Classic Ride – 1973 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

Classic Ride – 1973 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible

'73 Corvette StingrayStory and photos by Russell Purcell

Most regard the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray as America’s sports car, and for good reason, as the V8-powered fibreglass coupes and convertibles have been in regular production for over six decades. The third-generation cars, often referred to as the C3 series, were produced for a period of 15 years in St. Louis from 1968 to 1982 – a period that represents the longest span of time between significant model revisions.

What makes the 1973 Corvette Stingray unusual among Corvettes is a unique bumper design that came about due to changes in government crash safety regulations. Previous C3s featured chrome bumpers front and rear, but the front bumper on the 1973 model was changed to an 8-kilometre-per-hour unit fitted with a molded urethane bumper cover, while the rear remained a two-piece split design which would also be replaced with a polyurethane unit the following year.

This unique styling element adds to the collectibility of the 1973 Corvette, but it also resulted in the addition of a little weight to the car in comparison to earlier models. The engineering team also added heavy-duty structural guard beams to the doors that year to increase the car’s crash worthiness, a factor that also contributed to the car’s extra poundage.

'73 Corvette StingrayWith more sports-minded competition flooding to North America from Europe, the product planners at General Motors sought to give the Corvette a new level of refinement for model year 1973 to help broaden its appeal. As a result, a healthy dose of insulation was added throughout the car’s cabin to reduce the intrusion of noise from mechanical rattles, body squeaks and travelling over rough road surfaces.

Okanagan Falls, B.C. resident Roger Hawthorne, the owner of this bright yellow example, had just sold his Porsche 930 Turbo and realized that he had a place in his garage for another sporty car. This time, however, the avid car collector was looking for a convertible so that he could enjoy the pleasant Okanagan weather. At around the same time, a friend of his had acquired a 1973 Corvette coupe. After Roger had the opportunity to drive that car a few times, he realized that he liked the body style and how the car performed.

“I have had the 1973 Corvette Stingray for about a decade  now,” said Hawthorne as he sat behind the wheel enjoying the warmth of the morning sun as it washed over his face. “I located it in White Rock, B.C. The car’s owner had had it restored in Michigan, and after seeing what a wonderful example this car was, I knew I had found my new car.”

Hawthorne’s good friend and fellow car nut Ernie Blumke had driven Roger to White Rock in his own 1973 Corvette to complete the purchase. Once the enthusiastic pair got the slinky convertible insured, they convoyed the two fibreglass rockets back to the Okanagan.

“We filled up with gas in Abbotsford, and again upon arrival back home in Okanagan Falls,” recalled the retired civil engineer. “The interesting thing we learned on that trip was that this car, with the automatic transmission, used one less litre of fuel over the course of our journey than Ernie’s 4-speed manual equipped coupe! That is pretty impressive, especially when you factor in that we did a lot of misbehaving on the trip back.”

Hawthorne’s stunning example is stock, and all the trim tags reveal that it was restored to its original specification. This is a key to any purchase decision he makes when it comes to collecting automobiles.  “Cars like these are a lot of fun, and I will never lose any money on cars like this.”

The self-professed car addict admits to having owned well over 100 cars in his lifetime and says that when he was 16 years old, he was already trading cars at the remarkable rate of completing a transaction every two weeks! “I would buy a car, fix it up a little and sell it for a little bit of profit before moving on to the next one.”

'73 Corvette StingrayA road test lakeside with the wind tousling my hair and the growl of the 350-cubic inch engine tickling my ears revealed that Hawthorne’s Corvette is a real gem. Despite having over 100,000 miles on the clock, this C3 delivered a commanding driving experience and it is obvious that the car is being maintained to a very high standard.

I had the opportunity to navigate some very twisty roads complete with significant changes in elevation and a series of straight sections long enough to allow me to stretch the car’s legs a little. Steering became much lighter at speed, but the warm day and sticky tires helped keep the car tracking straight and true. I noticed just a hint of understeer when I pushed the curvaceous convertible hard into corners, but the amount of body sway and roll was minimal.

As my foot pressed down on the gas pedal, the car would sit back gracefully on its haunches allowing the nose to lift and act as a pointer to remind me to watch the road ahead. Acceleration was strong, although traffic and the fact that I was operating the car on public roads prevented me from doing any real data acquisition for raw numbers.

Life has been pretty good to Hawthorne, whose strong drive and unmatched work ethic allowed him to retire at the young age of 50. Roger is approaching 70-years old, but admits that his enthusiasm for life and his interest in all things relating to design and automobiles is helping to keep him young.

“Do you ever look at your investment portfolio and say wow, does that ever look pretty! I suspect that you don’t. At this stage of my life I prefer to invest in automobiles, as you can’t take your stock portfolio for a drive!”

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