Oklahoma City’s native son, Dave Barnett, began diggin’ old cars at age 12 way back in 1960. In short order, he laid claim to a plethora of pre-war vintage iron. He then began to work his way through a throng of popular Chevys, including a ’55 Bel Air, ’68 Chevelle SS 396, ’02 Corvette, and ’07 Corvette. With historic Oklahoma City Drag Strip nearby, he and son Brian did dragstrip battle smartly. First in a Chevy-powered dragster then a Pro Mod ’68 Camaro. Presently, they campaign a colorful, orange Pro Mod ’13 Camaro.
In 1982, this 1959 Corvette was unloved, apart, and forlorn. Most of us who grew up when 283 fuelie Vettes ruled always wanted one, Barnett included. When he saw the ’59 he didn’t think twice. He gladly paid the asking price—all the while making plans for a frame-off restoration. It took him three solid years, but in late 1985 the ’59 was full boogied (back together and running) and once again back on the road. For the next four years Dave Barnett enjoyed his ’59 to the fullest. His boyhood days had come full circle and he finally had his C1 fuelie.
By 1992 the gem had won First-place at several Super Chevy shows. Topping it off was a feature story in the December 1992 issue of sister publication, Super Chevy. Then more years went by. Life was good but you know, times change and a person’s wants and likes often change. Barnett got the itch to build his glorious 1959 into a super trick restomod.
His plan was to store away the original ’59 frame and chassis in-favor of something strictly 21st century. Enter Art Morrison Enterprises’ (AME) complete 1953-’62 GT Sport bolt-on, rolling chassis. With a big enough tire it will pull over 1 g on the skidpad. Installation was easy: unbolt the body from the original frame, roll the original frame away, roll the AME GT Sport chassis underneath the body, and bolt the body up—using all the original factory holes and brackets.
A number of different brake setups are offered for the AME GT Sport chassis. For his ’59, Barnett chose Wilwood disc brakes and spindles up front with matching stoppers aft. The independent front suspension (IFS) and rear triangulated four-bar suspension all feature Strange Engineering double-adjustable shock absorbers. Finishing things off is an AME power rack-and-pinion steering plus an adjustable rear antisway bar. For the record, AME’s chassis won major plaudits at the annual SEMA show competition a decade ago. AME calls its GT Sport chassis “a quantum improvement over stock.”
Barnett’s new 355-cid small-block powerplant was expertly blueprinted at Jerry’s Machine in El Reno, Oklahoma. Dave’s son Brian performed the engine assembly. It features a custom-ground solid lifter camshaft, high-flow Edelbrock Performer heads, a chromed and polished 1962 Rochester fuel-injection system (from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s George Scheffler), electronic ignition (inside the original fuel-injection distributor), 8mm spark plug wires, Comp Cams 1.6:1 roller rocker arms, and a Holley electric fuel pump and fuel pressure regulator. The C1’s exhaust system is comprised of AME tubular headers, 2.5-inch diameter exhaust pipes, and MagnaFlow high-flow mufflers.
A blowup-proof Hays clutch assembly sends the torque and horsepower to a Tremec TKO 500 five-speed transmission. Shifts are made via a Hurst Competition/Plus shifter. The TKO 500 features a large 1 1/8-inch, 26-spline input shaft. Barnett’s ’59 originally had a four-speed with a 2.20:1 First gear ratio with a 4.56:1 rearend gear ratio. That’s a combined numerical ratio of 10.03. The TKO 500’s First gear ratio is 3.27:1. Combine that with a new 3.55:1 rear gear ratio and you get a final ratio of 11.61. Suffice it to say, First gear is an animal! When cruising in the 0.68:1 Fifth gear, those 3.55:1s turn into a 2.41:1 ratio. That’s a 30-plus percent drop in engine rpm for an increase in fuel economy. Barnett indeed has the best of four worlds: handling, braking, performance, and fuel economy.
In the coveted looks department, Barnett chose the talented Harold Clay at Harold’s Hot Rods in Enid, Oklahoma, to prep the body then apply his custom shade of DuPont blue paint. The super slick interior and superb trunk redo are the handiwork of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma’s Chuck Rowland. He also shelved the original ’59 gauges and tachometer in favor of awesome looking dials from Classic Instruments. Installing all-new wiring front to rear was the unbelievable handiwork of Noble, Oklahoma’s Wayne Cronister. Schott 18- and 20-inch wheels finish off the ’59 with BFGoodrich 235/40R18s in front and 245/45R20s aft.
A few days before our visit to Barnett Paving Company in Oklahoma City, Dave hit the tarmac (no pun intended) and recorded a quick 41 miles. Knowing his ’59 was a Barnett family “keeper,” the transformation from award-winning stock fuelie to superb restomod was a no-brainer. All who have seen the ’59 recently stare at it in awe, saying “oh”… while searching for superlatives (or perhaps expletives) to describe it. Others have uttered, “So Fine!” Hence we wrote: “Oh So Fine ’59.”