VetteRods—you’ve seen them in our pages, and you’ve seen them at shows and on the road. But, do you need an original Corvette body or frame to build one?
If this one is any indication, no.
That’s because AutoKraft Racecars & Restoration in Eau Claire, Wisconsin didn’t. Owner Gumer Alvero, after checking out a number of other shops that did high-end Corvette builds, chose them to make this distinctive C1-based VetteRod.
Instead of starting with an original body—or, more likely, what was left of a well-used original one—they began with an aftermarket ’59 one from Downs Manufacturing. Says AutoKraft Racecars & Restoration’s owner, Kurt Anderson, “It came with the mini-tubs already molded into it, so that was a big help right there.”
Using an aftermarket body also meant there was no problem with modifying it further. “You notice how the body is ‘humped up’ behind the seats, like a C5 or C6 Corvette,” says Kurt of the headrest fairings that he blended into the ’59 rear body lines. “I found a C6 rear decklid on eBay, and I cut that up and made a mold out of it, then grafted it onto the ’59 body to give it more of a sleeker look, as opposed to just being flat.” Kurt adds that rear bodywork also did away with the top well. “We also glassed in where the convertible-top assembly went, so it’s more of a roadster/speedster,” he says of the ’59’s body, which now more resembles the original ’53-’55 Corvette open, side-window-less body in function than the stock ’59 (or any ’56-’62 C1 body) does.
Other body modifications that went on (before Kurt sprayed the two-stage Standox Bentley Meteor Blue paint on) included cutting down the windshield and laying it down, and changing the upper-cowl area under it; smoothing-in the headlight bezels and frenching the taillights; adding LED front driving lights, carbon-fiber inlays in the side coves and custom-fabricated rear bumpers; and fitting a set of Bentley exhaust tips into the rear body—an operation that went surprisingly easy, per Kurt. “The natural curve on the ’59 body matches the curve of those Bentley exhaust tips,” he explains. “They have the exact same contour as the Corvette body, so they worked perfect in there.
“We saw them on eBay, and I ordered them up, just to try them. I couldn’t believe it, after I’d hogged out the holes I slid them in there and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ It was like they were made for it, and they worked out pretty slick.”
The customization underneath the fiberglass was just as imaginative. Kurt says that this VetteRod sits on a “hybrid” frame. “It’s got a Downs back half on it, with Art Morrison’s framerails and front half,” he says, adding, “When you buy the chassis from Downs, they buy the rails and stuff from Art Morrison, then they cut that back-half off and put their own back-half on. That allows builders like us to put a bigger back tire on.”
And it allows them to drop in a modern powertrain, like the LS3/T-56 combo seen here. Kurt says that, while the LS3 was described as a “crate engine,” it wasn’t a mass-produced item. “This guy down in Texas built it for us. He calls it a crate engine, but he built it with forged internals instead of the stock pistons and stuff, and we’re really happy with it.” With those forged internals (like pistons, rods, and crankshaft), it’s strong enough to stay together when the dyno dials are reading a peak of 550 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque at the flywheel.
The interior contains as many custom touches as the body and frame, if not more. Steve Pearson and Upholstery Unlimited in Clinton, Iowa, created and stitched up the custom cabin, which features a pair of custom bucket seats, console and door panels dressed in tan leather, with a Momo steering wheel, Alpine/Polk Audio sound system, New Vintage USA custom carbon-fiber gauges, and a Hurst shifter.
When completed, the ’59 debuted at the Goodguys’ Nationals in Columbus, Ohio, where it did more than just dazzle those who saw it on the show field. “I drove it in the autocross, and when we got it on the track for the first time—holy cow, that was a lot of fun!”
Kurt adds, “It’s like driving a new Vette. You can drive it around a corner, and there’s no body roll whatsoever, because of the sway bars front and rear. It goes around a corner so flat that it just doesn’t roll. The car doesn’t weigh much, so it’s not like you’re tossing around a 4,000-pound car when you’re going around the autocross course. It’s pretty light.
“It’s like an oversized go-kart. It’s a lot of fun to drive, that’s for sure!”
If you’re thinking about a similar VetteRod project, Kurt says that starting with an aftermarket body and frame may be the way to go, especially if you have any serious upgrades from stock in mind. “We had really good luck with that Downs body, so if they’re going for that style of a build, I’m not sure that they’d want to do that on a factory body.”
Kurt says that this customer now has another car under construction at his shop. “We’re doing another project for him, a same-style build, only we’re doing a ’69 Camaro convertible. He’s got a love for Vettes, and a love for Camaros, so we’re on to another.”
On to another distinctive, fun-to-drive, hot-rodded Chevy…inspired, no doubt, by this VetteRod!
“It’s like an oversized go-kart. It’s a lot of fun to drive, that’s for sure!”—Kurt Anderson
|Vehicle:||1959 Chevrolet Corvette Custom Roadster|
|Owner:||Gumer Alvero, Edina, MN|
|Builder:||AutoKraft Racecars & Restorations, Eau Claire, WI|
|Engine:||’10 GM Performance “Gen IV” LS3 overhead valve V-8|
|Engine Builder:||Street Rod Engines, Rowlett, TX|
|Block:||Stock LS3, cast-aluminum alloy|
|Displacement:||376 cubic inches (6.2 liters)|
|Heads:||Stock LS3, cast-aluminum alloy|
|Valves:||Stock LS3 2.16-inch intake, 1.59-inch exhaust|
|Camshaft:||Stock LS3, hydraulic roller, 0.551-inch lift (intake and exhaust)|
|Pistons:||Stock LS3 aluminum, 11.4:1 compression|
|Crankshaft:||Stock LS3, forged steel|
|Oil System:||Stock LS3 dry sump|
|Fuel Injection:||Stock LS3, electronic|
|Ignition:||Stock LS3 electronic coil-on-plug|
|Exhaust:||Custom 2½-inch diameter system with modified Art Morrison headers and DynoMax mufflers|
|Transmission:||Tremec T-56 “Magnum” six-speed manual with stock LS7 clutch assembly and Hurst shifter|
|Rearend:||9-inch solid axle (non-IRS) with 3.73 rear gears|
|Frame:||Custom-fabricated, with Art Morrison framerails and a Downs Manufacturing back half|
|Suspension:||(Front) Mustang II front spindles with antiroll bars, Art Morrison tubular A-arms and Afco double-adjustable shocks (Rear) antiroll bars, Afco double-adjustable shocks|
|Brakes:||Stock C6 Corvette four-wheel disc, with Wilwood pedals/master cylinder|
|Wheels:||Forgeline ZX3S billet aluminum, 18x10 inches front, 19x12 inches rear|
|Tires:||General “Exclaim UHP,” 275/35R18 front, 325/30R19 rear|