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"It's all just a lot of little jobs!"

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Late in '94 fellow Corvette enthusiast and friend Ed (Simmons) told me of some Corvettes in a scrap yard he had heard about. Well, needless to say, we checked them out and WOW they were prototype ZR1's developed by Lotus for GM back in 1986 (gulp). I contacted people at Lotus (they remembered my club visit to see the ZR1's back in 1989) and confirmed that these cars were in fact the ones they had developed. And so the adventure started!! We stripped, cleaned, dismantled and cleaned, and cleaned the 6 years of neglect they had suffered in the scrap yard. Our workshop resembled a high tech, super clean race car development area (hah!), well anyway we had lots of bags with labels and tagged parts in the dismantling area.

The winter was spent with 3 layers of clothing and endless spare time unbolting this and cleaning that ooohing and aaahing over special parts and modifications to the car. Our good friend, CCCUK member and now back home in Boston, George Everett (who some of you may remember) assisted in the purchase of an '86 car which was to be used for donor parts, which once over here gave us even more stripping bagging and tagging to do. Any of you that have bought our surplus parts, thank you, all money received goes straight back into the project. My trips to the USA have now become very frequent, notably attending the 'Legend Lives' weekend in April '95 to see the last ZR1 come off the production line.

Keith and Ed at the startDead engine

Over 300 ZR1's attended the show, a breathtaking sight. I took my kids, Mark & Steven with me so that I could completely brainwash them into Corvettes and we were honoured to meet Dave McClellan, Anthony Young (author of Heart of the Beast), Gordon Killebrew, many top Museum personnel and Corvette luminaries, even a boardroom meeting with a GM Public Relations man who flew down especially to meet us to talk about a certain engine we had we had with us and our intentions with the prototype Corvettes. Ray Bataglinni, the Museum director, was kind enough to take us on a personal tour behind the scenes, allowing us unlimited access to many of the famous and priceless Corvettes stored in the back. We also saw a mock up of the then new C5 Corvette interior. He let us in to the storeroom where the Callaway Sledgehammer was kept, the kids were really wrapped to be able to have their photos taken next to it.

A lot of work ahead! LT-5 on the bench

One of the many highlights was being invited to have breakfast with David McClellan and his wife Glenda. George, the Kids and I, talked generally about Corvettes, then after breakfast out came my photo albums and David was enthralled with our project and was quite amazed at our progress, he is currently writing a book about his life with Corvette, and guess what, the chapter on the ZR1 will include a piece about the LT5 restoration project from England, how about that for credibility! He posed outside for us for the historic Beschi family photo. Allowing time for my head to stop swelling I spent most of the next four months contacting as many people as I could in relation to the project, persuading ZF the gearbox people to strip, check and rebuild the prototype 6 speed gearboxes that the cars had in them, it turned out that only two people in ZF Great Britain, in Nottingham knew anything about these boxes but they proved to be undamaged and have been rebuilt with little problem, it was fun shifting one of them on their test rig at the factory.

The body shell of one of the cars had now begun to take shape and was now awaiting further work when time and funds allow. In September I went off to the Mid America Funfest weekend, held at the Mid America Supplies office/warehouse in Effingham, Illinois, another certain engine found its way into the large private museum. Seeing Mike Yager like a kid unwrapping a new toy was amusing, he really has got the fever bad! True to form Mike treats his special guests well and with my VIP badge firmly, and proudly I might add, displayed on my chest. I spent three days in the company of many Corvette Gods, once again spent time with Dave McClellan, we are now on first name terms, amazing, I actually met Zora for the first time, along with many other well knowns. One of the special treats was a top quality dinner in the marquee, I was sitting swapping racing stories with Doug Rippie following his ZR1 Le-Mans attempt.

Following the dinner we were bussed off into town for dessert, and yet more drink, to the 50's cinema which had been hired for the evening for a private showing of an original copy of American Graffiti, wow. I naturally teamed up with the group drinking at the bar and Greg Pernula,(Corvette Fever, Editor), Tim Sublett (Diacom expert and drag racer) and just got louder and louder. What a great evening, and what a great weekend! During a small private dinner the following evening I had the chance to talk to Zora about his memories of England, what a wonderful opportunity. Time to move on the following day.Unfortunately I had a rental with me and had to turn down a lift to the airport in Mikes private plane with Dave McClellan and Zora, what dumb luck! Still what a fantastic weekend. In the January 1996 edition of "Corvette Fever" magazine featured two LT5 engines: the Phase 1 and Phase 2 engines which came from our vast stock of prototype parts, promising to be just the beginning of our tour into Corvette history. I am sure that by now the Corvette world were looking at the Corvette enthusiasm from Britain. The discovery of these cars had got the USA Corvette world talking...

