Our Vette Vues Magazine feature today is Wilton Levers who is cruising in his 1971 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe.
As the 1971 Corvette celebrates its 50th anniversary this year (2021) we take a look at a feature that appeared in the March 2020 issue of Vette Vues Magazine. You can check out other articles on the 1971 Corvette on our blog with This Link.
Owner: Wilton Levers
Story and photography by Clive Branson
Zora Arkus-Duntov (1909-1996) was a man of little compromise. The Belgian-born American, whose work with Corvette earned him the nicknamed “Father of the Corvette,” reflected his drive for perfection, speed, and performance. In 1971, Humphrey Sutton wrote for Car and Driver magazine, “Duntov’s loyalty to Corvette drivers was that he wanted to design what they needed as opposed to what they thought they needed in an extremely high-performance road car. Because of that desire, he frequently found himself at odds with the stylists from wheel cover options to the size of a spoiler.” For example, the stylists in 1971 envisioned a big spoiler slated for the Corvette prior to production, but Duntov insisted that it be trimmed down to a non-functional size. Testing had shown the spoiler pushed the rear down so hard that the nose came up, causing the front end to go light, resulting in an understeer. In a way, Duntov deconstructed the Corvette to its primordial form to bring out the purity of the design.
“My car was being judged for the NCRS Duntov Mark of Excellence Award recognizing the best in restoration and preservation,” recounts Wilton Levers about his 1971 Corvette Stingray Coupe. “To get this level, the car must score 97% or better using the configuration and condition of the car when it left the factory. In fact, the car only lost points because of a dealer who installed a luggage rack on the rear deck. The Duntov Award was easily achieved, making the car almost perfect.” A very proud moment for Wilton.
Nevertheless, during its debut in 1971, the car was criticized as one of the least changed models from its previous model. To exonerate General Motors, the oil crisis in North America during the early to mid-1970s forced the government (and ultimately car manufacturers) to acquiesce restrictions concerning safety, pollution (fewer emissions), and gas consumption (a reduction in engine capacity), leaving the car designers an almost inflexible inertia in styling. To compound matters, the United Auto Workers (UAW) staged a two-month strike in May 1969 that delayed production for both the 1969 and 1970 model line-ups by two and four months, respectively. Because of this, it was decided by Chevrolet management that they should treat the 1971 model year as an extension of the 1970 line, which meant that the Corvette – for better or worse – would remain essentially unaltered between the two model years.
Though power may have been reduced, it doesn’t seem to apply to Wilton Lever’s ’71 coupe. Its best friend is the right pedal. The 365-hp 454 V8 big block is an ox for strength, has the maneuverability of Todd Gurley, and is equipped with better-looking curves than anything in a skin magazine – a centerfold model over 3,000 pounds. This is a car where the word ‘slow’ is as foreign as a dry martini to an Eskimo. The anticipation is in the weight of the ignition key in hand. It is a relief that works faster than aspirin. “Apart from a non-original battery, I have kept the car as close to its restored condition as possible,” explains Wilton, a retired, affable gentleman. “It is a real pleasure to drive and is significantly different than my ’67 Sting Ray. The 365 hp and 465 ft. lbs. of torque monster 454 might make one think that it’s a beast to drive, but incredulously, the opposite is true. With that huge amount of torque, it can pull away in almost any gear.” This isn’t a car; it’s medicine for the soul.
“When I met my late wife, I soon found out that she had no interest in Corvettes due, in most part, to the poor condition of the Corvette her previous boyfriend had.” Recalling the moment, Wilton pauses as he lets the words sink in. “So, here we are in 2003 with our ’67 convertible and our 1999 Nassau Blue coupe heading to the NCRS National Convention in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This is where my wife saw the Steel Cities Grey 1971 coupe. It was the unique color that attracted her to the car, not the fact that it was a 454 cu.in. four-on-the-floor 7.4-liter big-block bad boy with power steering, power brakes, power windows, aluminum heads with a 425 horsepower, minimized compression ratios to withstand lower octane fuel, the option of manual and power steering (pump powered cylinder, assisted linkage, and hydraulics), and a clever aerodynamic feature that allows air to be sucked up by a spoiler below and behind the grill, forcing it to enter the bodywork faster and more directly through two slots you can’t even see unless you lie down in front of the car.” Then those indelible words were uttered – “I love it!” – as she egged Wilton on to buy it. And thank goodness he did, for they spent her remaining years together traveling in it. “The car had been restored by a New York City policeman who did all the work in his single car garage,” nods Wilton at the car as if his head was saying, ‘just look at it.’ “The car underwent a complete restoration. In the end, it was my ‘never a Corvette’ wife who wanted to buy the car.
“It’s uncanny that this third-generation Corvette body style seems to be more popular with the Generation X crowd. It’s my son-in-law’s favorite car. I also acquired a 2014 Stingray Z51 manual filling my garage with four sibling Corvettes – all completely different. I enjoy each of them, but in different ways. Everybody usually ends up asking which one I like the best. The answer, I love them all.”
When I try to get the human side of a story associated with a car, owners sometimes look at me as though I’m speaking Swahili. Often the response is, “It’s a car, dammit. What more do you want?” But for Wilton, of all his Corvettes, the ’71 coupe is more than mere fiberglass and chrome, it is irreplaceable, for it reminds him of his late wife and driving companion. And you can’t put a price on that.
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