Wyatt Earp has been portrayed in numerous movies and books, yet many of them are only loosely based on his colorful life and the legendary shootout at the OK Corral. These portrayals often take liberties with the historical details, employing "artistic license." The same could be said of restomods.
For those not familiar with this type of vehicle, as we noted in a previous feature ("Word Play," Sept. '11), these revisionist conveyances differ from precise restorations by improving on the original with a "woulda, shoulda, coulda" approach. That is, integrating modern amenities and performance improvements into a classic car.
This crossbreeding of old and new has become increasingly popular with Corvettes in particular, as collectors want to "have their cake and eat it, too." Even though the late, great comedian George Carlin exposed the peculiar illogic of that expression, it makes perfect sense to those doing a restomod project.
After all, why does an early Corvette have to keep trundling along with drum brakes, buggy springs, and a finicky carburetor or mechanical fuel injection? There's no compelling reason to keep on driving backward into the future. Why not benefit from decades of automotive innovation by updating those primeval mechanicals with some late-model features, such as electronic fuel injection and the latest in chassis technology? That way, you can get some serious driving enjoyment and improved reliability from a Corvette with legendary lines. So not only is the paint finish as smooth as an iPad screen, with door gaps tighter than a foreclosure loan officer, you also you don't have to worry about finding obscure parts or repair service on a long trip. Returning to the Western lore mentioned at the outset, Wyatt Earp might not have literally disarmed a crooked card dealer with a terse command (as actor Kurt Russell did so memorably in the movie Tombstone). No matter--even if not literally true, it could've and should've been.
In keeping with that well-meaning spirit of historical embellishment, we've rounded up a few choice examples of tasteful, technically enhanced restomod Corvettes--while steering away from those misdirected or mangled monstrosities that ruin the enduring character of the car. Over the course of the next two issues, we'll be highlighting several straight-shootin' restifications of classic Vettes from the marque's first and second generations. Happy trails!
An arresting ride from Full Circle Restorations
At first glance, some might think John Eilers' custom Corvette is a '57, due to the "Fuel Injection" emblem in each of the coves. That addition was sort of an afterthought, however, to dress up the look of this '56 model a bit. (It fits with the current powertrain, too.) Another obvious difference from stock is the lipstick-red paint, which lacks the orangey overtones of the factory-applied Venetian Red hue.
This project started life back in 1995 as a basket case to end all basket cases, as it had suffered from the salt air of the Hawaiian Islands. Eilers picked it up for a song in SoCal, but soon found out why it was on the cheap. The chassis was so rusted, he had to replace it with an original '57 frame. The fiberglass body was wasted as well, requiring a new nose and rear clip, both of which were spliced in by Tom Van Steyn of Full Circle Restorations.
"We basically built a car from scratch," says Eilers, who admits to wishing he had started with a body in better condition. "It always costs more than you expect," he adds, looking back on the 10-year buildup. "These things can go crazy." He did manage to keep a lid on the budget with an affordable drivetrain. Since the original 263ci V-8 and slushbox were toast, too, Van Steyn tracked down an LS1 from a wrecked '00 Camaro, fitted it with old-school-style engine covers from Advanced Automotive Technologies, and mated it to a Tremec five-speed manual. To handle the uptick in output, he installed chassis underpinnings from Progressive Automotive, including a front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering from a Mustang II, along with a four-bar rearend. "Vettes in the '50s braked and steered horribly," Van Steyn points out. "They weren't much fun to drive and rode like a buggy."
Eilers chose Progressive's suspension combo because he wanted to preserve the stock wheels and tires, and ride height. The only required frame mods included welding in a crossmember up front and installing the four-bar mounts out back. Despite the improvements in drivetrain and running gear, the steering response was initially a bit too quick, but that was easily damped by changing the pressure fitting on the rack.
Also, the cockpit was still pretty cramped. "You had to turn your feet sideways to operate the pedals," Eilers says. To make more room, he installed a steering wheel with a smaller diameter. The seat cushions were also shaved and the mounts modified by Byron of Finish Line.
Once the car was sorted out, Eilers was thrilled with the result. "It's a joy to drive," he relates. "The car is so light, that engine makes it fly." Best of all, he doesn't think twice about hopping in the cockpit and touring down Memory Lane, while the concealed XM radio blasts out some old-time rock ‘n' roll. Overall, "It looks old but is state of the art underneath."
Drive My C.A.R.
Campbell Auto Restoration puts C6 Z06 power and more into a '57 Vette
Some projects are like a relay race, with one shop handing off the torch to another and then to yet another to finish the buildup. That's the case with this deep-blue '57 with '58-style fender coves, among many other mods.
Its owner, who prefers to remain unnamed, wanted a ride that was both different and fun to drive. He came across a stalled-out buildup with a new LS7, a six-speed transmission, and a C4 suspension setup from Newman Car Creations. He initially approached Campbell Auto Restoration (C.A.R.) to complete the job, but the shop had too many other vehicles under construction to take it on right away.
So away it went to a different shop that modified the fenders to fit over the 17x8-inch front and 18x9.5-inch rear Evod wheels. As you can see in, those rims mimic the look of a C1 Corvette hubcap. Also added there were the '58-style fender coves and the modern Stack gauge panel. By the time those items were done, C.A.R. was ready to take on the project. The shop's techs started by doing a complete inventory of the car and parts, then mapping out a plan to complete it. One of the things that became obvious right off was that the six-foot, five-inch owner wasn't going to fit in the cockpit, even though the footwell had already been relocated 3 inches forward when a new tunnel was fabricated to fit around the six-speed trans. After a flurry of email communications, the owner agreed to have new seats built that fit farther back and lower into the small Corvette interior.