Tom Henry has Driven
this '72 LT1 for His Entire Adult Life
by Hib Halverson
photography courtesy of Tom Henry Chevrolet
(this article was based on a longer story in
Corvette Ethusiast Magazine
as high-performance GTs, the benchmarks for the 1963-'82 or
"C3" Corvetes were the 1970-'72 Coupes with LT1 engines,
close-ratio four-speeds and 3.70 gears.
combined the 350 cubic inch displacement with Chevy's
lessons from racing 302s in the late-'60s SCCA Trans-Am and
existing hi-po SBV8 technology. Introduced for 1970, it made
370hp@6000 rpm which, by today's standard, would be
290-310-hp (SAE net).
The '70 LT1 marked the end of an era. It was the last solid
lifter V8 produced by GM. Its power rating and specific
output were not exceeded by a domestic production V8 for
another 20 years. Even as Corvette descended into the dark
age that was the early emissions controls period, the low
compression, '71/'72, 255-hp (SAE net) LT1s were milestones.
It would be two decades before Chevrolet put a more powerful
Small-Block V8 in the Vette and when it finally did in 1992;
ironically, it reused the LT1 RPO.
Small-Block C3s had 50/50 weight bias which made them handle
better and brake shorter. Ok–they'd never e.t. like a
Big-Block, but unless you're a drag race jihadist, your
world is a better place with LT1's ideal mix of acceleration
The LT1 captured the imagination of many Corvetters in the
early '70s including Bakerstown, Pennsylvania teenager, Tom
Henry, who ordered a Targa Blue 1972 Coupe. A 17-year-old
with an LT1 seemingly smacks of spoiled children but, with
the Henries, Vettes were a lifestyle. Bow-Tie Red blood ran
in their veins because Dad, Tom B. Henry, was the Chevrolet
dealer in town.
sold an L89 (aluminum head, 427/435 Corvette) Coupe in '69
and that guy lived near me," Henry said. "He had a buddy
with a red, '70 LT1 Coupe. I had that red '64. The three of
us would go knockin' around. Of course, I was always way
last with those guys.
"I just loved the sound of the LT1 and its solid lifters.
The guy put his red '70 up for sale and I went to see it but
somebody bought it right before I got there. I started
buggin' my Dad, 'Can we order an LT1?' I told him I'd pay
him back when I got out of college.
said, 'You can't go over 6500 dollars.' I wanted the
close-ratio, 3.70 gears, power steering and leather seats.
To keep it under 6500, I had to knockoff power brakes. I
still have the window sticker–$6479.40.
"Originally, I wanted Ontario Orange, but in '72 they made
the interior darker–like a dark tan–and I thought it was
really ugly. I decided on a black interior, so I went with
the dark (Targa) Blue. Not one of my favorites, but I wanted
something dark that would wax-up and look good."
the fall of '71, Tom was a high school senior. His Dad
ordered a Coupe with Black Custom Interior Trim, LT1, M21,
N40 (pwr. steer.), PU9 (white letter tires), T60 (HD
Battery) and U69 (AM/FM radio) but the teenaged Corvetter
had a problem.
"They (Chevrolet) weren't building the LT1," Tom continued.
"It wasn't passing (Federal) emissions (testing), so we
couldn't place the order. I could get a 454, but not the
LT1. I was adamant on that engine 'cause I liked the
Small-Block. Based on what Chevy told us, I decided to
chance it and wait. Sure enough, in January of 1972, they
released the LT1. The car arrived in February."
That fall, Tom was off to South Carolina's Furman University
in the Blue LT1. What better enhances college life than a
Corvette? Girls and keg parties, maybe? Ok. The Vette was a
close second–or third.
"I remember Lee Yeckel, a high school buddy, coming down to
Furman to visit," Tom told us. "We drove down in the
Corvette and he flew home, later. We got to Breezewood,
where (Interstate) 70 splits-off the (Pennsylvania)
Turnpike. I had just switched the shift linkage from
long-throw—there's that adjustment (on early C3 4-spds.) you
can make—to short-throw. We must not have tightened it or
something. At Breezewood, it jammed in fourth gear.
"It was a Sunday–nobody around. I called my Dad. He sent our
tow truck with car. We turned around and met them on the
'pike, so I slipped the clutch at, like–five grand to get
going. They gave me a car and took the LT1 home. My Dad was
furious that we screwed around with that brand new car.
That's the only time it ever broke down on the road."
After a year at Furman, Henry transferred to Northwood
University in Midland, Michigan majoring in automotive
marketing and business management. Of course, the Targa Blue
LT1 went with him.
used to run between Midland and home in the Corvette a lot.
Late one night, we raced a Pantera on the Interstate and
won. In third gear at, like–110, the guy didn't know what
hit him. I used to turn that motor sixty-eight hundred.
