The McGruder’s NINE LIVES

Nine LivesThe number nine means different things to different people, everything from the number of a cat’s lives to a repeating lyric in a Beatles song. For Jim and Dormee McGruder, the number nine refers to the number of Corvettes they’ve collected since 1979. Dubbed the Night Racer, this personalized 2013 Grand Sport represents the culmination of their lifelong passion for Corvettes. Before getting into the extensive customizing that went into their latest Corvette, we should cover a bit of background that led up to this striking ride.

It all began with a “shark sighting.” Jim’s first Corvette experience actually dates back to 1969. (Do you sense a theme here? Note the recurring nine in his pivotal years.) Like so many Corvette enthusiasts, his first contact with a Corvette was memorable. “I am over 50 years old, so the memory starts to fade a little,” Jim admits. “But my Corvette encounters are firmly etched in my mind, never to disappear.”

DSC_6263NineLives.jpgThinking back to the summer of ’69, he remembered that a father of a classmate owned a C3 coupe, green in color. Like pursuing an elusive creature, Jim only saw the car from afar, never up close. He rarely saw it on the road, and always tried to get peeks of it when walking by his house on the way to school. “This car completely mesmerized me. I was hooked—loved Corvettes from that moment on!”

In 1979, at the tender age of 21 (newly married with no kids), he decided to buy his first Corvette, with his wife Dormee’s approval (she’s shared his fascination with Corvettes throughout their married life together). She found the car in a local newspaper ad, being offered by a man in the construction business who needed money. He lived in a remote area, way out in the country, which probably explained why he hadn’t sold the car yet.

DSC_6306NineLives.jpgIt was a 1966 red convertible, black interior, both tops (hardtop had been stored in a closet and only put on the car once), four-speed, 327 cubic inch, 350 hp, sidepipes, and all original with approximately 30K miles.

“It was love at first sight,” Jim recalls. “We bought the car and enjoyed it for two years, then sold it to begin a family.” At the time, they made a pretty penny in profit from appreciation in value, but little did they know that later on, the car would be worth 10 to 20 times what it sold it for back then. As an aftermath to this initial experience, “We were contacted several years later by a gentleman tracing the heritage of the car.  It was in the Atlanta area and was still all original.”

DSC_6285NineLives.jpgFrom that initial experience, the McGruders went onto to own a string of Corvettes over the years. Space doesn’t permit covering them all in great detail, but there were a couple of noteworthy highlights along the way, as the urge to own a Corvette remained strong through the years.

The next Corvette they owned was an especially memorable, customized ’69 model acquired in 1982. It had a 454 cubic inch, 500+ hp engine with a four-speed transmission plus countless modifications, including flared fenders, whale tail spoiler, extended front end, molded-in headlights, and more. Nicknamed “Resurrection”, it was really lively in another sense as well.

“That car was a beast,” Jim recalls. “It was the scariest car that I have ever owned. When driving, you had to keep both hands on the steering wheel, just to keep it in a straight line.” Despite its wild manners, the McGruders reluctantly let it be sold in 1984, as their family grew again.

DSC_6231NineLives.jpgAnother pivotal point in their “nine lives” of Corvettes came when they traded in a ’95 model for a a new 1999 Corvette coupe, Torch Red with black interior and a six-speed manual transmission. This would prove to be their first project Corvette, setting the stage for all the changes done to the Night Racer.

“Over the course of several years, we customized over 40 things on this car,” Jim points out. “We nicknamed it SHOWVET. It went on to win over 100 awards and be featured in magazines. Although we have participated in car shows and cruise-ins with many of our cars, SHOWVET is the car that really got us seriously involved in showing and sharing our car with everyone.”

FUNS2336NineLives.jpgTheir next project car was the one that led to us to meeting the McGruders at Mid America’s Corvette Funfest. In January of ’08, they sold the 1999 and purchased a 2007 Atomic Orange coupe with tan interior and six-speed manual transmission. Jim’s childhood fondness for the taste of Orange Crush soda pop bubbled up in his mind when General Motors announced the new Atomic Orange color for 2007, so they decided to pour that sweet memory into the theme of their ORANGE CRUSH’R.

FUNS2366NineLives.jpgThe car began its transformation to a showpiece before it even left the dealership. Everything—interior, exterior and engine—was modified in some form over a three-month period. Over 100 alterations were made to the car, all in keeping with the soda-pop theme. The formula for this effervescent Vette began with three simple elements: Atomic Orange in color, cashmere interior and a six-speed manual transmission (because sports cars are meant to be manually shifted, just like early soda pop bottles need an opener). Everything else was optional, including the Z51 brakes and suspension package and the transparent roof.

Jim considers himself a “detail man,” while Dormee is more of an “idea woman,” which turned out to be a good combination both in marriage and for a project car. In addition to family members, they also enlisted the help of several experienced pros for the more difficult custom upgrades to the car.

The custom graphics were designed by their son Nick and expertly crafted and applied by Mike Halko of Halko Graphics in Grove City, Ohio. Dormee designed the sumptuous seats and door panels, handcrafted and installed by Danny Jones and the team at A-Tech Restylin’ in Columbus, Ohio. Body shop technicians at Bob McDorman Chevrolet Custom handled the paintwork on the interior and in the engine bay.

