This Vietnam Vet Built His ’64 Corvette For All The Boys Who Didn’t Get The Opportunity

Somewhere deep within the chaotic, churning cauldron of hot lead, skin-rotting chemicals, venomous animals and aggressive enemies, a generation of American boys became men. A large number of recent grads had their senior trip funded by Uncle Sam, fighting the ideals of a foe named “Charley.” Many found respite in sharing their hopes, dreams and stories of home, with those who shared a foxhole.

Jack Bailey found himself in such a situation during his time in Vietnam. Nicknamed “Beetle” after a popular comic strip character from a previous war, Jack shared his love for cars with others who were otherwise pre-occupied with surviving their time overseas, so they could get back to the things they loved doing.

Jack best describes the time, “Throughout my experiences in Vietnam, it seemed many of us shared the same passion for cars. That shared interest helped us to develop the type of camaraderie necessary to keep most of us positive and focused as we counted the days until we could all go home to our cars and families.”

Many didn’t. But Jack, like most, did make his way home to the land he loved most. He recounts how the decades rolled by and new memories replaced those he so fiercely wanted to forget. “Shortly after my service, I began a solid career, married and started a family…life was good.”

Living the good life meant that Jack was free to pursue his passion of cars. While many will describe their time in the garage as “therapeutic,” few might fully grasp how true that may be. For Jack, that realization came somewhere amid his latest project Corvette, “In 2003, I bought a 1964 Pro-Street Corvette project, never realizing at the time how much it would help me to travel along one of my most difficult roads.

He explains how difficult and unexpected some of life’s roads can be. “Within a year of starting that project, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. The rigors of working and taking care of her took a toll on both of us. Whenever I could, (and there were times it was very difficult to take the time) I knew I could find a special kind of peace and calm in my garage. Focusing on a plan and working on the car allowed me to focus on something other than the realities of life.”

Jack's Corvette is highly modified, much like the cars that he and other servicemen dreamed about while overseas. The 496ci big-block pokes up through the hood via an octad of fuel injection stacks. The vintage appearing fuel injection is actually controlled via computer.

Even still, situations such as Jack’s have a way of bringing us to review this thing we call life, how we lived it and what we want from it. “While working on the car, I would sometimes think of the guys that I shared my car dreams with who never came home to their families or cars, it would motivate me to work a little harder.”

Jack worked hard on all fronts, caring for his wife, his job, and the ’64 Corvette. He was relieved of his duty of caring for his wife in 2015. After her passing, he knew that making new memories together was not an option, but he would hold onto the current ones forever.

Though modified, Jack's Sting Ray still bears many of the factory-stock cues that has endeared these cars to enthusiasts.

However, when the clouds finally cleared, this Vet was finally able to finish his Vette and make that dream a reality. It also helped him by giving him that oh-so-needed diversion from the dictators of our thoughts and minds when life’s realities surround us on all sides. “Beetle” explains how the Corvette was more than simply a project, “That beautiful red Vette proved to do almost as much for me as I could do for it!”

What he did do was quite extensive, and impressive. This mission was a five-year labor of love that included a complete “nut and bolt” re-do of the entire car. We say re-do, instead of restoration because, as you can see, there are some deviations from its previously “stock” configuration.

Performance was definitely the goal, with huge meaty tread, coilover suspension and upgraded gauges. Super-wide straps and a roll-cage keeps everyone safe.

There are a few components that stand out from the way Jack configured the Corvette. Namely, the engine peers up through the hood of the car in non-stock fashion, but performance junkies will find the result quite satisfactory.

A “vintage” fuel injection stack pokes through the hood, akin to some of the Pro-Stock class Corvettes back in the day. One difference is that this car’s fuel injection has made the change from mechanical to EFI, and is now controlled electronically through a F.A.S.T. controller. It sits atop a fresh 496ci big-block engine built by Joey Martin, which in turn, feeds a Hurst-shifted Turbo 400 trans.

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Another feature that makes a broad, lasting impression are the rear tires/wheels. Those 33×22 Hoosier tires are mounted to a set of one-off Weld wheels. Between them resides a shortened Dana 60 differential housing and Strange axles. There’s no room for a factory flat spring, so a pair of coilovers now keep the rear at ride height.

Other work on the car resided solidly within the restoration banner, such as replacing all of the clear glass, headlight motors, rubber seals, etc. Before installing the interior, the entire cockpit was covered in Dynamat to help keep unwanted heat and noise to a minimum. From there an updated gauge set, Flaming River column and Billet Specialties steering wheel keep communication between car and driver at an all-time high.

Safety features were added that include a 5-point harness assembly and complete roll-cage to protect the occupants, should the need arise. After all of the changes were made, the entire outer surface was finished and painted with a two-stage coating of Viper Red basecoat/clearcoat.

Jack reports that the car is now officially finished, and he dedicates it to all those “car guys” who never got a chance to build their dream cars. He’s happy to report, “This Vette is now able to begin its journey on the road. I think that would make my wife and Vietnam buddies happy!” We think so too!

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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