"U.S 10 runs from Bay City to Midland–25-miles or something
like that–and we used to see how fast we could make it. One
time, I remember hittin' 130 on 10 with my cousin (Scott
Settlemier, Chevrolet's last Camaro Brand Manager and, now,
head of Chevy's Shows and Exhibits operation) in the car.
Some guy pulled out in the left lane in front of me and boy,
I had to get on the brakes. I scared the hell out of my
cousin that day."
November of '75, fresh out of Northwood, Tom went to work
for his Dad, full-time, as a Service Writer. In 1976, he
moved to Sales, by '78 was Truck Manager and in '80, General
Manager. Finally, in May 1982, with Tom B. wanting a
less-busy schedule, young Tom G. took over Tom Henry
Chevrolet as Dealer/Operator. Oh yeah...by then he'd paid
his Dad that $6479.40. The founding Tom Henry retired in
As Tom became more involved in running a Chevrolet dealer
and he and his wife began raising children, the Covette was
retired from daily driving duties, however, it remained an
important part of Tom's budding collection of
two decades after buying his '72 LT1, Tom began showing at
NCRS meets. "I repainted it in 1977," Tom recalls. "Other
than that, the car is original. It still has crayon markings
on the block.
"Twenty years ago, the first thing I did was plug the
(exhaust) manifolds, remove the AIR pump and stuff and put
it in a box. The first Pittsburgh NCRS show I did, they
docked me points for not having the smog stuff, so I went
over to my Dad's and poked around his garage. Under the work
bench there was my smog stuff. I put it all back on and the
next time, the car was Top Flight which is 94% or better on
NCRS guys went nuts over the car. I was asked about
documentation and said, 'I'm the original owner.' and the
guy about flipped-out. I've got the '72 warranty book and
Protect-O-Plate not filled-out 'cause it was on MSO
(manufacturer's statement of origin or "pre-title") for so
long. Since the car wasn't titled, it was never put in
warranty. While my Dad held it until I could pay him, I had
a dealer plate on it.
"I did the Pittsburgh NCRS and some local cruise nights but
that's about it. I've never had it to Corvettes at Carlisle.
That'd be a lot of fun but I do so many events selling the
Camaros and the trucks that I'm burned out on big shows."
Henry owns other Vettes–another Midyear, which he still has,
and a Torch Red '95 ZR-1, which he sold early in '05, but
the LT1 is his favorite. He keeps it as original as
possible. Other than wear and tear, normal maintenance, the
'77 repainting and modern radial tires; the car is as it was
when it rolled off the line at St. Louis in late January,
The day we shot the car, at lunchtime, Tom let me drive the
33-year-old LT1 with only two limits: get to the restaurant
in reasonable time (In running a car dealership, today,
there are no two-martini, two hour lunches) and a 5500 rpm
I've owned a C3 for 25 years, since I never had the
opportunity to drive an LT1, this was a high honor. On Route
8, right in front of the dealership, I jumped on it at about
2000 rpm in first. That Holley 780's secondaries popped open
and went "Whaaaaa". With 3.70s, Tom's car was at 5500 rpm in
a few heartbeats. I threw a shift to second–got that
characteristic AIR "pop!" out the exhaust and barked the
tires–then was hard on it, again. I took it to 5500-rpm a
second time then shifted to third. The motor was pulling
through four grand at well over the speed limit when I
reality-checked. I was on a major highway frequented by the
Pennsylvania State Police. I slowed, caught fourth and
lunch, Tom told me of a recent outing in the car. "Lee
Yeckel and I–we're still friends–went out Memorial Day this
year. There was light rain but we really didn't care. We
laughed about us drivin' this car in high school. We went'
out to breakfast, so we took a scenic tour north of here. I
let him drive it back. The memories of us doing the same
stuff 30 years ago really hit me. Those were great times in
a great car."
On the way back to Tom Henry Chevrolet, we took a few twisty
roads. In spite of its age, this LT1 still handled
reasonably well. I could feel the lighter front end as the
car was pretty neutral through medium speed turns. There was
no shortage of spring rate or roll stiffness though, damping
was soft–it's probably time to put the original shocks in a
box and stick-on some Bilsteins. As the car has stock-sized,
modern radials, the steering was pretty good for a C3.
whipped around a corner that dropped us onto a straight. I
exited in second, ran it to 5500, shifted, then floored it
again. I felt that LT1 really wanting to rpm and glanced at
the tach. Five grand and change. I thought about blowing the
rpm restriction just once. I thought about Tom twisting this
motor to 6800 on one of those Bay City to Midland runs.
Whoa–the stuff we all did in our younger years. Fortunately,
honor prevailed. At 5500 I backed-off.
"Cool car, Tom!" I shouted
over the wind noise and the exhaust. "For a stocker, that
motor runs pretty hard!"
"Yeah it does!" he answered. "That's part of why I've kept
it all this time. I've always just loved LT1s."
On Certain Images in the article for larger view.