Along time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Chevrolet built C3 Corvettes in St. Louis, Missouri.
Just a stone’s throw from the now infamous suburb of Ferguson, a different kind of uproar and turmoil was rocking the the midwest in the late Seventies. The times they were a changin’ and monolithic GM was under siege. A perfect storm of global competition, safety regulations and trickery from Middle East oil sheiks had brought the mighty domestic automobile industry to its knees.
Long gone were two-year model changeovers and competitive leap frogging between automotive titans, replaced by long model runs with carryover engines, powertrains and “high performance” models that consisted merely of stickers and emblems attached to little more than base models.
One of over 53,000 units actually. GM made as many ’79s as the factory could muster. Whether common or not, perfect proportions and beauty never go out of style.
With all this doom and gloom you’d think a silver lining would be elusive. But ironically, late ’70s Corvettes became more popular than ever. Loaded up with automatic transmissions, leather interiors, cruise control and power accessories galore, Chevrolet couldn’t build ’em fast enough.
This new era of Corvette buyer could care less if Zora Arkus-Duntov was the Mayor of Transylvania. They wanted a Shark bodied Corvette optioned out like a Monte Carlo, and GM was happy to oblige. They turned up the rickety old St. Louis plant to “11” and spit out thousands of these “boulevardier” Corvettes.
Although good for business at the time, this era of low horsepower Corvette had become the brunt of derision, albeit mostly from people who don’t particularly care for swoopy fiberglass sports cars.
That old, “Debbie Downer” narrative has long since faded into the mist, and late-era C3s are now cheap and plentiful and with the advent of the restomod movement, they’ve become a perfect hot rod palette for guys (and gals) that love the C3, the last Corvette Bill Mitchell ever styled.
Take Pam Luning from Grover Beach, California, for example. She and her man of 16 years, Dan Moore were talking one day when the subject turned to “dream cars.” Pam said her fantasy dream car “Would be an old Corvette…”
From there, the story fast forwards to a fateful day at a local breakfast joint where Pam and Dan were having an early morning bite to eat.
From humble beginnings. Pam's car was a well "loved" example.
While sitting in the restaurant , Dan looked out of the window at a tire store across the street. Tucked away along side of building was a forlorn, 1979 C3. Dan looked at Pam and said “There’s your Corvette!” Pam had a different take was skeptical to say the least. In hindsight she says, “It was horrible…”
Dan assured her that this was a dream car candidate and that he could facilitate a resurrection.
Pam said “Are you sure?” Nothing like a little spousal skepticism to keep things earthbound, but Dan said, “Absolutely” and that he was more than able to bring an ’70s Mako Shark back to life.
With that settled, they returned to the tire store the following day. It turns out the owner of the car was a guy they had known for years, a guy named “Ernie.”
He was the pizza delivery guy around town and serendipitously, was also the owner of the beater Corvette. He was also trying to avoid his soon to be ex-wife from walking away with the car. It’s unknown whether pizza was delivered in the ‘Vette, but that would’ve been a Corvette lover’s dream come true.
Did a bear sleep in there? Long neglected, the old '79 was about to get a new lease on life.
Dan and Pam kicked the tires with Ernie for a bit and then arranged for a test drive. They both jumped in the worn out ‘Vette and off they went.
Everything was going fine until they passed the local Police station. For some unknown reason, Dan decided this was the perfect time to “punch it.”
He laid in hard on the 35 year old gas pedal and boom! Blew the exhaust system clean off the car.
Over the racket, Dan turned to Pam and said “Whaddya think?”
Pam said, “I’ll take it!”
Now, that’s our kind of gal.
After a bit of fruitless dickering, Pam surrendered the asking price of $3000 (cheap!) and they drove the car home.
From that day forward, a 14 year journey began rescuing a neglected late-seventies Corvette from the clenches of the crusher. Both Dan and Pam agree that had they not seen the car back on that particular day, it probably would’ve been destroyed.
Crisis averted. From there, each half of the couple agreed to move forward with the project and each would have their “roles.”
The text book example of how to align and massage Flexiglass bumpers?
Pam was the owner and decision maker and Dan was the craftsman that would emcee the transformation. Dan would present options and costs and Pam would choose a path. As you can see from the finished car, it was a productive collaboration.
Pam’s car was one of 53,807 Corvettes built that year. Not only is that a boat load of Corvettes it was also the highest production year of the C3’s 14 year run.
One the best things about a ’79 Corvette is that it isn’t the least bit rare. So that all original stuff such as recreating upside down chalk marks on the frame like they did at the factory can be thrown out the window.
Swoon. Shark looks better as years roll by.
As they found it, the old ’79 was tired. It had 132,000 miles on it and had been the recipient of botched windshield replacement which resulted in a leaking cowl, a moldy interior and a rotted steel windshield frame and door innards.
The front radiator core support was rusty and the front end had sagged as well. Cosmetically the car had faded paint, a dilapidated interior and urethane bumpers that we’re at the end of their lives.
Starting with the original L-48 small block, Dan rebuilt it into a fresh, sweetheart mill with 300 reliable horsepower.
