Other work handled by C.A.R. included fiberglass and frame repairs and modifications, along with powdercoating and painting the body and engine. The dual, stainless-steel exhaust system with cutouts was also completed by C.A.R. using actual Z06 mufflers. The quiet pipes exit though the rear bumperettes, while the loud ones dump under the rear of the car.
For a cleaner look, C.A.R. deleted the faux scoops on top of the fenders and the front turn signals, and installed headlights with integrated turn signals. In the cockpit, the cowl vent went away as well, since now there's a Vintage Air A/C system, along with other creature comforts such as electric windows and a premium audio system. Once completed, the anonymous owner picked up his modernized ride for one long, long high-speed drive, heading east on Route 66, just like Tod and Buz from the TV series. How many original '57 Corvettes could handle that sort of sojourn without some serious modifications?
Reliving the '50s in a whole new way
Reviving youthful yearnings, and imagining how life could have been different, is a well-worn movie plot line. After all, how many times have you wondered how your life would have turned out if you had taken a different path, the "road less traveled"? The thing is, Roy French figured out a way to do it with this '58 Corvette--and at full throttle. That's because it's not only a time machine, but also a game-changer, thanks to some innovative engineering.
Having already suffered several indignities in a '56 Thunderbird, French knew well the foibles of '50s iron. Not one to repeat the mistakes of the past, he sought out a different approach for his next project. "The bottom line was that I wanted '50s charm, but with real driveability," he relates. "When rounding a corner, I didn't want to experience the ‘lean' typical of cars from that time. Nor did I ever want to sit in traffic and worry about an overheating engine."
On a tip, French sought out Joe Calcagno at R.A.R.E. Corvettes in Soquel, California. The company specializes in C1 Vettes, many of which are project cars. After some discussion, Calcagno and French made a deal on a '58 Vette in November 2005. Based on his research, French had a few requirements for his restomod-to-be.
"When launching a Vette-modernization project, you don't want to pay for a numbers-matching car," French advises. "It's best if the car is lacking an engine and transmission."
The car he bought from R.A.R.E. Corvettes had neither. Although the body was in pretty good condition, he did have to replace the front clip with a reproduction piece. But most of the exterior chrome and interior hard trim was intact.
Newman Car Creations modified the original chassis by slicing off the front suspension and carefully integrating in a new C4 setup, including the brakes. The steering is power rack-and-pinion, but actuated by the original '58 column. Newman also welded mounts for a C4 rear suspension and differential, adding a torque arm that's secured to the differential's "batwings."
"This arrangement minimizes wheelhop under hard acceleration," Newman points out. "And it's a real important part of system, due to switching to the independent rear suspension." (He notes that the wider C5 and C6 parts don't fit with cutting and other modifications, and these changes negatively affect their performance.)
With the chassis upgrades in place, a much stronger powerplant could be installed. French opted for a 6.0-liter LS2, backed by a 4L65E transmission and a Dana 44 diff loaded with 3.45 gears. This C6-issue mill generates around 400 horses, for a 30 percent gain over the factory powerplant. A curb weight of slightly less than the 3,000-odd pounds of the original '58 further aids performance.
French also took a meticulous approach to keeping the look of the car as authentic as possible, from the paint and chrome to the upholstery stitching and factory-style rims. While many customized classics use larger, modern alloy wheels, French went to the extra effort and expense to have 15-inchers made by Wheelsmith in an 8-inch width (3 inches wider than the originals). This custom rolling stock allowed him to use original wheel covers, along with Diamond Back 255/60R15 whitewall tires.
The LS2, coupled with eight-inch tread, provides exhilarating acceleration. And since the 4L65E divvies up the powerband with overdrive, at 70 mph the tach shows only 2,400 rpm. There's no buzzy low gearing to drive you batty, so the driveability is far better--just what French yearned for all along.
One Fine '59
Forget about the Ferrari in the garage
Experience is a great teacher. Just ask Robert Egger, who has owned too many cars to remember, including several C1s and even a Ferrari. He's particularly fond of the quad-headlight first-gens of the later years. One thing he wasn't fond of, though, was the high-maintenance challenge of these older cars. "I began to seek an alternative," he recalls, asking himself, "Could I have the body and look of an original '59 with the conveniences and safety a new car offered?" In other words, a C1 that looked old, but would drive new.
After a troubled, false start with a builder, he came across Mike Filion of Pro Design, who had nearly two decades of experience. Filion wisely began by reinforcing the frame with gussets in order to withstand the higher output of an LS2. He kept the live-axle configuration, but beefed it up with a 3.73 Ford 9-inch Posi in a four-link setup, damped by QA1 coilovers. Under the nose, he fitted a narrowed Jim Meyers IFS with a Mustang rack and Camaro tubular suspension, along with disc brakes at all four corners.
The 6.2-liter, 400hp mill expels exhaust through Sanderson headers and custom dual pipes by Mesa Muffler. Street and Performance provided the air cleaner and accessory pulleys, and ABS supplied modern hardware for the brake system. An aluminum radiator from The Fan Man provides heat transfer, and fuel is stored in a custom stainless-steel tank by Rock Valley.
In the cockpit, the Budnik steering wheel was downsized to 15.5 inches and mounted on a Flaming River column. A Lokar shifter engages the 4L65E tranny.
To appeal to authenticity, the upholstery and trim were restored to original style, with a matching exterior paint combination. The few exceptions include Auto Meter Classic Gauges, an air-conditioning system, and power windows. The Wonder Bar radio looks old-school but controls a remote CD changer and amp for the speakers.
When Egger eggs on other cars at the stoplight, he doesn't miss the Ferrari in the garage. No, he likes to snooker unsuspecting later models with a contemporary classic.