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.
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.