The 1950s had an abundance of iconic designs that changed the automotive industry in a good way. Horsepower figures were increasing and exterior designs continued to get more elaborate. While the Corvette was Chevrolet’s most expensive offering, it kept a subdued appearance through the early ’60s compared to its big brother, the Impala. By 1959, the Impala was over-the-top with crazy fins and lots of chrome, while the Corvette actually lost some of its trim for the 1959 model. Even then, the Corvette still looked like a dainty roadster that wouldn’t handle a beating. Over the years, many racers have proven that assumption wrong, but a modern interpretation of this design needs a little more meat on the bones to get the job done.
Kentucky resident, Greg Damron wanted to go the modern direction with his 1959 Corvette, and enlisted the help of B Rod or Custom, a shop located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Larry and P.J. Burchett have built a number of Corvettes, and Greg’s car is yet another notch in the belt for this father and son team. The goal was simple—build a high-end Corvette that is fun to drive, and easy on the eyes.
The solution involved rolling the original frame and drivetrain out from under the car, and replacing it with modern equipment. First was the chassis and suspension, and Greg went with a Chassis Concepts rolling chassis, which features a rebuilt C1 frame with stock C4 suspension. Up front, aluminum control arms are suspended by a transverse leaf spring and stock-style shock absorbers. A hefty sway bar keeps the car level in the corners, while a C4 rack-and-pinion offers quick steering response and a much lighter design than the stock box and linkage. The Chassis Concepts frame features a C4 independent rear suspension, equipped with a 3.08:1 gear ratio, a limited-slip differential and the stock-style transverse leaf spring suspension. C4 disc brakes are assisted by an ABS Power Brakes electric booster system with a custom aluminum master cylinder.
While the chassis was a huge step into the modern world of performance, the engine is even more impressive. A standard 283ci small-block Chevy would’ve originally given this Corvette about 230 horsepower, and the new LS3 under the hood cranks out 430 horsepower in stock form. The stock crate engine comes in at 376 ci (6.2 liters) and features an all-aluminum construction for a tremendous amount of weight savings. The LS3 features a 10.7:1 compression ratio, combined with the potent L92-style cylinder heads, which are the hot ticket for big-time airflow and horsepower. Inside the block, you’ll find a hydraulic roller camshaft that features 204 degrees of duration on the intake side and 211 degrees of exhaust, measured at 0.050-inch lift. The total valve lift, factoring in the 1.7:1 rocker arms, is 0.551-inch on the intake and 0.522-inch on the exhaust.
The LS3 engine is fit into the C1 chassis utilizing a set of Hedman headers, which lead to 3-inch piping and Flowmaster mufflers. A Griffin aluminum radiator improves engine cooling, while the engine accessories are driven by a Vintage Air Front Runner serpentine belt system. Fresh air enters the throttle body through a custom twin-filter air intake built by Top End Fabrication.
The LS3 is a beast of an engine that weighs 130 pounds less than the stock 283, puts out 200 more horsepower and can get upward of 30 miles per gallon on the highway. This fuel efficiency is due in part to the reduced weight of the car, along with the perfect combination of rearend gearing, and ratios inside the 4L65E four-speed automatic overdrive transmission.
In terms of aesthetics, Greg’s Corvette is all about the details. There are a few body modifications that you may not notice, but the guys at B Rod or Custom are known for making cars look like they “should’ve been that way” from the factory. Larry Burchett carefully sliced and diced the rear portion of the body in order to fit the 18x9.5 Schott wheels and Nitto 295/45R18 tires into the very constrained wheeltubs. Fitting the 17x8 front wheels and accompanying Nitto 245/45R17 tires required no modifications, when using C4 suspension. Countless hours of fiberglass work was necessary to reconstruct the quarter-panels, in addition to the front end, which had been damaged and poorly repaired many years ago. Larry also modified the firewall and toeboard to provide more legroom for Greg, as C1s are known for being a tight fit. After a few cycles of primer and block sanding, P.J. Burchett laid down the DuPont ChromaBase paint and covered it in G-2 clearcoat for a durable finish.
A black leather interior complements the black exterior, and the beautiful upholstery is the handiwork of Steve Holcomb at Pro Auto Custom Interiors. Custom bucket seats are wrapped in leather, as is the dash and the customized door panels. The dash is equipped with Classic Instruments gauges, and features a Retro Sounds stereo system, along with controls for the Vintage Air system. Greg grips a Billet Specialties steering wheel and a Lokar shifter.
The point of building a car like this is to have the classic looks of an iconic 1950’s sports car, combined with the suspension and engine technology of the modern era. Sure, Greg could’ve gone with a newer suspension or cranked up the horsepower in any number of ways, but the end result wouldn’t have made him any happier. With an excellent power-to-weight ratio, grippy tires and plenty of creature comforts, this 1959 Corvette is light years ahead of its original capabilities, and it’s ready for the open road—or maybe even a curvy road in the hills of Kentucky.