DSC_0063NineLives.jpgEnhancing the Z51 rotors are Z06 chromed wheels with orange accents. More subtle changes include body-color-painted door handles, third brake light, rear taillight louvers, and front and rear license plate holders. Chrome buttons were added throughout the interior, and chromed trim pieces brighten up the engine compartment as well. When displaying the car at shows, Jim includes several Orange Crush collectibles, such as vintage bottles of the soda (of course), along with a purposely aged cap and T-shirt.

DSC_0056NineLives.jpgORANGE CRUSH’R won over 200 awards, was featured in magazines, newspapers, and online media outlets. This car once appeared with the fitting title, “Crush On You—Orange You in Love With This Vette?” (Okay, maybe that was a bit heavy-handed on the wordplay, but we were really impressed with the McGruder’s tasteful workmanship, along with all the vintage accessories in the display.) Our positive reactions weren’t wrong, because it went to become a National Class Champion on the ISCA (International Show Car Association) circuit in 2012. “And, it was still street driven—as all of our Corvettes have been,” Jim says.

FUNS2472NineLives.jpgEmboldened by the success of ORANGE CRUSH’R, they retired and sold it in the fall of 2012, and ordered a new 2013 Grand Sport coupe Corvette, painted Night Race metallic with black interior (hence the name “Night Racer”).

Drawing from their previous experience and approach to customizing, they immediately had the car taken apart and approximately 50 changes were made. The transformation took over seven months. They started by sending it to A-Tec Upholstery in Columbus, OH, where Danny Jones and his team did the interior work, consisting of custom tri-tone (purple, teal and light blue) seats, door panels and headrests. The custom headrest design was created by Jim McGruder’s son Justin McGruder, after which it was expertly applied by Fred at A-Tec. Next, a trip to the paint shop obtained the custom-mixed metallic purple, teal and light blue paints to match the interior colors; plus the application of more Night Race blue metallic and gloss black paint.

DSC_6268NineLives.jpgAfterwards the car went to the body shop owned by Scotty Southworth in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, where it remained for five months. During that time, Scotty performed countless tasks to get the car to its current condition. These included taking the entire body apart, and wet sanding it to get rid of the factory “orange peel.” He also prepped, primed and painted the new vented, high-rise hood, rear wing and rear diffuser.

DSC_6295NineLives.jpgAfter re-assembling the entire car, along with installing the new body parts, Scotty painted on all the graphics, consisting of a glossy black racing stripe and metallic teal and purple pinstripes (which matches the metalflake in the paint and the interior colors). These graphics were designed by Jim’s son Nick—to keep the design influences all in the family. Other mods included removing handles to create a cleaner exterior look. Remarkably, the car was disassembled once again for sanding and to apply four clear coats, along with painting all the pieces under the hood and in the cockpit, using a a custom light-blue metallic mix called Azure. Then the panels were buffed to a high shine and put through final assembly. Believe it or not, with only 200 miles on the car, it had been taken apart and put back together several times.

DSC_6269NineLives.jpgAfterwards, the car went to Cruisin Classics in Columbus, Ohio to begin a month-long process of clean-up, detailing and installation of numerous aftermarket parts. To date, approximately 50 parts have been changed or enhanced. By the way, the custom Night Racer logo is a combination of the color, hash marks from the Grand Sport model, and the racing heritage of the original Grand Sport Corvettes.

After all this meticulous customization, the visual effect is startling—and even somewhat confusing. At night, when the car is closed up, all you can see are the tri-tone graphics and no other brightwork, giving it a very dark, stealthy look. But in bright sunlight and with the car all opened up, you see all of the shiny parts, along with the purple and teal metalflakes in the metallic paint. It’s like the car has two personalities.

DSC_6248NineLives.jpgOnce done, Night Racer debuted at various car shows and cruise-ins in Ohio and Kentucky. As of this writing, the car has earned several Best of Show awards, as well as Best Custom, Best Paint and Best Interior at various shows. Future cosmetic plans include a chin spoiler and side skirts.

While Night Racer currently has 430 hp on tap, the goal is to add even more power—lots more. “There’s no such thing as too much power,” Jim grins. The McGruders are reviewing several corporate sponsors to help with bolting on a number of go-fast goodies. In the meantime, Night Racer is one high-stylin’ street machine.

Looking back on their “nine lives” of Corvettes, Jim and Dormee’ have developed a reputation of sorts. “People often equate a person with a certain car,” he points out. “As such, I still have people call me SHOWVET or CRUSH’R, even though the cars have been gone for years. I even had a couple recognize me at the airport one day. The gentleman said, ‘Are you Jim?’  When I answered yes, he said to the lady ‘I told you that was him—That’s the ORANGE CRUSH’R guy.’ As it turns out, I had met them two years ago at a car show. Small world.”

And to think—it all started with a Sting Ray sighting, way back in 1969.

About the author

Steve Temple

Steve Temple has more than three decades of experience as an automotive photojournalist. He has served as editor of several automotive enthusiast magazines, and also as director of marketing for Shelby American. As such, he is intimately familiar with a wide range of vehicles, ranging from vintage street rods and classic musclecars to modern sports cars. Steve has handled tech and install features on all types of aftermarket upgrades for both cars and trucks.
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