Bob Field’s affair with Corvettes began in 1988 with what he terms an “emotional” purchase of a black ’79. He intended to restore it, but learned the hard way that Corvettes do rust—at least their frames and gas tanks do.

Sadder but wiser, Bob had some research and a few Corvettes at Carlisle shows under his belt when he felt ready to try again. He found this ’81 and—after first checking for rust—he plunked down his money and drove it home to Clarksville, Maryland. It barely made it home (it had 77,000 miles on it), and it needed new interior and a paint job. Bob was up to the task, but time was short.

When he and his wife Pat took early retirement in 1999 and moved to sunny North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the time had come. The first thing he decided needed replacement was the engine. Being a longtime subscriber to CF, he felt confident asking assistance from Chris Petris at the Corvette Clinic in Sanford, Florida. He soon realized he should leave the engine swap to an expert, and decided to have Chris install a 350/330hp GM crate engine. He wanted more power than the 17-year-old, 190hp original could deliver. He initially considered a ZZ4 swap but, for $1,000 less, he decided the 330hp with 9.1:1 compression was the best fit. He took note of Chris’ advice: “This will be more than enough power to get you into trouble.”

Bob delivered the car to Chris in December 1999 and the work began. These things are never simple and, of course, there were complications. The GM crate engines are a great way to get modern technology into an older car, but they’re not designed for the Corvette’s low hood clearance. Equipped with high-efficiency Vortec heads, they don’t mate with the older intake manifolds, and aftermarket manifolds can present a clearance issue. They also need four-bolt manifolds, not six-bolt. Chris drew Edelbrock into the rescue. Its Performer intake manifold had the proper clearance and bolt pattern. Jet-Hot-coated Hooker competition headers and a true dual exhaust system with 2 ½-inch aluminized tubing, two catalytic converters, and turbo mufflers came next. The entire emissions-control system stayed on the car. A high-stall torque converter was added, along with new belts, hoses, sending units, a fuel pump, a high-flow water pump, a flywheel, and a rebuilt Quadrajet carburetor. An electric-fan update kit was installed for improved cooling, the radiator was overhauled, and Chris put in a new computer as well. For better ground clearance, Chris added a lower-profile oil pan. The TH350 transmission got new seals and cooling lines, and new rotors and severe-duty calipers and pads replaced the original braking equipment. Bob says the braking is tremendous now.

Polyurethane bushings and KYB gas shocks were installed, and the driveshaft was balanced. The U-joints and trailing-arm bushings were replaced. Ditto the wheel bearings, differential pinion bearing, and shaft. The steering box was rebuilt and a new power-steering cylinder was added. Bob was amazed at the night-and-day difference in the ride and handling.

Equally concerned about cosmetics, Bob wanted to make an indelibly personal statement. Originally silver, and painted red when he found it, the car now sports his very own color, “Wild Burganberry.” He credits Tim Burke of Burke Corvettes in Maitland, Florida, for the paintwork, but Bob created the color himself. After 30 years in the workaday world matching colors as a paint chemist, he had a specific color in mind—one that no one else had. He created the formula, and Tim mixed the PPG urethane concoction. The outcome was all Bob had hoped for. The paint has a wet look and sparkles in the sunlight, thanks to the various-size aluminum and copper powders in the formulation. Tim also replaced the front bumper section, fixed some inner body seams, and realigned the doors and rear bumper section. A new windshield and new weatherstripping put the icing on the exterior of this cake.

Bob redid the entire interior himself, replacing or repairing all the switches, controls, and gauges. He redid all the electrical connections, and installed a new stereo system with new front and rear speakers. Before he put down the insulation in the floor area, he covered the entire area with a self-adhesive rubber membrane made for use in roofing, for extra heat and sound insulation. Delving into his experience as a chemist again, Bob made his own black interior coating for the panels and pulls, console, glovebox door, and various trim items. He did the face of the dash in light beige and added rosewood dash and console covers, painted the steering column black, and installed new black leather seats. He painted and clearcoated items under the hood, too, and added a bit of chrome for sparkle. With the addition of the bubble lights, new chrome wheels, and new tires, Bob’s completed the daunting job of converting 36 years of daydreaming into his dream Corvette.

Of course, the project took longer and cost more than Bob estimated, and he pays eternal gratitude to Pat for bearing with it. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven. Just like the one he’s got with his ultimate, one-of-a-kind Corvette.