The body is indeed an exact copy-this replica perfectly duplicates the classic first-Corvette lines. In fact, the fit and finish surpasses that of those first Roadsters, which were mostly hand-built in a temporary facility behind a garage in Flint, Michigan. Overall, however, this one doesn't look much like it did originally. In fact, the potential for customizing is one of the things that attracted Chmaj to the '53 replica. "I get asked quite a bit why I don't have a real one," he tells us. (Though that's after they've been told it's a replica: most people can't tell the difference, telling Chmaj that he has "more guts than brains" for modifying a '53.) We'll look past the fact that owning a '53 is a financial impossibility for all but a select few, because Chmaj's reasoning is more down-to-earth: "You wouldn't want to drive a (real) '53. I couldn't enjoy it to the fullest, and I couldn't put my own touch on it."
Speaking of touches, the Roadster's previous owner, Ed Micol, had already done quite a bit of work on it when Chmaj saw it parked off of Woodward Avenue in 1997. Micol had lowered the car 4 inches, and replaced the original-size rolling stock with 205/55R16 (front) and 215/60R16 (rear) Goodyears riding on 16x7-inch Colorado Custom rims. He'd also done some work under the hood, adding a 600-cfm Edelbrock carb, Jet Hot-coated Dynomax shorty headers, stainless pipes, and Dynomax Magnum glasspack mufflers to improve the small-block's breathing capabilities. A Be Cool aluminum radiator and aluminum fan replaced the original units for better cooling. Micol also paid attention to appearances, adding a chrome alternator, valve covers, breathers, pullies, and air cleaner.
The interior got its own makeover. Ron's of Oxford sewed up a new white vinyl interior and black carpet. Billet aluminum was the material of choice for the dash insert and control panel-a set of Dakota Digital gauges fit in nicely, and a Colorado Custom billet steering wheel topped it all off. Micol also commissioned what is perhaps the faux '53's most striking feature: the rich coats of PPG Hawaiian Orchid basecoat/clearcoat paint.
In the three years since he made a deal for Roadster, Chmaj has added his own personal touches. Blue dot taillights and halogen headlights upgraded the lighting system, and Chmaj painted the mesh headlight shields to match the body. He also moved the grille in 4 inches, giving the front end a sleeker look. A custom-built fan shroud and battery and master cylinder covers now adorn the engine compartment. Chmaj then showed off his improvisation skills by heat-shrinking an aftermarket '56-57 hardtop until it fit the '53 body. It looks like it belongs there. And then there's that fence...
Fence? Yeah, there's a fence here, and there's sure to be Corvetters on either side of it. One side is reserved for purists, who Chmaj tells us won't even talk to him when he goes to Corvette gatherings, and the "gentleman" who yelled "Hey, that's a nice '53 kit car" from the side of the road. The other side features those who give this replica a thumbs-up and exclaim, "Wow, I've never seen anything so beautiful." It also includes the VETTE staff, any of whom would jump at the chance to build a '53 replica.
The bottom line is that it's not a real '53 Corvette. However, there are at least two things about it that are very real. One is that its exactly what Lenny Chmaj wanted: "A car I can enjoy." The other is that it's a beautiful automobile with some of the most classic lines ever built. Sounds pretty authentic to us.