To many Vette lovers, the lower-compression engines that powered America's only true sports car beginning in 1971 were the beginning of the "dark days" for the Corvette. But that didn't stop Corvette sales from trending upward starting in 1971, just like it didn't stop one Vette owner from making his 454-powered '71 Stingray the best it could be for where it's driven-in Texas.

After selling a '69 Stingray convertible that he'd restored over the course of two years, Jim Richmond found his '71 convertible a few years back, and won the National Corvette Museum Award with it in 2004. He then received offers to sell the '69, a car he says was restored at the request of his wife, Carol. After selling it, they just had to get another C3, and a big-block one at that.

An Internet search turned up a '71 Stingray convertible with the factory-option LS5 454 in it, which was advertised as being "showroom quality." Once they had taken delivery of it at their Weatherford, Texas, home and driven it, though, they found there was a difference in opinion between their idea of "showroom quality" and the seller's.

"You couldn't drive it in Texas the way it was equipped," Jim says. "We had engine problems and everything else, so it's been totally rebuilt." That included a camshaft change and a retuning of the engine to run on pump gasoline, changing the rear gears from 4.11s to more-driveable 3.08s, and rebuilding the front and rear suspension with new front coils, a composite rear leaf, and urethane bushings all around. Jim also rebuilt the brake system, and he cured the chronic cooling problems that big-block Sharks have with a new radiator, water pump, and a hand-fabricated radiator supply tank. That adds up to a system that can handle the job of cooling the A/C-equipped LS5 in 100-plus-degree Texas summertime heat.

At first, those engine mods included a set of aftermarket cylinder heads, but Jim eventually decided to keep that part of his original GM car all GM. "There were some internal problems with the engine, so I decided that while I had it down in the garage, I'd go ahead and put the original heads back on it," Jim says. The same was true about the exhaust system. He'd replaced the stock setup with a pair of Hooker headers that flowed into a pair of 4-inch-diameter Hooker "Show Tube" sidepipes. "The headers were so burned up and black-and-blue you couldn't clean 'em up, and there was a lot of interference inside the engine compartment," Jim recalls. "So, I took those off and put my original cast-iron manifolds back on it and ran one single pipe to the 4-inch collectors on the sidepipes. I plugged three holes and ran one exhaust through them." Even with the stock exhaust manifolds on, Jim says the 454 sounds real good through the Show Tubes.

The '71 was built with the Custom Interior Trim option, so its black, leather-clad buckets received a set of reproduction leather seat covers, and the factory Delco radio was replaced by a Custom Autosound in-dash unit. Aside from a Hurst shifter stirring the original M21 four-speed, the cabin looks just like it did when Chevy's sales slogan was "Putting You First, Keeps Us First."