After thoroughly assessing the car, Dan says they embarked on “Phase One” of the project, rebuilding the motor and transmission. It ran good as is and Dan wanted to keep the original motor, so he decided to do a 0.030 over bore on the original block, bumping up the displacement to 355ci. He also stayed with the factory Turbo-Hydramtic 350 three-speed transmission treating it to a better than new rebuild with a shift kit and stall torque converter.
Bob Bunch handled the motor rebuild and though he has since passed, Pam and Dan’s motor is the last artifact of his work before he retired, so Bob’s handiwork lives on in this rethunk C3.
The motor is balanced and blueprinted with stainless steel valves, Edlebrock intake and carburetor, MSD ignition with the stock distributor.
After the motor was rebuilt, they drove the car for about a year or so, before gearing up for the next stage.
Dan updated front suspension with a Shark Bite suspension kit with adjustable tie rods, tubular upper control arms and coil over shocks.
“Phase Two,” saw the old ’79 treated to a full running gear upgrade including a front end rebuild with SharkBite tubular upper control arms, rebuilt rear suspension with a composite spring and and a rebuilt rear end with stock 3.55 gears.
From there, most every panel and part on the car was “touched.” Dan says “The only work I didn’t do was the motor, trans, rear end and bodywork and paint.” Dan also relayed that the car is a frame-on resto as he was leery of breaking the body free from the frame before the aforementioned rust birdcage could be addressed.
Pam wanted “A pretty car, but also have that badass edge…” and that begat “Phase Three.” They decided to repaint the car a shade of “Brandywine” maroon lifted from the 50th Anniversary Corvette production color wheel.
Rear suspension is mostly stock with exception of composite spring. Car easily passes smog with air pump, catalytic converter and emission controls retained. Flowmaster exhaust peeks out from below.
The paint is a water based, three stage system with an apricot pearl misted on top of the base coat. Dan says “The car looks different under different light sources and is ever-changing…” A man identified only as “Van” did the bodywork and paint and the final buff and prep was handled at Grossini’s Auto Body based in Grover Beach, CA.
Because the interior color was changed to black, most every piece inside the cockpit is new. With that in mind, Dan bumped up the finish level–with help from Corvette America–by covering most of the interior with supple, black leather. Seats with embroidered headrests, door panels and console housing are all swathed from the skin of some poor bovines. The Chik-fil-A cows should start a awareness campaign.
Dan's work here is meticulous. Check out the fit and finish of the dash, seats and always tricky center console area.
Look closely and you’ll see a big nitrous tank under the curved rear glass, or is it? Dan took a sub-woofer and massaged it to look like a laughing gas tank and we think it’s a fantastic solution to where to put the sub in an old C3.
The “nitrous bottle” is a Bazooka tube with an 8 inch subwoofer painted to match the car and detailed to trick the eye. There’s also a 400 watt, 4 channel Rockford Fosgate amplifier in the back panel and an Alpine head unit.
Look again, it really is a sub-woofer…
The exterior is fresh and clean with only a few body mods, a 1980 rear bumper cap and shaved emblems and badges.
The car rides on blackwall BF Goodrich tires and polished factory aluminum wheels topped off with 3-prong spinners. The car relies only on classic C3 Corvette lines to tell the story. No luggage rack, stripes, spoilers or baubles for the eye to hang up on.
Another custom tweak was leaving front bumper “pads” body color.
Speaking of hang ups, getting those darned rubber bumpers to fit on a late model Shark is tough. Pam’s ’79 is a testament of what can be done with time and finesse. Dan used “Flexiglass” bumpers from Mid America Motorworks and although they are not the original material for the car, they have more “give” than regular fiberglass or sheet molded compound, and solves the wavy-gravy fitment problems with urethane bumpers that have bedeviled Shark owners for years.
So, 3 phases and fourteen years later, Pam Luning’s C3 sat twinkling under the San Diego sun when your humble author happened to stumble upon it’s lovely flanks, with Dan tenderly wiping it down with a duster and micro-fiber towels.
Well buffed, shiny Shark. We approve.
I’m not the only one that has fallen for this Brandywine beauty’s charm as it’s won multiple awards shows since completion.
2010 Merchant Award – Arroyo Grande Car Show
2014 Top 30 – Grover Beach Street Machine and Muscle Car Nationals
2014 Second Place – Arroyo Grande Car Show
2015 Jack Hansen Award – Concours d Elegance in San Luis Obispo
2015 Best in Class/Award of Excellence – Solvang Wheels and Windmills Car Show
2015 Best in Show/Best in Class/Merchants Award – Grover Beach All Vehicle 2nd Annual show
2016 Best in Class/Special Mayor’s Trophy – Arroyo Grande Car Show
2016 Merchant Award – Pismo Beach Car Show
From the troubled soil of the rust belt to it’s current home on the central California coast, this 1979 Corvette avoided the junkyard in a twist of fate. Like Jim Morrison said, “No one gets out of here alive…” Indeed, but for now this old Corvette lucked out when crossing paths with Pam Luning and Dan Moore.
Dan and Pam wanted to mention Charlie Sottile, Randy Loshbaugh, Jim York and all the friends who helped along the way, without their help, the car wouldn’t have made it to completion.