In the mid-’90s Dale Zeisset and his wife Val experienced every Corvette enthusiast’s worst nightmare. After enjoying a nice dinner they came out of the restaurant to find, or rather not find, their 1966 Corvette where they left it. The pristine C2 was stolen by an opportunist thief who saw a Corvette show in Bloomington-Indianapolis as the perfect place to go ‘shopping’ for a used Corvette.
Though the car was recovered the very next day, the damage — more mental than physical — had already been done. Dale and Val no longer felt safe driving their pristine Corvette everywhere they wanted.
Dale, who became a Corvette owner in his early 20s, met and fell in love with Val shortly after. Conveniently, she was also a bit of a gearhead and together they have really grown to appreciate America’s greatest sportscar. Over they years the couple has owned several Corvettes including the stolen and recovered ’66 they still own, a ’72 that shares a garage space with it, and a ’65 that has come and gone.
For them, even after the theft, not driving a Corvette regularly wasn’t an option they would be happy with. But, since driving their show winner every day was no longer realistic, they did the next best thing and found what Dale called a ‘junker.’
That junker was a 1969 Stingray and is, funny enough, the exact car we are writing about today some 18 or so years later. When Dale and Val got the ‘69 from a friend in Detroit it was a 350/350 car with a rough ragtop, rough body, and rough frame. To the uneducated thief it wasn’t worth stealing, but to a Corvette enthusiast, it was certainly worth holding on to.
Since it kept a relatively low profile Dale and Val drove this car a lot, and as is usually the case, the more they drove it, the more fond of the car they became. As they put years between themselves and the incident in Bloomington the itch to modify the ‘69 became too great to ignore.
As repayment for its years of loyal service, Dale saw fit to give the car some well-deserved attention, both cosmetically and mechanically. This isn’t to say the car was in a state of disrepair, but certainly had room for improvement inside and out.
Since they already owned the now fixed ‘66 that was finished in a very traditional factory-like manner, and another ‘72 also traditionally styled, Dale and Val decided to have a little fun with this car and got creative.
Already sitting on daisy styled American Racing Mag wheels courtesy of the previous owner, Dale rummaged in his garage for a pair of new/old stock headlights he had — legitimate ’60s-era race items that really helped write the blueprint for the car that would follow.
If the headlights were the opening sentence to the story, the side pipes Dale had in the rafters of his garage were the final word, because they brought the aesthetic together and cemented the idea in Dale’s head to build a car styled after Corvettes from the 1967 American International Racing program.
The first thing that needed to change in order to execute the idea now running laps in Dale’s head was the exterior. In his younger days, before he was a Corvette owner, Dale had painted a couple of cars while employed as a panel beater. Confident he remembered enough from that time to do the job he decided to respray the car himself.
After a few trips to the local paint supply store, and some time spent getting acclimated to the new modern gear and materials he had purchased, Dale sprayed the car in his garage. As you can tell from the photos the blue really pops, but Dale felt something was still missing once the paint was cut and polished.
Val suggested a stripe, and while Dale was hesitant about the idea, the more he looked at the car the more he thought she might be right that a stripe was exactly what the car needed. However, putting the stripe on the car was no easy task, especially for someone who felt they had no artistic talent whatsoever.
After a day of taping, stepping back, eye balling, re-taping, and then finally painting, Dale waited for the paint to dry, removed the masking, and hoped he wouldn’t have to repaint the car a second time. Meanwhile, Val made sure to steer clear of the garage on paint day just in case her idea didn’t turn out quite as well as she had hoped.
Thankfully the stripe went down with no issues and looks perfectly symmetrical on the car from bumper-to-bumper and corner-to-corner. With the stripe laid, the rest of the car came together quite well from there.
Mechanically, the vehicle is mostly an L88 clone, though Dale admits the motor is a little bit lower in compression compared to a factory-built model. In the late ’90s, the first time he built the engine, Dale put together a solid lifter motor with a flat tappet cam. Unfortunately, that motor didn’t cope well with the global changes in motor oil quality and began to fall flat in the upper RPM range.
To make the car a little more drivable — Dale admits it’s still not great on gas — the motor was pulled apart, bored out to 427 cubic inches, and fit with a roller cam. What it lacks in fuel efficiency it makes up with a healthy growl through the side pipes. The car is tame enough for long trips without ear plugs, but Dale does mention that everyone in the town he’s from knows when he’s coming, and hears him long after he’s vanished from view.
Power-wise it’s not the fastest car on the road, but most people who have taken a ride in the passenger seat can’t remember the last time they were in a vehicle that took off quite like Dale’s.
L88 parts make up the brakes and suspension as well, but the shocks are late model units retrofitted to work with the 1969 underpinnings. The interior has been redone to match the blue exterior, and the roll bar is a bit of a visual trick.
The bar certainly looks the part, and achieves the race-look Dale and Val were after, but it actually just bolts into where the convertible top latches. This gives the visual cohesiveness of a roll bar without taking away from the ability to have a functional top, which is very important to Dale and Val as they have become quite accustomed to taking all of their Corvettes out for long drives when the mood strikes them, and didn’t want to limit those drives exclusively to when it was fair weather.
Both Dale and Val vividly remember a time in their ‘66 when they used to live in Detroit and drove through the night back from Windsor, Ontario, Canada with the top down. While the ‘69 can’t comfortably go quite as far was their ’66, they see 150 miles (or the Corvette Funfest in Effingham, Illinois) as its safe limit, and still do enjoy driving it as much as possible.
A few years ago, Dale had the opportunity to drive a leg of the Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour in the ‘69 and mentions getting caught up in the moment and having some fun with the rest of the pack. Stopped for fuel many of the Power Tour participants, much like ourselves, couldn’t get enough of the car and asked Dale what was done, and who did it.
Dale proudly admits that he’s done most of the work to the car himself even though he doesn’t have any formal training as a mechanic. He does, however, find himself quite handy with a wrench and someone who can follow instructions to the letter. In fact, one of the first things he learned to do as a Corvette enthusiast was rebuild transmissions with nothing more than a service manual as his guide. Now he’s built several for himself and a few for other local Corvette enthusiasts.
As much as he could Dale didn’t buy completed assemblies for this car. Instead, he bought the components as separate units he would have to assemble himself, ensuring that he was intimately familiar with all the inner workings of his ’69.
His meticulous attention to detail, and desire to tackle everything hands-on, wasn’t for naught as Dale says the car has given him no major issues since being finished and put on the road.
What was once just a rough around the edges runabout for Dale and Val has turned into a real showstopper and valued member of their Corvette family. Sometimes, when life gives you lemons, or when thieves steal your car, you just have to take some time to regroup and build a really nice Corvette you plan to keep forever.
That’s exactly what Dale has done, and we are glad he did.