Papis’ Passion: A Little Red Corvette
Max Papis Drives the American Dream Behind the Wheel of His 1958 Corvette
MIAMI – Growing up in Italy, young Max Papis dreamed that one day he would be a successful race car driver and own a blood-red sports car. It would have a powerful V-8 engine and a proud racing heritage. It would have style and timeless design. And it would wear a red Bowtie from Michigan, not a prancing horse from Maranello.
Papis achieved his dream. He has racing trophies in his office and a crimson 1958 Corvette in his garage.
What’s the appeal of a 47-year-old car for a man who has raced Formula 1 cars, Indy cars, and prototypes – not to mention Corvette Racing’s championship-winning C6.Rs and Team Cadillac’s title-contending CTS-Vs?
“There are certain things in life I cherish, and to own a Corvette was my dream when I was a little kid,” said Papis. “It represents to me what I’ve been able to achieve here in America. I came over here with nothing, and many of my dreams came true. Maybe one day I will give it to my kids because it is much more to me than just a car.”
Corvette has inspired passion in enthusiasts for decades, becoming an international performance icon. Not even a young man in Europe could resist Corvette’s charms.
“I bought books about the history of Corvette when I was 18, 19 years old back in Italy,” Papis remembered. “In 1998 after I made some money in racing, I thought, ‘Maybe now you can afford to buy this car.'”
Papis found his prize in a Fort Lauderdale dealership that specialized in classic cars. It was a diamond in the rough, however.
“They had three 1958 Corvettes,” he recalled. “The one I chose was in the worst shape, but it was the most original. I bought it and slowly fixed it up with the help of a friend. We did a lot of work on the body, changed the windshield and fixed all of the mechanical parts. The interior was good, so we reupholstered it like a new 1958 car. It took four years before I was able to drive it.”
Papis now drives his resurrected Corvette to races near his Miami home. The bright red roadster draws admiring looks when it’s parked alongside the Corvette Racing transporters in Sebring. But it’s not a perfect, pampered museum piece – Papis appreciates its patina of age.
“There is a crack in the middle of the steering wheel, and we left it there on purpose because I like to have old things in the car,” he said. “There is a bump in the chrome on the fender as well because I don’t want to have a 47-year-old car that looks like it just came off the assembly line.”
The 283 ci small-block V-8 engine that powers Papis’ classic Corvette is the spiritual ancestor of the 7-liter small-block that will propel Max and the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R at this weekend’s Petit Le Mans endurance race at Road Atlanta. Fifty years after its introduction, the amazing small-block V-8 still reigns as the world’s most successful production-based racing engine. But the powertrains in Papis’ vintage Corvette and his C6.R race car are worlds apart.
“My ’58 Corvette has one four-barrel carburetor and a three-speed manual transmission,” Papis laughed. “First gear is not synchronized, so you really need to stop the car to put it in first gear. The car is simple but very, very fast.”
“It’s not even in the same universe as the C6.R, but what is special about both is that they have a lot of history behind them,” he observed. “My car was made in 1958 and it still has great appeal in 2005. The guy who designed it was a genius.”
“I think the C6.R has a lot of the same characteristics,” he continued. “It’s an honest car with a lot of American muscle.”
Papis will flex the C6.R’s muscles as he and teammates Johnny O’Connell and Ron Fellows race for glory at Road Atlanta. And perhaps their exploits will inspire a young boy or girl to dream of owning a Corvette. A red one, of course.
Release Date: September 26, 2005