This Reimagined 1968 Chevrolet Corvette Is a Family Heirloom With An Awesome History
Having classic Corvette nostalgia? This 1968 Chevrolet Corvette S/C lightweight is a one-off, home-built special with an amazing story behind itby Dim Angelov, on
The Chevrolet Corvette has established itself as the definitive American sports car. Eight generations later, the car’s legacy is running strong and we have been lucky enough to have gotten many cool versions of the “Vette”. But some people have their own version of the perfect Corvette and Richard Smith, who was a GM technician, went to great lengths to build his vision of the perfect 1968 Chevrolet Corvette. This is the story of a 1968 Corvette named “the Beast”.
Richard’s nephew, Greg was kind enough to send details about the story of what can be considered one of the most properly done classic Corvette. What makes this particular Corvette even more special is the fact, it’s one of the first modified Corvettes. Richard ordered his 1968 C3 Corvette in the summer of 1967 and came out of the factory in February 1968.
As a mechanic for Pontiac, Richard Smith knew all the right people when it came to high-performance parts. Richard also bought a new Chevrolet every year, nowadays every two or three years, according to his nephew Greg. With a level of commitment such as this, you can bet the results are going to be staggering.
Richard’s lightweight project started in November 1968 and took two years of part-time work, to finish. The end goal was drastic weight reduction and a simplified S/C (street competition) Corvette, by using GM parts whenever possible. I dare say, he did a great job at that, as what came out on the other end was one of the most unique-looking and purposeful Corvettes ever made.
One of The Most Unique Corvettes Ever Made
The project began with disassembling the car down to a bare frame, after which all heavy parts were replaced or simplified. Even the frame of the 1968 Corvette was modified, for lightness. Its bulky center cross member was replaced with a custom-fabricated lightweight one. Steel bumpers were removed, as were the steel bumper extensions and parking brake assembly. The heavy core support and radiator were removed and an L-88 aluminum radiator was mounted lower, for optimal airflow.
The Corvette initially came with T-tops, but it was converted to a fixed roof design, through modifications to the cowl and cage. Richard cut the center T-bar and replaced it with L-shaped steel bars that connected the corners of the windshield to the roll-hoop. The new construction was both lighter, stronger, and simplified, which was the main goal of the build.
More simplifications came in the form of deleting the hidden wiper system’s metal door, linkage, and vacuum actuator. The removable rear window and metal framework were replaced by a plexiglass piece, while the rear Astro ventilation ductwork was also removed, together with grilles, vacuum actuator, and door.
Then, it was time for one of the most radical exterior changes – the front hood. Richard wanted a clamshell-style front hood and, eventually, he found an established Corvette Specialist in Studio City, California, Bruno’s Corvette, owned by Roger Brunell. If Bruno’s Corvette sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it was the place where another very unique classic Corvette was created – Keith “Ivan” Ball’s 1966 C2 Corvette King Rat. That one had over 700 horsepower and was said to be capable of over 180 mph (290 km/h)…in the 1970s.
The basis for the clamshell hood was the original L-88 hood that came on Roger’s 1968 Corvette. That was shipped to Roger Brunell’s shop where a new mold for the clamshell was made around it.
The bumper area of the new one-piece front end that came back from Bruno’s Corvette had been recessed in order to accommodate for the stock chrome bumper and grille. Richard wanted a cleaner look, similar to the Mako Shark, so he made a fiberglass version of the chrome bumper-grille setup, which he then narrowed down in order to be flush with the rest of the front end.
The alterations did not stop there. The design of Richard’s 1968 Corvette was inspired by various GM experimental Corvettes, which is why the car features elements from different concept models such as the 1957 Corvette SS, 1959 Corvette Stingray Racer, Mako Shark II, and Manta Ray. The cleaned-up shark mouth, in particular, was very reminiscent of the Corvette Shark – the first version of the XP-755 that was later revised and became the Mako Shark I.
The headlights were one of a kind, as they were inspired by the Lola Ford GT. The quad headlights sat behind plexiglass covers and were nested in 1963 Corvette headlight buckets. The turn signals came from a 1966 Pontiac GTO and the high beams were GE aircraft landing lights. GM did not offer sports mirrors at the time, so the original chrome one was removed and a pair of 1969 Mustang BOSS 302 mirrors were molded directly into the doors.
The one-piece rear section also came from Roger Brunell’s shop, but Richard did some additional fiberglass fabrication on it. This involved removing the rear bumper fairings and smoothening the area, glassing in the lower rear panel, filling the exhaust holes, relocating the license plate slot higher, filling the side marker holes and the holes for the Astro ventilation grilles, and molding the area around the rear window.
Additional work included extending the rear fender flares to match the 15x10-inch American mags and a smoother roofline was created by separating the outer skins from the original T-tops and glassing them flush with the windshield header and rear body section. The Lemans style alloy racing gas cap was ordered from England while Richard’s friend, Mike Crook - a tool & die, maker - fabricated the billet aluminum filler neck with an O-ring seal to set it down flush into the rear deck.
For a more competitive look, Richard went with traditional US racing colors. The primary exterior color chosen was Appliance White, which was also the brightest shade of white available. The stripe area was painted in Pontiac Trans Am Lucerne Blue. That was actually done before applying the primary exterior color. Then, everything was wet-sanded and cleared.
