Can a nerd like me love a Corvette like this?
When I first met my father-in-law Andy, he was so excited that I was a car guy that he proclaimed me the son he never had, deeply annoying the son he did have. Andy’s an incredibly open, welcoming person, but I always worried that once the excitement wore off, he’d discover that I was the wrong kind of car guy—for while I’m into BMWs and Corvairs and twee little foreign things, Andy is into Corvettes. And the more stonking the Corvette, the better: there’s a ZR-1 in his past, and his current baby is a gorgeously burly ’67 with the 427 big block.
Of course, I should never have underestimated Andy’s kindness; he’s enthusiastically checked out my dorkmobiles and given them his wholehearted seal of approval. So it has really fallen to me to take off the blinders and see if I can learn to love a Corvette.
Whenever we’ve visited my in-laws, Andy has always offered to let me drive his Corvette, but prior to our last visit, I’d never taken him up on it. Frankly, I’ve been a little scared of it. When he’s behind the wheel of the Corvette, Andy doesn’t pussyfoot around—he steps right into it, tearing down the surface streets around their suburban Phoenix home like the proverbial bat out of hell. You want to experience truly neck-snapping acceleration? Take a ride with Andy in a ’67 Corvette with no headrests.
Plus, I assumed that to handle the big motor’s output, the four-speed gearbox had to be an unbearably heavy thing, and that I would stall out and embarrass myself, stumbling over shifts while the car burbled impatiently. I was convinced that this car, which clearly didn’t suffer fools, would regard me as the ultimate fool. It was a severe case of impostor syndrome.
This time, however, I committed to giving it my best shot. Andy was willing as ever to entrust his car to me, and I was pretty sure I had my nerves under control when, right before sending me on my way, Andy cautioned, “It’s running a little rich, so you’ll have to just step on it. Don’t let the revs get too low.” Great.
To my surprise, the clutch was smooth and easy to modulate as I pulled out, and, having gotten underway without embarrassing myself and determined to heed Andy’s warning, I decided to leg it.
The BMW Bavaria I drive daily has a four-speed Getrag gearbox. First gear in the Bavaria is incredibly short; I don’t think I’ve seen much more than 15 MPH before upshifting. Put Andy’s Corvette into first and it just PULLS. I think I might have hit 45 before putting it into second. I never got it into fourth, because even in Phoenix where you can apparently drive whatever speed you want wherever you want, there’s nowhere where you can safely break the sound barrier in a 50-year-old car with lap belts and a wood-and-metal steering wheel pointed straight at your heart. All of this speed is accompanied by an intoxicating roar from the side-mounted exhaust pipes that can be heard as far away as Coconino County.
While driving the Corvette, I kept looking for commonalities with my Corvair. They are products of the same company, after all, at roughly the same time. Those of us who own ’65 and newer Corvairs like to point out that our independent rear suspension design is Corvette-derived, and to be sure, the Corvette’s rear end isn’t as squirrelly as one might expect it to be in a car so ate up with motor. Throughout my drive, the Corvette remained hunkered down and composed. The interior betrays the age of the Corvette’s older, 1963-vintage design, with slightly fussier instrument markings and more baroque trimmings, and a haphazard array of organ pulls on the center stack, compared to the Corvair’s econocar-with-flair simplicity, and if you’re looking to any ’60s Chevy for supportive bucket seats, friend, you’re in the wrong neighborhood. The Corvette’s flat, leather-trimmed buckets are at least mounted very low, giving an appropriately sporty arms- and legs-out driving position.
Forget my little Corvair grannymobile. Same company or no, a big-block Corvette is simply in another world. It puts hair on your chest and turns the shrinkingest violet into a swaggering brute with a maniacal grin. I’m not sure if my cackles of glee while driving it were entirely free of terror, but man, I felt alive.
I loved it.
All my gratitude to my in-laws for hosting us in Phoenix and letting me tear around in their incredible Corvette. And, you know, for letting me marry their kid.