1974 CORVETTE 454/502 4-Speed Convertible

It is difficult to juxtapose Andre Labelle’s ’74 Corvette 454 T-top convertible with Chevrolet’s namesake model. This is a steroid-induced Greek god in a raven-black skin that looks like something Bruce Wayne would drive when not in his Batmobile. It’s bulging biceps are so
obvious that even a fornicating baboon would notice. Yet, for all its Charles Atlas omnipotence and ostentatiousness, it is still surprisingly sleek and streamlined. This is more than a car, it is a vehicle when parked should be in a glass display case, it is mobile dopamine, it is sex personified. It is mesmerizing.

Though it claims, by the label at the rear, that it is a LS4, what is hidden from eyesight is a mammoth big block 502 V8, capable of emitting 545 hp at 528 pounds per torque. It is understandable why there is such a massive double hood scoop which simply adds to the car’s menacing prowess. When you have a car this light with this much power, the torque will rip the rubber off the tires if you slam on the throttle. If you stuck your head above the T-roof, your lips would be wobbling uncontrollably and a string of drool would be 500 feet long. This is not a car for the faint of heart. A testament to this is when Andre was invited to give guests at a wedding party a car ride. By the time the guests returned from a ride, they were as white a Bond paper. It is the type of car you enter only after you’ve signed your last will and testament. However, I don’t know which is faster – the pace of the car or the speed that Andre talks, interjected by colourful expletives every fifth word. The car reflects Andre’s personality, dedication and perseverance in reaching perfection. He has given this car soul, so it’s not surprising when he concurs with Carroll Shelby’s immortal words, “There is never enough horsepower.”

But let’s go back to the early- to mid-‘70s leading up to the Corvette 454. The world’s first
energy crisis, touched off by an oil embargo by OPEC, drove a stake through the muscle car industry by forcing soaring gas prices and mile-long queues. The public started buying cheap but economically viable foreign vehicles to compensate. Motor City decided to combat this trend by decreasing their power output (though it didn’t stop insurance companies from raising their rates). Engines were further detuned, and there was no mechanical-lifter mill for the first time since the ’56 Corvette. This left a choice of three engines available for Corvette: the L48 and L82 small-block 350s, rated at 195 and 250 hp respectively, and a LS4 454 V8, advertised to make 270 bhp seem impressive, boasting a quarter-mile in a pedestrian 14 seconds.
In addition, to make American cars lighter as a means of squeezing out the foreign competition, Capitol Hill insisted on a new 5-mph rear impact protection edict (about as protective as being hit by a falling feather). Corvette met this legislation with a two-piece bumper covered in seamless body-coloured urethane to match. The same thing was applied to the front bumper the year before. The ’74 also marked several other “lasts” for America’s sports car. Future
engines would run only on unleaded gas, prompted by the industry-wide switch to catalytic converters for 1975. This was also the final year for dual exhausts, which would give way to separate manifolds running to a single “cat” and on to separate pipes and mufflers. The year also saw combined lap/shoulder belts, a wider rearview mirror, a more durable power steering pump, and high-rate springs with specially calibrated shocks called the “Gymkhana Suspension” so when driving over a Coke bottle cap, it wouldn’t induce a hernia. In fact, when you hit a bump, the suspension was so good, the wheels absorb all the impact without affecting the monocoque. Although there were only slight changes from its predecessor, Car and Driver magazine honoured the ’74 Corvette as the “Best All Round Car” from their Annual Readers’ Poll.

Though Andre’s car was built in Florida (hence no heater), his brother’s friend, Jerry, purchased the vehicle brand new in Quebec when Andre was a teenager. “When I first saw it, I fell instantly in love with it,” recalls Andre. “I told Jerry that one day I would buy it off him. Well, five years later, I bought the car. I have owned it ever since. It has 35,000 miles on it and I spent two years upgrading it to its present state.” And what an upgrade. It is a paragon of spectacular high performance. The new red and black interior mirrors the colours of the engine and
engine bay. Replaced are the standard amenities with state-of-the-art equipment, such as the Tremec 6-speed, manual overdrive transmission, which lowers RPMs and allows more of the gasoline’s chemical energy to be converted, improving drivability, reducing engine wear and tear and promoting better fuel economy. Andre added one of the best instrumentation systems in the aftermarket with Decoka gauges as well as installing the most popular brakes for muscle cars, street and hot rods, and high performance vehicles with Wilwood disc brakes, calipers and rotors. But is doesn’t stop there. Add in a surround-sound 1,000 watt stereo system to make your neighbour’s dog deaf, classic Radical G/T Cooper Cobra with the embossed white lettering tires that advertise the tone of the car. The width and treads of the tires can handle curves like sexy lingerie. There is also a back-up camera, and the coups de gráce, a set of heavy chrome exhausts prostrating like some centrefold where the side runners would be.

“From 2002 onwards, I was distracted by work,” mentions Andre. “During that time, my interest had changed and I never thought I would restored the engine. That is until 2017. I’m so glad I did. This car is my pride and joy,” confirms Andre with a knowing grin. “It makes me feel young again and brings back good old memories of street racing and eluding cops. It gives me an adrenalin rush. To de-stress, I often go for a ride and car immediately puts a smile back on my face. It brings me happiness. This Corvette is one car that can make my nipples erect!” Cars and speed have always been a fascination with Andre since he was very young. It began with his father’s influence in teaching him how to fix and maintain cars. “We would go for car rides around town which I enjoyed a lot. My father would buy and exchange his cars regularly. He showed me how to care, shine and maintain them and to be proud of the results,” remembers Andre. “To this day, I continue to take excellent care and attention with my cars. My Vette doesn’t know what snow is and has never seen rain since I restored the body in 1992 with the help of Majestic Body Shop in Manotick, who also repainted it.” Andre restored the driving train (engine, transmission, rear-end upgrade, overhauling, etc.) in 2017. It is tuned so well that this car can handle straightaways like an arrow even when my hands aren’t on the steering wheel. As a evidence to Andre’s assiduous precision, his Corvette has won over 50 car show trophies. “I always enjoy, and I am very proud, when people comment on its look and on my attention to detail.”

Today, most cars are glorified computers. Not among the classics. They are art. One does not painstakingly restore a 60-year old Corvette in order to drive it to the supermarket, one does it for the same reason that one might restore an old painting or a badly mastered record:
because it is beautiful, and because beauty ought to be cherished and respected. “I would recommend for anyone who is interested in a classic car,” mentions Andre pointing his index finger, “to try and find one that is already restored to their liking. Choose wisely and go with reputable restoration shops. This is not an area where you should be penny-pinching. The look and value of your restored car will be much admired and you will reflect your dedication and pride.” A Financial Review article stated that prices for rare classic cars are skyrocketing faster than gold and that they are a more stable investment than gold, stocks, cryptocurrency, and real estate. “I’ve always said,” continues Andre, “great quality is timeless and it has its rewards.”