Corvette will always have at least one link to the sea--after all, the marque was named for what Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary calls "a highly maneuverable armed escort ship." Besides the name, however, and a few "Corvette" speedboats built in the C4 era, car and boat would seem to have little in common. This hybrid '54 roadster, however, has a more direct link to its ocean-going ancestors. Built by the crew at the Roscioli Yachting Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, this roadster shows what a few expert shipbuilders can do with a land-based vehicle.
Bob Roscioli founded his business in 1964; today, the firm builds multimillion-dollar "Donzi" sportfishing yachts measuring up to 80 feet in length. A brief tour of one of these vessels shows that Roscioli's yachts are built to the highest standards, "born to an elite class," as the company's brochure puts it. The yachts are "elegant and opulent" in the living areas, with polished hardwood and imported leather much in evidence, while the craft's engine rooms exhibit "military precision." Accustomed as they are to building top-notch yachts, Roscioli & Co. decided to put their skills to the test by building a car; no, a Corvette, done their way.
"The idea was to prove that we could put the same quality into a car as we do into our boats," said Rob Roscioli, Jr., the company's Paint Foreman and Finishing Tech, and point man for the car project. "We did years worth of research before starting." The idea ripened during this time, waiting for a chance to come to fruition. That chance came when a friend of the senior Roscioli offered up his '54 roadster for sale. The friend didn't have the time to give the old solid-axle the attention it needed. The car was intact and mostly original, though the original Blue Flame Six had been swapped out in favor of a 350 V-8. The body was showing its age, with numerous stress cracks and some previously repaired front-end damage. The Rosciolis bought the car, planning on a frame-off resto, but ended up doing much more than that.
"We had been checking out Paul Newman's Car Creations," Rob recounts, "and decided to go one step beyond a stock restoration." With a general "theme" for the car set, the Roscioli crew got to work. The '54 was stripped down to a rolling chassis and shipped to Newman's Templeton, California, facility. Once there, the vintage solid-axle frame was modified to accept complete front and rear C4 suspension, braking, and steering systems; the suspension was further modified to utilize Bilstein coilovers at all four corners. In addition to the suspension mods, Car Creations modified the frame to accept an LS1 powerplant, a T56 six-speed, and a 3.92:1-geared C4 rearend with custom-built drive- and halfshafts. The new chassis rolls on 18-inch Colorado Custom wheels, measuring 8 inches wide up front and 9 inches out back; tires are by Goodyear, 240/40-18s and 250/40-18s front and rear, respectively.
While the '54s frame was getting its makeover, the Roscioli crew--who, as shipbuilders, are experts at working with fiberglass--tended to the body. John Barlak and Gerald Wilkins did the bulk of the work, with Wilkins working on the body part time for three months. After media blasting the outside of the body shell, the inside was reinforced with extra layers of fiberglass. The '54 was also missing its factory parking lights, so the lower valance panel was cut out and re-molded to accept a new set of lights. Before the body was re-united with the frame, modifications were needed to accommodate the new powerplant and gearbox. Minor changes were made to the firewall, and the transmission tunnel was built up 3 inches to accommodate the new tranny. The rear wheelwells also had 3 inches cut out of them to allow the fat rear rubber to fit. When the mods were finished, Rob and the Roscioli crew sprayed the body with PPG White Diamond Pearl paint; he's also responsible for the unique PPG Harlequin graphics.
At this point--with the rolling chassis back in Florida and the body ready to be reinstalled--the Rosciolis stopped to take a look at things, something Rob says happened at each step of the project. At the senior Roscioli's urging, the crew dressed up the engine, giving it a coat of White Diamond Pearl Paint and the fuel rail covers their own unique treatment. A set of Taylor ignition wires help light the fires, while the new mill exhales through B&B Tri-Flo stainless steel headers, 2-3/4-inch straight pipes, and back to Flowmaster mufflers. Chrome engine components from Design Specialties of Bowling Green, Kentucky, are also in evidence, while the engine pulleys are from Street & Performance. As the body and rolling chassis were reunited, there were other issues to deal with. A custom aluminum radiator from Speed Zone Rod Shop of Evansville, Illinois, was installed to keep things cool, along with a Street & Performance fan. The one-off intake ducting was designed by John Barlak, whose handiwork is evident throughout the '54, to utilize the limited space under the hood. A made-to-fit stainless steel fuel tank, complete with fuel-injection ready pump, was installed behind the seat. And finally, Roscioli electrician Warner Brooks wired it all together, including a 100-amp S&P alternator and dual batteries--one under the hood, and one inside the trunk--to ensure more-than-adequate electrical power.
Which was necessary, given that the interior exhibits yacht-like luxury, right down to the stereo system. The custom upholstered trunk holds a massive, 800-watt Orian amplifier, and an Alpine CD changer behind a trick kick panel. That changer is controlled by the Alpine stereo in the passenger compartment, where things get really swanky. Colby Upholstery & Auto Trim of Margate, Florida, handled the seats and carpet, using gray and blue leather with Simpson lap belts on the former and Mercedes-Benz light gray rug on the latter. The door panels are covered to match; the driver's sidepiece hides a custom control panel in the armrest. Dakota Digital gauges reside in a stock housing. The steering wheel is a Colorado Custom item, and sits atop an ididit tilt column. And, putting on a touch that is at once unique and striking, Bob Roscioli, Sr. created the dash and console inserts from Black Walnut Burl. It lends this '54 a decidedly nautical theme, adding a touch of sea-going luxury to this thoroughly modernized street-bound classic. After demonstrating what a group of boat-builders can do when they put their minds to it, the Rosciolis are very happy with the results. "I'm almost amazed at what we did," exclaims Rob. "And (the amazement's) doubled at the response we get when we take it out." That response consists of multiple Best of Show and Best Engine awards at local shows--the future plan is for the Rosciolis to test the waters at some larger shows. We're sure it will do just fine; as you can see, these shipbuilders are no slouch when it comes to building a striking Corvette.