the best one for me’
‘Sexy-looking twin-turbo French GT is a real rarity and quite a performance car’
Daimler SP250 Dart
‘Great engine and quirky, challenging styling that should be in the Tate Gallery’
Lotus Elite Super
‘For its glassfibre monocoque – Chapman’s search for lightness’
‘A predecessor to the TVR in many ways and another GRP monocoque’
‘An unusual and fascinating car. I read an article recently which revealed to me that they had a glassfibre body, which was a surprise – I’d always assumed they were steel’
CHRIS WALKER’S MOTORING CV
The milestones in Chris’s car past have all had Ford engines
FORD ESCORT 1100
‘Dad’s green Ford Escort MkI was bought of his company, and was our family car for ages. It was the one I learnt to drive in.’
FORD ESCORT 1300E
‘Obviously influenced by my father, my first car was also an Ford Escort – a purple 1300E. Lots of early motoring adventures and needed to get me to my aircraft apprenticeship in Filton.’
FORD ESCORT RS2000 MKII
‘Carrying on the Ford theme, though with an early dabble with glassfibre appearing – note the kayak strapped to the roof. I recently discovered that SRU 258R has survived, though it’s now painted yellow. I sold it to go back to college for a year and bought a £160 Skoda S110L that saw me through my time there – just!’
‘Things went sensible until 23 years ago when I bought the TVR that’s still with me to this day, though there was a break in the middle. I sold it to a neighbour while I indulged in a modern classic Honda S2000 which I almost instantly regretted. My wife wrote that of after four years but went to see the neighbour’s wife and bought the TVR back – by then a non-runner. I got it back on the road last year.