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

TVR owner Chris Walker’s list had a glass­fi­bre theme so we put him in the most colour­ful of his ten choices – a Corvette

Classic Cars (UK) - - Welcome - Words RUSS SMITH Pho­tog­ra­phy CHAR­LIE MAGEE

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 6x15 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

‘It fits right in with Apollo mis­sions and jets. God bless the Amer­i­cans. We don’t say that very of­ten to­day’

the era per­fectly. It fits 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 fix 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.

‘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-to­date 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 off 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 off. 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 off 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 off 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 off 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?’

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 This late Se­ries 2 Lagonda runs on four We­bers; elec­tronic in­jec­tion was in­tro­duced a year later 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

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