If you've spent any time riding around in a midyear Corvette, you know that there are few cars, new or old, that attract so many gawkers and looky-loos. But if you've spent any time behind the wheel of one of these legends, you likely found that the novelty wore thin rather quickly. As much as enthusiasts love to glamorize the "good, old days," the fact remains that '60s cars—all of them—just don't measure up to their modern counterparts in practically any area.
The hordes of restomods around these days seem to indicate that while people are eager to keep the classic look of their cars, they are equally enthusiastic about improving the performance and day-to-day comfort. While retrofitting modern drivetrain and suspension components can totally transform a car, this is done at the owner's peril, as the uptight brand scolds will quickly label the result as "ruined" or even "worthless." And even if you don't care about others' opinions and already own a suitably nice driver, you can quickly eclipse the cost of a modern Corvette in upgrade components alone, while still falling far short of the new cars' performance and convenience.
So, if you've lusted after a classic look but crave new-car performance, you've been left in a tough spot. Until now, that is. Enter Karl Kustom Corvettes in Des Moines, Iowa, who will convert any '05-up Corvette into a stunning midyear custom C6 Stingray.
Because they use factory C6 underpinnings, KKC Vettes are as entertaining to drive as they
According to Jim Hidy, Karl Kustom's program director, "We're not here to reinvent the Corvette. Rather, our services are designed to bring the unique beauty of a classic Corvette to the incomparable performance and engineering of the latest generation of the car. [Editor's note: We spoke with Hidy before the C7 made its debut in January.] By crafting restyled body panels and grafting them onto a C6, you get the look without sacrificing performance, convenience, safety, or fuel economy."
Karl Kustom will incorporate literally any feature you could want, making each KKC a true one-of-a-kind. Initially, the KKC line of Corvettes included the '63 coupe, the '63 Z06 coupe, and the '67 roadster. Further development of the company's technologies and refinement of its processes have made it possible to expand these offerings to include just about any midyear look.
KKC now offers both coupe and roadster conversions for the standard C6 platform, Grand Sport, Z06, and even the much-ballyhooed ZR1. Any of these cars can be converted to a '63 split-window coupe or a '64-'67 coupe. C6 convertibles, meanwhile, can be converted to a '63-'67 roadster. Any of these conversions can also implement features found on midyear Z06 or Grand Sport coupes or roadsters, for a truly one-off car.
No custom build is complete without wheels and tires. This ‘ray is wearing Nitto Invos on
The mold process for all body panels ensures not only the highest quality but also allows KKC to accommodate nearly any request imaginable. These are all-new panels, custom-built for each car, not reworked stockers with style elements bonded in place. Only the roof panel and halo, rocker panels, mirrors, and fuel door are left as delivered.
Each of the replacement panels is hand crafted from fiberglass utilizing vinyl ester resin. This guarantees a long life and beautifully smooth surface finish. One-panel-at-a-time construction allows buyers to spec nearly any feature they can dream up. Want a third pair of taillights? Say the word.
While the skins are brand new, they are bonded to the factory C6 door frames. "The door skins are attached to the structures using modern epoxies and factory-equivalent fasteners, attached at factory locations," says Hidy. "All of the hinges, latches, and seals are OEM C6 components." This is good news, as it means no saggy doors, finicky mechanisms, or leakage issues.
Similarly, the hatch utilizes the OEM structure. KKC replaces the rear glass with a custom piece (or pieces, in the case of a '63 coupe) that are bonded to the new hatch skin and factory hatch structure. Again, this allows for the retention of GM's hinges, latch, and seals. The split-window structure is not the simple overlay that some might be expecting.
Myriad engine choices are available, including a supercharged version. This conversion ret
Karl Kustom's craftsmen have clearly put a tremendous amount of development into these body panels. The panels' finish quality far surpasses that of the original cars and even takes modern standards a bit further. To wit: Check out the body panel gaps—they're so slim as to nearly disappear.
No Stingray is complete without its bumpers, and KKC craftsmanship shines here as well. Its bumpers are all steel, but thanks to modern manufacturing, they have a consistent fit and flawless triple-chrome-plated finish. Even the hood inlays and grilles are hand- fabricated from billet aluminum.