We dubbed the car '44' as its GM allocated project number was P8Y044. Having purchased the donor car and imported it into England, we had a little fun practising wheelies, burnouts and power spins before starting the restoration work. The car was then stripped, cleaned, bagged and tagged down to its bare chassis. At this point enter Dennis our welder extrodinaire. Taking a drill to the factory welds on the damaged roll over hoop, he removed the broken windscreen frame and then turned to do the same to the donor, but with a twist... he loosened the whole back end of the car, bodywork, glass, roll over hoop etc. and simply lifted the donor back end onto no. 44. The same was done with the windscreen frame. Measurements and angles were taken and the whole lot stitched back together at the factory welds, absolutely amazing! The fit was great, roof ,doors and glass all fitted perfectly.

Attention was then focused on the damaged part of the floor pan which was cut from the donor chassis and stitched into no. 44. Iit was made to look so simple, our respect goes to Dennis. This set of tasks took most of the spring and in the meantime the engine was shipped off to Geoff Jeal (former Lotus LT5 engineer) who we had tracked down and recruited. The engine was stripped and declared as rebuildable. The prototype 6 speed gearbox was shipped up to ZF in Nottingham for a strip and rebuild.

"Which one of you aint lifting?!"

Around this time Ed left the Air Force and flew back to start his real life in North Carolina, sob sob, no more drunken nights and hangovers on Alconbury base, he just upped and left me, for his wife and family, I ask you!!!! Fortunately like all true Corvette nuts his new house sports a large garage and all of the parts we had bagged and boxed were sent to reside in there. This left me with the task of finishing off the minor repairs to no. 44, and painting the interior courtesy of Dennis. The car was now looking like a real successful project. Time came for the car to get over to Ed's to be re assembled. Well, when the shipper arrived there was me, the driver, one engineless car and a container 4 ft in the air.

I was a little worried but Dennis came to the rescue; he and some friends turned up and we literally lifted the car into the container, you had to see it to believe it! Off went the container with 44 in it, making me a little sad as over a year of sweat and tears were driving off down the road. Ed's present arrived safely and he proudly unloaded it into the garage, itching to fondle our baby. Much cleaning and prepping then took place. With clean and painted underside, engine bay plus sparkling suspension, off the car went to the paint shop. In the meantime the saga of the engine was unfolding. We had to source many rare engine parts and modify some of the internals to give the notoriously unreliable engine some longevity. Geoff finally assembled the engine and built an engine rig in his garage.

LT-5 cylinder headLT-5 on the dyno

With our new computer and specially produced CAL chip the engine spluttered into life, a historic moment, but then it died, hummph! It seems there is an electrical or software problem, we still wait with baited breath for that roar of life, just what will his neighbours think???? In the meantime all the major components were to go back in the car, like the rad pack, fuel tank and rear subframe. In the course of rebuilding the car we have noticed the many modifications that were carried out by Lotus in the early development days; mods to the front cross member, steering column, firewall, transmission tunnel, air ducting, to name but a few. The mods have been done so well it is only when you compare with stock parts you realise that something has been modified, such was the quality of the work carried out back in 1985/86.

We planned to exhibit the car at the Bloomington Gold workshops in 1996, giving a 2 hour presentation on the 27th June, and were to be introduced by Dave McClellan himself. The car would alsobe displayed in the Mid America Collosseum during the show...

I travelled a lot in the USA in '95 and along with many shows, I attended Corvettes at Carlisle in August. The ZR1 registry gathered 400 ZR1's, the most ever in one location, and our project car was conspicuous by its absence. I spoke with many of the 'names' about our car. Jim Minnaker, the then head of CPC engineering, responsible for the LT5 development, being one. As a GM man he was interested in what we were doing but politely gave us the corporate response of "that car does not exist"! As some of you will know the last 10% of any project is the hardest to achieve, and our project is no different. I spent a lot of time working on the car while Ed went off to work (some people might think I had lots of holidays, not quite how I would describe it).

