How to Build the Sports Car of Your Childhood Dreams (Or, at Least, How Chris Mazzilli Did)

Called “America’s Sports Car” and “the most popular sports car in history,” the iconic Corvette is unmatched in its coolness. The Vette takes its place with the Old West, the Statue of Liberty, and the American flag as emblems of freedom and possibility. 

But there is a piece missing from its story.

From 1953 to 2019, a new Corvette was designed and released every year but one: 1983.

This omission has played on many Vette aficionados’ minds, including Chris Mazzilli’s ever since he was a kid, when he would sketch his own designs. As the son of a Chevy salesman and street racer, Mazzilli – owner of Dream Car Restorations in New York – has been fascinated with Corvettes from as far back as he can remember.

“My dad loved Corvettes, but they were too expensive, the car my family couldn’t afford,” he says. 

Although his love for cars has never been limited to the Vette (“I love all cars – old and new”), the problem of the missing ’83 model did stick with him.

And then, you could say, the unbelievable happened. Mazzilli got to make one.

What’s Cooler Than Driving a Car You Designed and Built? Nothing.

Let’s travel back to 1989 to see how this unique opportunity was born. (I’ll wait for you to tight roll your jeans and crank up the Roxette ….)

Music station VH1 is running a sweepstakes where one lucky person will win one Corvette from every year they were released. That’s 36, not 37, perfect Vettes, because ’83 didn’t happen.

From among the nearly 1.5 million people who enter the contest is randomly drawn the winner: Dennis Amodeo, a carpenter from Long Island. Amodeo turns around and sells the collection to pop artist Peter Max, who intends to make the cars into canvases for his signature colorful paintings.

Instead, they sit in long-term storage in various New York City parking garages and are forgotten by most. 

Fast forward 25 years to 2014. A representative of Peter Max’s asks Scott Heller, the guy who had been helping move the Corvettes from parking garage to parking garage for the last 15 years, if he’s interested in buying the collection. Heller shares this with his two sons, Michael and Adam Heller, and his cousin Peter Heller, as well as real estate associates Gary, Adam, and Fred Spindler. The group reaches out to Mazzilli – well-known as one of the world’s foremost Corvette enthusiasts and experts – to determine what it would take to bring the cars back to their former glory. After receiving Mazzilli’s detailed analysis, the decision was made to purchase the entire collection. 

Back to near real-time (unroll those jeans!) …

Mazzilli has roots in the entertainment industry, and one of his connections is Bobby Friedman, who was in charge of VH1 when the Corvette sweepstakes took place in 1989. Together with the new Vette owners, Mazzilli and Friedman take an idea for a show to A+E Networks. The show would follow the years of the 36 Corvettes and track what was happening in the world that influenced their design, and vice versa. 

The “before” pic – the 1985 Vette used as a
base for Mazzilli’s design.

While discussing the cars, the ’83 “missing design” came up, and an idea for a second show was born: Could Mazzilli and his restoration team build a 1983 ’Vette that was good enough to impress the original Corvette design team from that era?

The show was approved, and Mazzilli and his team were given just seven weeks to complete the project.

“We finished painting the car at 11 a.m. on the very last day,” Mazzilli says, with a chuckle. “We’re rolling it out with the bumper hanging on by one bolt. But we got it done.”

“The Lost Corvette” will air as part of the third-annual Car Week on HISTORY (familiarly known as The History Channel) starting July 7. It’s slotted for 10 p.m. ET on Monday, the 8th.

Although on its way to California now, the Corvette did stay with Mazzilli awhile and get a few “test drives.”

“I get amped just talking about it,” he says. “The crew did an outstanding job building my vision. It was a labor of love, just an awesome thing to be a part of.”

Sneak Peak (Oh, and Win a Vette!)

Mazzilli’s plan was for the ’83 to look like a factory car, like something that actually would have rolled off the assembly line, rather than an outlandish custom car.

He used the ’85 model as a base, since that year’s engine (Tuned Port Injection L98) was far superior to 1984’s CrossFire Injection L83. And because 1983 would have marked Corvette’s 30th anniversary, he chose design elements from other previous major markers in the iconic car’s life: 1953, 1963, and 1973. For just one example, first-year Corvettes were Polo White with Sportsman Red interiors. Mazzilli borrowed that color combo, but made the white a pearl white, as pearls are the 30-year anniversary gift.

We won’t give everything away here.

However, we do want to give you a chance to win a Corvette! Mazzilli belongs to a group called Corvette Heroes, which is giving away the refurbished Corvettes from the Max Collection.

Instead of one winner winning all the Vettes, this time there will be as many winners as there are cars, with each winner getting one.

“They all look amazing – so much work was put into them,” Mazzilli says. “We put 4,000 hours into restoring the ’53 alone.”

Corvette Heroes includes Mazzilli and the owners of the Max Collection, as well as a few other people involved in the restoration of the 36 cars. The group will be giving all proceeds from the sweepstakes to American military veterans through the National Guard Education Fund. 

Although the sweepstakes hasn’t officially begun, you can go to www.CorvetteHeroes.com to start the process (if you are at least 18 years of age).

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