The Gambler 500 inspires some amazing vehicles—the 1955 Desoto “Chupacabra” and Lightner Racing 911 Rally Porsche both come to mind. If you don’t yet know, the Gambler 500 is an off-road rally adventure challenge with weird cars, weird people, and, most importantly, an epic trail cleanup. This year at the OG Oregon event, based near Crescent Lake in Eastern Oregon, we were down thousands of attendees, but actually collected double the trash! Boats, tires, plain-ol’ garbage, and so much more—over 500 cubic yards collected from national forests and public lands. To give you an idea, that would be roughly equivalent to just under 101,000 gallons of milk. A veritable cornucopia of “race cars” descends upon the high desert each June, convoys of confusing-yet-cool builds coming from every direction, each of them built with a different purpose in mind. Some are $200 Craigslist junkers with smashed rear-ends, chopped into makeshift trucks. Others are spectacles of spending, Rich Kids of Instagram style, rolling stretch limos on 50+ inch tires jacked 10 feet in the air. And then there are the spectacles of speed. Adventure-minded rally-loving folks who want to go fast, fling dirt, and look badass doing it.
Enter the Sweat Box. Tevya Friedman’s 1976 Corvette Stingray rally car was built with the Gambler in mind. A highlight of this year’s socially distanced and dispersed OG, it made its debut in a glorious cloud of dust. On the road, drivers nearly slammed their cars into guardrails, rubbernecking to get a good look at this Mad Max battle car. Why yes, it is a dirt-ready sports car. Not something you see every day.
Originally purchased by Tevya’s Uncle Mark, a Corvette fanatic and all-around car-guy, it was destined for the drag strip. Mark’s son Austin, a wizard with a wrench, the type that could build and fix anything, had big plans to stick a 454 under the hood (among other things). But as with a lot of projects, plans were waylaid, and the poor C3 sat in a field.
Mark and Tevya have a long history of gas-fueled family fun, his uncle being an old Harley mechanic and dirtbike rider. Growing up riding dirt bikes with Uncle and Grandpa, Tevya was raised with an appreciation for all things fast and dirty. Over recent years, they discussed the Gambler event, and when Tev told Mark that he wanted to build a rear-wheel-drive muscle car, the seed was sown. Soon the car exchanged hands, and planning began. Just three months later, Austin was killed by a drunk driver in a freeway collision, and the project took on a deeper meaning. After nearly a decade of decay, it was time for the old girl to roll again—for Austin.
Needing love in more ways than one, it ran, but not well. First up was a new carburetor, manifold, distributor, plugs, wires, fluid swap, and overall tune. Dry, rotted gas lines and ratty wiring were another big chunk of the project, as well as bypassing the missing ignition tumbler with a flip-top toggle switch. Every rubber bushing, every piece of plastic, was either removed or replaced. The fiberglass body, however, while worse for wear, was left in its beat-up state. Too expensive to restore, the only sensible thing was to keep the “patina” and let the rough Vette take on rough roads with no regard for flying rocks.
The future build list includes side pipes that double as rock guards, more lighting, bigger shocks, and a new way to fill the gas tank since it’s tucked under the rear rack. While it’s already a bit lifty and nifty with 1.5-inch rubber spring spacers in front, new leaf springs, and classic muscle car Gabriel air shocks in back, it’s likely to get some more suspension attention at a later date. The Sweat Box’s overall silhouette will change drastically with long-travel suspension and external roll cage. gambler500.com