Anyway Ed's lovely new double garage served as the perfect workshop; light, spacious, warm, well hot actually, with proper shelving and organised areas (the last bit courtesy of me really, sorry Ed). Ed spent a lot of time doing all those things you never see, cleaning the underside of the car, polishing suspension, attaching crossmember, brakes and pipes and god knows what else. He did the body preparation and arranged for a local body shop to paint the car, no small task involving trailers, removing of some trim, glass etc. and a lot of money.

That done I waft in and start to bolt the big bits in, well somebody has got to do it, echoes of Ed 'its just a lot of small jobs' ringing in my head. EUREKA! - all of a sudden we had a car right in front of our eyes. Two weeks before Bloomington I flew out again to once again move into my second home (Ed's house) and together we spent many hours attempting to complete the car. Aamazingly in one day we got the engine and transmission in and started to hook all the accessories up, it was really hot and humid and I think that I was suffering with heat exhaustion at the end, still plenty of liquids helped (hic). We were still working on the car 10pm the night before leaving for Bloomington.

British ZR-1 at Bowling Green factory

The day arrived. The trip from North Carolina took some time with the car on a trailer behind Ed's Suburban (15 hours in all). We stopped off at Bowling Green to pose in front of the museum, show off, then take some cheeky shots of the car outside the assembly plant over the road. The museum staff very kindly offered to look after the car overnight, safely locked up inside the museum Ed and I headed for the bar. Arrival at Springfield town was a magnificent relief and an enormous high, the euphoria was stating to take over, we had reached our goal and the car was about to be announced. The workshops were arranged for us to give our presentation in the afternoon, so we at least had half a day to prepare, both ourselves and the car, the butterflies started but in true Brit. fashion I donned my Union jack shorts and with knotted hankie on my head, went for it (not quite how it happened but a good mental image).

People started to file into out our presentation, not just ZR1 freaks but famous faces, gulp, Dave McClellan stood up with us and introduced the proceedings, then promptly sat down and handed over to us, not what we were expecting but what can you do. The presentation went very well, and we managed to get over the nerves feebly injecting a little humour (or should that be humor).

Exhibited at the Mid America stand

Time to unveil the car, off with the cover and up with the hood, oooh, aaaah, bees to a honey pot, fascinating, well even Dave McClellan was taking photos of the car and us. Amazing. Suitably proud we wound up the show and felt the warm glow waft over us (quite lyrical, that eh??). I have since discovered that was the first time in the 17 years of the workshops that an Englishman (me) gave a presentation (wow!). We then took the car to its show place, the car was magnificently displayed in the Mid America coliseum and attracted a lot of interest, even fans from the UK came to say hello, Steve Palmer and Eddie Titmus (fresh from Elvis land) to name but two of the many, thanks for your support. For us it was a time of total high and relief, after all the hard work the car was finally there, and our well rehearsed question and answering session worked well and it was just two days of fun.

Wonderful. Plans for the future? Well the little items that are stopping us firing up the engine in the car are proving time consuming to complete. There are a few technical issues to resolve but we expect to have it completed this summer. The car was featured in Corvette Fever and we were invited back to give another workshop at Bloomington Gold 97. We couldn't have done that bad. Apparently we sold out in '96! This was the first time that a UK car had been shown at Bloomington Gold and we are proud to have done that.

Keith and ZR-1 at the National Corvette Museum

As all of you may realise or know first hand any restoration project is very wearing on the mind, body and soul, not to mention the pocket. Well Ed and I decided that since the car was publicly and very successfully shown at Bloomington Gold 96 we would take some time off from the car to concentrate on other things, mostly Corvette related but a change is a good as a rest. We took time to develop the Eurovettes operation in the UK. It was a welcome break from the intense rebuild of P8Y044 (a number I will not readily forget).

Time for a beer!

To date we have had details and coverage in Corvette Fever, and Corvette Trader. With Bloomington completed we set off on a summer tour with the car, spreading the word about CCCUK (Classic Corvette Club United Kingdom) and proudly flew the Union Jack wherever possible. The whole Corvette world were interested in our progress. I wouldn't have missed this part for the world!

Well that's our story, but wait, there's more, we now have to move on to the other rebuilds. We look forward to more hassle, more sleepless nights, more empty bank balances, the things I do for Corvettes!