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1956 Chevy Corvette Vetterod - C1, V.2

From Watkins Glen racer to top-tier Vetterod

Scott Ross Dec 24, 2013
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Think of your first Corvette. Now think of what you would do if you could buy it again.

That happened to Joe and Marilyn Pierson back in 2007, when they heard about the ’56 Corvette they’d owned from 1965 through 1971. “We’d heard that it was restored,” Joe recalls, adding that the car then resided in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. But a subsequent phone call to the owner revealed that the rumors surrounding the car’s “restored” condition had been greatly exaggerated. A look at it—while in town for that year’s Carlisle Corvette Nationals—confirmed the ’56’s condition.

“He took it apart in 1979, and it sat from then on, completely disassembled,” says Joe. “There wasn’t a nut or a bolt left on the car. The paint had been stripped off, the body was off the frame, and everything was stripped out of it.”

1956 Chevy Corvette Vetterod Side View 2/7

Thomas Autobody sprayed on the ’56’s original colors in modern, two-stage enamel.

Despite the car’s condition, Joe and Marilyn decided to reacquire it when it went up for sale shortly thereafter. “We went down there, bolted the body on the frame, rolled it onto the trailer, filled up 17 boxes full of miscellaneous parts, and brought it back home,” Joe remembers.

Although it hadn’t seen a track in years, the ’56 had a history at Watkins Glen, where its first owner raced it with some success in 1957 and 1958. “He actually got some engines and engine parts from Chevrolet,” Joe says. “But he was not part of any factory program, and the car was not a full-out race car. It was a street car with some clever performance tricks in it…taken up there and raced, back when you could still do that.”

Racing was not on Joe’s mind when he unloaded the ’56, and those 17 boxes of parts, in his garage. “We were going to bring it all up to date with the suspension,” he recalls. “Plus, I definitely wanted to get an overdrive transmission in it, and I wanted to put in electronic fuel injection by taking an old Rochester FI unit and converting it.”

You read that right—Joe wanted to convert one of the rare Rochester mechanical fuel-injection systems into an EFI setup. “It took a long time to figure out the parts needed, and whether it was doable. I [didn’t want to] start cutting up an expensive original plenum and base plate just to experiment,” he notes.

1964 Rochester Efi 3/7

Pierson converted a vintage Rochester injection unit to EFI; it now sits atop the ’56’s 425hp 350 small-block.

“I wanted to put electronic fuel injection in by taking an old Rochester FI unit and converting it” —Joe Pierson

Eventually, Joe selected a 1964-vintage Rochester system for the conversion. “I found out about different parts that I could use, and it all fell together. It was satisfying and well worth the effort.” He adds that the finished product looks original, runs great, and garners all kinds of attention. “The motorheads know what’s going on, while most guys have no clue,” he says. “Many want to know where I bought it, or if we’ll build them one. So far, I’ve not seen another like it.”

But that fuelie didn’t go on a 265, or any C1-era small-block. Joe had Empson Automotive build a 350 for it using a four-bolt-main block and a pair of Air Flow Research heads. A well-sorted combination of internal parts, including a repro “Duntov 30-30” camshaft, added up to an invigorating 425 hp at the flywheel.

Another area updated was the transmission. Back in 1956, Corvettes either had a three-speed manual transmission or a two-speed Powerglide automatic. Joe wasn’t interested in either, so in went a full-manual-shift 4L60E overdrive automatic, built by Baldwin Auto.

The updates didn’t stop there. The biggest came when Joe replaced the ancient C1 suspension with C4 hardware. “I wanted to buy components, instead of a rolling frame with C4 parts on it, because I figured that I could do it way cheaper,” he says.

For that, he called on Don McNeil at Flat Out Engineering, for a kit with front and rear crossmembers that made swapping in the fourth-gen pieces easier. (That, and the skills of GH Welding in North Cohocton, New York, who helped change the front member’s location more than once.)

For wheels, Joe needed a set with backspacing to clear the C4 suspension parts, while still fitting inside the C1 body. “Wheel Vintiques made a set with just the 1⁄16-inch backspacing I wanted,” he says. Result: A C1 that sits low to the ground, but whose rolling stock doesn’t rub on its half-century-old fiberglass.

What’s the this modernized first-gen like to drive? “It drives straight and handles well, just like you’d figure,” says Joe. “Of course, with a power steering rack, it’s really nice.” He adds, “The limiting factor now is the original seats. When you go throwing it around corners, you notice right away the hand-tied coil springs in the [cushions]. But, we kept the interior all original.

“It does ride harder than I thought it would, but I’m attributing that to the short-sidewall tires and coilovers.”

Interested in building a Vetterod like this? “If you’re going to try something that not everybody has done, you need to have patience and determination to overcome the potential ‘stoppers’ you always encounter,” Joe counsels. “Unless you have a full-service shop, you need excellent support—like we had.” vette

1956 Chevy Corvette Vetterod 7/7

C4 suspension bits provide the requisite stance, while Wheel Vintiques 17-inch Rallys fill out the factory wheelwells.

1956 Chevy Vetterod
Owners Joe and Marilyn Pierson; Painted Post, NY
Block ’70 SBC cast-iron with four-bolt mains
Displacement 350 ci
Heads Air Flow Research 195cc SBC Eliminator aluminum, port-matched to intake manifold
Valves AFR 2.05/1.60-in
Camshaft Predator Cams “30-30 Duntov” (solid lifter/flat tappet)
Pistons Probe Industries forged aluminum
Compression 10.3:1
Crankshaft Callies Dragonslayer forged steel
Rods Chevy forged steel
Oil System Melling pump, six-quart Corvette pan
Fuel Injection ’64 Rochester converted to EFI
Engine Management Mass-Flo
Ignition Mallory electronic
Exhaust Custom Baldwin Automotive with Hooker headers, Sweet Thunder chambered pipes and “X” crossover
Transmission 4L60E four-speed automatic with full manual valve body
Rearend ’86 Corvette Dana 44 with Positraction and 4.11 gears
Suspension ’86 Corvette with coilovers (front and rear)
Brakes ’86 Corvette four-wheel disc
Wheels Wheel Vintiques chrome Rally, 17x8-in (front and rear)
Tires Goodyear Eagle F1, 225/50ZR17 (front and rear)



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