Houston, TX -- Hurricane Katrina washed away Jose Henriquez’s home and nearly everything he owned, but out of the floodwaters came his new passion — customizing a 2003 Corvette convertible into a show car and winning dozens of local and national automotive awards. Now the Houston resident uses the time he spends competing in automotive shows to give him back part of what he lost during the hurricane. “I’ll never be able to forget about Hurricane Katrina and all that I lost,” said Henriquez, a disabled Army veteran who moved to Houston in April 2006 after assisting in the military hurricane recovery and rebuilding efforts in Louisiana for five months. “I try to put the hurricane behind me and concentrate on the car. It keeps my mind busy doing something else. It’s therapy: All I think about is the car.”
Since customizing his Corvette in 2006, Henriquez’s show car has won the 2007 Best of Show award at the Corvette and Chevrolet Expo in Houston; Dub Magazine’s Best Domestic and first place on Domestic Mild Car award in 2007; Best in Custom, People choice at the Corvette and Chevy Expo in Houston 2008; Best in Show, Best in Show Custom, People Choice and Best display at the Corvette and Chevy Expo, and numerous local and regional competitions in Texas and Louisiana. Henriquez’s Corvette frequently wins Best of Show awards — amazing feats considering that a few years ago Henriquez was a novice who had never competed in automotive competitions. Now the Houston resident uses the time he spends competing in automotive shows to give him back part of what he lost during the hurricane.
Henriquez spent many long hours restoring his Corvette, which he affectionately calls Millie LeMans after its bright millennium yellow color and the LeMans car race in France. He’s picked up various corporate sponsors along the way, including Richey Collision in Houston. The custom Corvette paint shop transformed the Corvette’s exterior from yellow into a show car with a yellow and black checkered design, modeled after a Pace car in Lemans France.
Millie LeMans’ exterior is very rare, Henriquez said, similar to only a handful of other paint jobs in the U.S. “The paint job is what people really love,” said Henriquez, whose Corvette won Best Paint in numerous car show. “There are very few cars that look like mine. It looks like a racing car, but I’m not racing it. I like personalizing it to my taste and it makes me feel good, especially when I go to shows.” Henriquez didn’t stop with a custom paint job. He went around the country to fine tune his Corvette: The chrome on the engine and inside the trunk was provided by Creative Engine Covers of Virginia. The engine cover and airbrushed hood liner were replaced by Autobuffs in New Jersey. Manny from Houston designed the two-tone yellow and black interior. Reus Audio Systems. The Custom black and white checkered showroom flooring provided by Floorjunkies.com in Houston.
This isn’t the first Corvette Henriquez has purchased — he’s owned three other Corvettes — but it is the first one he’s ever entered into a competition, he said. “I used to dream about cars like this,” said Henriquez, a member of seven Corvette Clubs around the country. “Now it’s like my dream has come true. Sometimes people get mad because I win too many awards.” It took Henriquez eight months to restore his car, but it was time well worth it, he said. “I like the attention I get when I’m driving it, because I’ve spent too much money on it to keep it in the garage,” said Henriquez, who when not entering automotive competitions at least twice a month, drives Millie LeMans on the road three times a week. “I like the enjoyment I get out of it.”
He’s not done tinkering with Millie yet; he constantly checks the Internet for new accessories, and he’s thinking about adding some video systems in the trunk and a TV in the dashboard. Henriquez plans to enter the car into more national shows, and one day hopes to enter Millie LeMans into international competitions.
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