A Completely Revised Interior
Like the exterior of the classic Corvette, the interior was also simplified. It featured a radio and heater delete, and Richard fitted a factory radio block-off plate. The gauge cluster above it was simplified and the die-cast center console was replaced with a lightweight aluminum panel. Most of the dashboard was restyled and simplified as was the rear center console.
The veteran Pontiac technician used window switches that were 1969 Pontiac Station Wagon tailgate window switches. Those were recessed into the leather-padded part of the console. Aside from using a lot of aluminum, Richard also removed the factory sound deadening and carpet padding, after which he reinstalled the original carpeting directly over the fiberglass floor. The lightweight seats were sourced from Bruce Meyers, creator of Meyers Manx, in California, and were a more upscale version of the ones used in the Manx SR Dune Buggy.
It’s worth noting that the seats are not adjustable and were fitted to suit Richard’s driving position. The steering wheel came from a 1969 Pontiac Trans Am, which can be adjusted outwards and inwards by popping out the 1956 Corvette horn button and loosening a screw beneath it. Last but not least, the vinyl headliner was done by an upholsterer in Lake Forest, Illinois.
The Heart of The Beast
Richard was quite interested in the ZL-1 engine, found in many Corvette concepts. The concepts mentioned in earlier paragraphs were often brought out into the world, attending the races at Road America and the Corvette Corral. Being a technician for Pontiac, Richard Smith attended these events, which is where he got to know people like Bill Mitchell Vice President of Design, as well as others from the design team such as Jerry Palmer – head of Chevy III design studio.
Richard explains that whenever the Corvette concepts made an appearance, Dick Henderson would accompany them, and look after them. “He was the custodian of GM concept cars”, Richard said. He had built two 427 cubic-inch Chevy V-8 engines before and found they lacked power below 4,000 RPM while the mufflers hurt high-RPM power.
Richard inquired about the streetable ZL-1 engine used in Corvette concepts and after Dick Henderson gave him some information, Richard knew he wanted to build an engine like this for The Beast, with GM parts wherever possible.
The parts Richard used in order to assemble the 454 cubic-inch Big-Block V-8 are specially picked. The mighty 454 cubic-inch ZL-1 engine featured an all-aluminum block and heads with LS6 and LS7 internal parts, ZL-1 aluminum block, LS7 crankshaft, - LS-7 rods with 7/16” boronite bolts (LS-6 rods had 3/8” bolts), LS-6 pistons, 11.0-to-1 compression, aluminum heads (closed chamber to match the 11.0-to-1 LS-6 pistons), L-88 / ZL-1 / intake manifold with correct L-88 / ZL-1 carb from GM, L-88 / ZL-1 cowl induction with correct air cleaner and flame arrestor parts, LS-7 lightweight hollowed-out flywheel and clutch and harmonic balancer, ZL-1 aluminum water pump, 1967 L-88 road draft tube instead of pcv, cut and sleeved for rocker cover removal, GM transistor distributor curved to L-88 spec with MSD-6 box hidden inside dash, L-88 / ZL-1 red metallic core plug wires and cap, Crank, rods, pistons, flywheel and harmonic balancer professionally balanced, and more.
Once again, inspired by the ZL-1-powered concept cars, Richard wanted a hotter cam than the factory LS6, but not one from an L-88. He decided on a Sig Erson flat tappet hydraulic cam with the right specs. He also sourced Stamped steel L-88 / ZL-1 valve covers and oil pan, which were finished in flat black for better heat dissipation without the need of a heavy and complex oil cooler. While no official numbers have been given, Greg estimates that the engine packs around 650 horsepower.
The engine also featured Kustom Headers, sourced from GM’s heavy-duty racing catalog, while the gearbox was a Muncie four-speed manual, with an M22 case, M20 wide gear ratios, and 3:70 axle ratio, for better street performance.
The heavy diet, Richard implemented on the 1968 Corvette shaved significant weight and all of a sudden, the car sat too high. Richard fixed that by cutting two coils from each front spring and removing three leafs from the rear springs. He also put Koni shock absorbers, on both axles. As for the actual weight, after everything done, The Beast weighed in at under 2,700 pounds (1,225 kg).
How The Beast Went Away and Came Back
Richard enjoyed his creation for over 15 years, even driving it to Road America. In the summer of 1982, he passed it on to a friend of his, Randy Bax, in Denver, where it mostly sat in a secure garage, for over 30 years. The car attended the occasional event. We know that the car has survived as it is, for over 50 years, but how Greg managed to bring it back to the family is interesting.
Apparently, the custodian of The Beast passed away at some point and Greg stumbled upon an eBay advert, from Denver. However, a buyer from Chicago managed to acquire the car. Six years later, the one-off Corvette went on an auction where a private collector from St. Luis acquired it. Greg eventually managed to contact the St. Luis collector and bought the car from him in summer 2021.
He started driving it and people took images of it, in front of Greg’s bar. His uncle – Richard – caught on and couldn’t believe it was his creation. Both the one-off car and its creator were reunited after almost 40 years. And now, The Beast is finally home.