‘The Lost Corvette’ ponders what a 30th Anniversary ‘Vette may have looked like

dream cars, show cars and prototypes

Kurt Ernst on at 8:58 am

Chris Mazzilli’s 1983 Corvette at the reveal. At the right of the frame are Rick Darling, former Corvette ride and handling engineer, and Dave McLellan, former Corvette chief engineer. Photos by Chris Mazzilli, unless otherwise indicated.

The 1983 Chevrolet Corvette, due to arrive 30 years after the model’s debut, was designed to be a game-changer. From the beginning, the fourth-generation Corvette was meant to be a world-class sports car, but engineering, regulatory, and development delays pushed its launch into 1983, as a 1984 model. Officially, there were no 1983 Corvettes (at least in dealerships), prompting Corvette collector, restorer, and friend-of-Hemmings Chris Mazzilli to ponder what might have been. The Lost Corvette, a one-hour documentary premiering July 8 at 10:00 p.m. on the History Channel, documents Chris’ efforts to construct his version of the ideal “1983 Corvette.”

Technically speaking, there were 1983 Corvettes, 61 to be exact. Of these, 18 were built as prototypes and 43 were produced as pilot cars, meant to streamline the assembly process at the Bowling Green, Kentucky plant. All have been destroyed, except for serial number 1G1AY0783D5110023 (also known as RBV098), which now resides in the National Corvette Museum, also in Bowling Green. The fourth pilot car assembled, RBV098 was used for testing at GM’s Milford, Michigan Proving Ground. Afterward, it returned to Bowling Green, where it served as a training chassis and assembly test mule.

The sole surviving 1983 Corvette, now enshrined at the National Corvette Museum. Photo by Brent Wright.

When assembly of the actual 1984 Corvettes began, RBV098 was relegated to an outside parking spot until the model came to the attention of plant manager Paul Schnoes, who ordered the car to be preserved and parked inside the plant. Later, in 1994, it was officially donated to the National Corvette Museum, the only 1983 Corvette to escape the crusher.

At first glance, it’s a wholly unremarkable car in appearance, not at all dissimilar from the 1984 models that would grace dealer showrooms beginning in January of 1983. To a Corvette aficionado like Chris, that was a let-down; shouldn’t a 30th anniversary model be special and distinctive? Shouldn’t it pay tribute to iconic models of the past, like the ’63 coupe with its split rear window? Shouldn’t output gains be exponential, instead of incremental?

In his own words, Chris told us, “The car that became the 1984 Corvette was too much of a departure from the third generation, which remained in production for 15 years. The design of the production car was devoid of Corvette styling characteristics, and while it may look timeless today, it wasn’t universally loved back then.”

To build his vision of a 1983 Corvette, Chris began with a 1985 Corvette, largely for its L98 V-8, which featured Bosch tuned-port fuel injection instead of the “Cross Fire Injection” used in 1984 (and in 1982, for the final year of the third-gen cars). In stock form, output grew from 205 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque in 1984 to 230 hp and 330 lb-ft in 1985, while fuel economy also improved by 11-percent. As a testament to its gains, Car and Driver declared the 1985 Corvette “America’s fastest production car,” thanks in part to its 150-mph top speed.

For Chris, that was a good starting point, but not enough thrust to honor the high-performance Corvettes of old, like the 1967-’69 L88, with its 430 horsepower, 427-cu.in. V-8. Courtesy of a ProCharger P600B supercharger, intercooler, revised ECU and low-restriction exhaust system from Flowmaster, Chris’ 1983 now makes between 530-540 horsepower, an ample amount considering the car’s 3,100-pound curb weight. While ProCharger didn’t exist as a company until 1993, it’s worth noting that Reeves Callaway began playing with forced induction (in the form of turbocharging) back in 1977, and in 1987 began selling his Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette through select Chevy dealers in the U.S.

The exterior curves are best seen in this daylight image.

Chris’ 30th anniversary Corvette honors 1953, ’63, and ’73 models as well. Like the 1953 model, the car was finished in white with a red interior, though instead of the original Polo White, Chris opted for a pearl finish, since pearls are a traditional gift for a 30th anniversary.  The homage to the 1963 Corvette is evident with the “split window” rear hatch, but the 1983 Corvette carries a dorsal seam up the hatch and across the roof, another unique ‘63 styling trait. In tribute to the 1973 Stingray, Chris’ car wears a single front fender vent, instead of the twin vertical “gills” seen on stock 1985 Corvettes. Chris and his team worked closely with American Custom Industries on the modified fiberglass pieces, in an effort to create a factory-original look.

The car being judged at a NCRS National in Las Vegas. It scored a 99.2 and received a 427 Award (for modified cars) in concours judging.

Inside, the red leather seats carry 30th Anniversary logos in the headrests, while the dashboard features traditional analog gauges instead of the ‘85’s oft-reviled and glitch-prone digital gauges. In this instance, the future – in the form of jet fighter inspired instrument panels – did not age well.

As part of The Lost Corvette special, Chris debuted his build before a panel of experts, including former Corvette chief engineer Dave McLellan, former Chevrolet senior development engineer Rick Darling and Danny “The Count” Koker, owner of Counts Kustoms in Las Vegas and star of the History Channel series Counting Cars. Will they love his build? Hate it? Tune in to find out…

The VH1 / Peter Max Corvettes in storage, circa 2014. Photo by Richard Prince, courtesy of Richard Prince Photography.

Part of “Car Week 3” on the History Channel, The Lost Corvette is also part of a larger story arc, one involving the VH1 / Peter Max Corvettes. Rescued by a group calling itself Corvette Heroes (consisting of Chris, and collection owners the Heller and Spindler families), the 36 Corvettes (1953-’82 and 1984-’89) have been restored or prepared by Chris’ shop, Dream Car Restorations in Hicksville, Long Island, and will be up for grabs in a national sweepstakes, scheduled to begin this summer. The work carried out on select cars (specifically, the ’53, ’56, ’57, ’66, ’67 and ’69) will be detailed in a History Channel series entitled The Lost Corvettes, slated to begin airing in mid-September.

The 36 Corvettes – originally awarded in a single lot by music channel VH1, and later acquired by artist Peter Max – vary in terms of value and desirability. The network didn’t put a lot of time and effort into acquiring a single Corvette from (then) every production year, and Chris describes the majority of cars as “driver quality.” There are exceptions, most notably the numbers-matching ’53 that Chris estimates has seen 4,000 hours of restoration work, and at least two of the Corvettes will be built as tributes to well-known cars of the late 1960s (including the ’67 Ko-Motion Corvette raced by Charlie Snyder, known as “Astoria Chas”).

This time around, the cars will go to 36 individual winners, instead of a single party (and no, entrants won’t get to choose which Corvette they win). Chris told us that money will be raised from ticket sales, though there will also be a provision to enter at no charge (except for a self-addressed stamped envelope). Proceeds from the sweepstakes will go to benefit a series of veteran’s charities, including the National Guard Educational Foundation, whose purpose is “to achieve an awareness of the rich heritage and continuing contributions of the National Guard of the United States through a rich programmatic portfolio.

To learn more about the upcoming Corvette sweepstakes, visit CorvetteHeroes.com.