As you would expect from a bespoke Corvette, the paint possibilities are endless. Whether you lust after timeless Sebring Silver, modern Jetstream Blue, or something wild from the Kustom "katalog," KKC will make it happened. All finishes consist of hand-sanded basecoat/clearcoat systems and are applied in the company's state-of-the-art paint facility.
The drivetrain and mechanical components remain factory General Motors (unless otherwise specified), so they retain OEM powertrain-warranty coverage and can be serviced by any GM dealer. Of course, safety and creature comforts are prime reasons for utilizing a C6 platform for a midyear conversion. Karl Kustom Corvettes retain full functionality of the supplemental restraint system and On-Start Safe & Sound. All modern conveniences to which you've grown accustomed remain present and functional, including the heads-up display, Bluetooth connectivity, a power-telescoping steering column, and the steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
The standard conversion package retains the stock interior, but that doesn't mean you have to settle for it. Want midyear-style leather pleats? No problem. How about tuck and roll? Sure thing. You can select from factory-style leather to high-end hides and even exotic leathers. Again, no limitations.
While this '63 coupe is conservatively fitted with black pleated leather, virtually anythi
Details and Performance Options
We all know that it's the careful selection and execution of details that make or break a car. Your KKC Stingray can be tailored with custom wheel-and-tire combinations, headers and exhaust systems, and even big-brake upgrades. Hidy says Z06 brakes are among the most popular upgrades currently.
As you might expect, there's a quarter-mile-long list of engine options available at Karl Kustom. Most notably for those customers wanting to go all-out, the new Lingenfelter Performance Engineering Z067 has just been announced (see sidebar).
Another popular choice is the Edelbrock E-Force Supercharger Kit. The basis for this system is an Eaton Gen VI 2300 TVS supercharger rotating assembly, similar to the one employed on the ZR1. The Edelbrock kit provides instant, reliable, and safe horsepower with a low boost level to minimize stress on the engine. A typical installation will take an otherwise stock LS3 engine up to 599 hp, or an LS7 to more than 650. This package can be added for approximately $9,700.
Making It Happen
Karl Kustom Corvettes is affiliated with Karl Chevrolet in Ankeny, Iowa, one of largest Corvette dealers in the country. This allows the firm to easily source exactly the right new car or locate a pristine, low-mileage used Corvette for modification for its clients.
Approximately 50 Karl Kustom conversions have been completed to date, and each car sports a serialized badge between the seats. A conversion on a standard C6 starts at $90,000, while a Z06 or Grand Sport adds an additional $5,000 to the total. ZR1 pricing is expected to be near $100,000. Start to finish, a Karl Kustom conversion takes 8-10 weeks to complete.
According to Hidy, the bottom line is this: "We will build anything our clients request. Want a '67 big-block ‘stinger' hood on a '63 split-window with a '67-style backup light? No problem—we're happy to do it!"
The Karl Kustom/LPE Z067
KKC and Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) have recently teamed up to build what may be the ultimate midyear conversion: the Z067. Based on a C6 Z06, the car's LS7 undergoes massive upgrades, including ported and polished heads, a hotter cam, an enhanced induction system with upgraded fuel injectors, and myriad other components.
When installed under the hood of a KKC Stingray, this 660-horspower, naturally aspirated monster is a Corvette like no other. Turnkey pricing, including a suitable car, starts at $165,000.
The LPE 660HP 427 package includes the following:
- Engine removal, including removal of the intake manifold, cylinder heads, and camshaft
- LPE CNC porting and polishing of cylinder heads for optimal flow
- LPE multi-angle valve job and surfacing for 11.5:1 compression
- Ferrea high-performance dual valve springs, titanium retainers, and valve locks
- LPE Z06 GT21 camshaft by Comp Cams
- LPE high-flow air induction and MAF sensor
- Port-matched LS7 intake manifold
- Ported and polished LS7 throttle body
- Higher-capacity LS7 fuel injectors
- GM head gaskets and head bolts
- 160-deg. thermostat
- Professional engine assembly and degreeing of camshaft
- Professional engine installation, testing, and tuning
- Chassis-dyno report (before and after installation)
- LPE three-year/36,000-mile warranty
- Certificate of authenticity