A Milestone Corvette
From his high school graduation to his wedding day, Nathan Heidecker’s 1978 Corvette Pace Car has been with him, in some way or another, for some of his life’s biggest milestones.
Corvettes have been a part of Heidecker’s life since he was a child. His father started collecting them long before he was even born; starting as young as 10, Heidecker would help his father fix up the vehicles. Working with his dad, he fell in love with the automotive world and has since made a career of it, working at Christian Brothers Automotive in Andover, Minn., as a technician.
When Heidecker graduated from high school, his father made a deal with him: He would either help him get a newer car or find an old Corvette to fix up. Nostalgia set in; Heidecker went with the latter.
His heart was set on a 1978 Corvette because of the limited production run—not to mention its status as the 25-year anniversary model—but it wasn’t easy finding one. It took some time and a trip to Hudson, Wis., before he found the right vehicle. Although he originally wanted an L82 option with a manual four-speed transmission, since that accounts for only 500 of the 3,502 Corvettes produced in 1978, he decided to purchase a 1978 Corvette Pace Car with an automatic and with 13,000 miles. It had long sat idle in a shed and the Heideckers thought the car might have potential.
The car ran, but wasn’t in great shape. Heidecker says he did the standard restoration: He put in new brakes, installed a B&M shift kit into the transmission, as well as a 2200 rpm stall converter.
The Corvette has gone through three engines since he purchased it in 1999. The first swap was a pricey 383ci stroker engine that he paid someone to do—but was not done correctly. That engine was a surprise birthday present from his parents, but a malfunction with the carburetor led to gas seeping into the oil, destroying the main bearing and the camshaft.
Heidecker says he decided to build the next one himself. He and his wife put together a 350ci engine that was bored .30 over. Heidecker says he tries to keep the car mostly stock, but he did put in a custom exhaust made with full length headers and true dual 2.5 inch exhaust and also added MagnaFlow mufflers. He has also installed an aluminum Edelbrock Performer intake with a Holley 650 cfm carburetor.
“I get a lot of attention [when I drive it] because it’s got the black-and-silver paint job, so it’s more unique than most,” Heidecker says. “I’ll have a lot of people ask me what year it is, but it’s actually printed right on the door. It’s got the decals for the Indianapolis 500 on there.”
Collecting and showing off Corvettes seems to have become a tradition in the Heidecker family. When he got married, the Corvette and his father’s ’58 Corvette were right outside of the venue, and took center stage for pictures. Since then, he has even lent out the vehicle to friends for their weddings.
Every year, Heidecker and his wife, along with his mom and dad, take their Corvettes and head to the “Back to the 50s” car show in St. Paul, Minn., to meet new people, see other cars and bond over a shared love of Corvettes.
Heidecker has plans to work on the paint job, which he says is showing its age. For his birthday, his wife got him the original decal set, so he plans on putting those to use in the near future. Serving as a graduation present and wedding decor, there’s no telling what the next great milestone for this 1978 Corvette will be.