Corvette, From Clunky to Clean
It was in rough shape the first time Scott Kilgore saw it. Parked in a corner of a used-car seller’s lot in Warsaw, Ind., the 1977 Corvette L48 coupe may have only been an eye-catcher because of its negative qualities.
“I like to say it was a basket case,” Kilgore says.
This was 1993, the year Kilgore opened Hoosier Brake and Alignment in New Castle, Ind., and he simply needed a car.
Corvettes had always been his favorite, and it’d always been a childhood dream to own one.
It’s just that this one wasn’t what he had in mind.
“Well, it wasn’t looking too good at the time,” Kilgore says. “It had this original ‘Corvette Orange’ paint, as they called it, and brown interior. And it had sheepskin seat covers. It wasn’t exactly what I was picturing, but I kept looking at it.”
Kilgore decided to make an offer—$4,000, take it or leave it.
“They sold me the car, and I’ve been driving it and working on it ever since,” Kilgore says.
Although, today, it doesn’t look much like its old self.
Over the past 19 years, Kilgore has changed just about everything except the engine.
“I probably do one or two projects on it every year,” he says. “I’ve been messing with cars since I was in high school, and I just love to do that. So, every year, I try to do at least one thing to it.
“The engine, though, I’ve just been waiting for it to go out, and it never has. It still has the original engine. I’ve done some things to it, but it’s still the original one. Reliability is a good thing, I guess.”
The Corvette has a wheezy 350ci L48 engine that, Kilgore guesses, makes about 170 horsepower. Because he bought it—and has kept it—strictly as a driving car, he never felt the need to upgrade for any power.
He made plenty of additional upgrades, though.
After driving the car for an entire summer with little to no changes, Kilgore decided to “gut the thing” and make it a little more appealing.
He upgraded the suspension, putting in performance coils on the front and gave it “a lower stance” by bumping the entire suspension down 2 inches.
Then he gave it a full cosmetic makeover, tearing out the entire interior. He put in custom seats that a local upholstery shop made for him. Instead of brown, everything is now black. He repainted the exterior, too, opting for the Corvette “Orange Flame” shade.
“There was a lot of neglect to the vehicle,” Kilgore says. “The suspension was rough, and the paint and interior were in really bad shape. Those were the first things that had to get done.”
Then, over time, he slowly made other changes as he saw fit. One year, he replaced the wheels. Recently, he had a valve burn out and decided to pull the heads. He replaced the timing chain and all the gears. He also added stripes to the hood and did more suspension work with the U-joints and axel joints.
And he’s waiting for the motor to finally give out, so he can replace it with a GM crate motor to give it a little more kick.
“Like I said, it’s just been too reliable, though,” he says. “I’m just going to drive it until it gives out. As long as it’s working, I’m going to be driving it.”
Kilgore laughs when trying to come up with a grand total of time or money invested in the vehicle. (“Any time I had the time or the money, I was looking to do something,” he says. “I never really kept track of it.”) But he does have one gauge of its use: The Corvette is well over the 100,000-mile mark.
“It’s a driver,” he says. “That’s what I wanted it for, and that’s what I’ve kept it as. My 19-year-old son gets to drive it much more than me these days, but I take it to some shows every year—Corvette Fun Fest in Illinois.
“I always loved Corvettes, and I always wanted one. It might not have been the one I dreamed of when I first saw it, but it’s looking pretty good now.”