Nestled away on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia, is a talented one-man operation known as Fuel Bespoke Design. Its founder, John Ward, is a former IT professional with a ton of vision, patience and attention to detail. What he’s been creating over the last five years—including a mind-bending 1990 AWD Carrera 4 retrograded to look like a 1970’s classic, his latest project of a 1965 Ford Falcon with all the modern gear and the C1 Vette featured here—sets him apart from most other car crafters in the country right now.
Built over a three-year period as a personal project, this 1958 Corvette—affectionately known as Doris—may have the appearance of a perfectly rebuilt classic. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll soon realize that this is a ’50’s icon for the new millennium—one that boasts all the latest technological advances and drives like a new car to boot.
“I bought the donor car off eBay,” says the 53-year-old Sydneysider. “I remember bidding for it whilst on a friend’s boat in Sydney harbor.”
John was bidding on a car, sight unseen, on the other side of the world in Atlanta, Georgia—a car that was in a million pieces and had been for the last 26 years. “The owner had been collecting parts for it for years, but never finished it,” he says. “It all arrived in Australia in 13 boxes, including parts that were obviously not for a Corvette.”
John already had a clear vision for what he wanted to achieve with the car, but this was his first fiberglass restoration and proved to be a real learning experience. It didn’t help that Doris was in a real mess.
“I had to replace the entire front end of the body as the fiberglass was too badly damaged,” John says. “It was extremely time-consuming and a bit nerve-wracking as you only get one chance to bond the body, so it has to be right!”
Wishing to retain as much of the originality of the outside appearance as possible, John made the decision to leave things like the fuel filler door and cowl vent in place. Instead, he turned his attention to the panel gaps and fitment of the brightwork. The result of his long hours created a C1 with panel fitment better than you’re likely to see on a big dollar European luxury car.
“I believe I spent over 70 hours just getting the 7-series BMW headlights to fit into the factory moldings and the moldings fitting seamlessly with the front guards,” John says. “I built up all the panel edges to give nice gaps. If you look at many Vettes, the front end trim fit can really let them down.”
Other body mods aren’t as easy to spot, including custom hood latches, gas strut conversions on the hood and trunk lids and the use of small Harley-Davidson turning indicators on the rear, as blinkers are mandatory on Australian-registered vehicles. “I think they match the era of the ’58 pretty well,” he says.
Lift that gas-strutted hood and you won’t find an asthmatic 283ci these days. Instead, John has opted for a more modern replacement—a neatly detailed 5.7L LS1. It’s a stock engine making 350 hp, which is around 60 hp above the original fuel-injected version of the 283ci, but far more refined and with a huge amount of scope for development should John feel the urge down the track. As John wanted Doris to enjoy all the mod-cons, the battery got relocated to a custom enclosure in the rear of the car to make room for the Vintage Air A/C setup and power steering pump. It’s all operating via a Painless wiring kit and sips unleaded from a custom stainless tank and fresh stainless fuel lines.
Backed by a 4L60E and narrowed 9-inch with 3.50:1 gearing, the C1 is a nimble weekend cruiser. However, it’s the revised undercarriage that really transforms the car’s feel. John ordered a Jim Meyer Racing IFS (independent front suspension) setup, with modifications for a RHD (right-hand-drive) conversion. He also bought and installed a Jim Meyer four-link for the rear, with both ends using QA1 coilovers. “If I were to do it again, I’d probably have gone for a C5 IRS setup as well,” John says.
The C1 rides on widened factory steelies, now measuring 8-inches wide front and back. These wear BFGoodrich whitewalls and hide an assembly of braking components including 11-inch rotors front and rear, clamped by Chevelle front calipers and Wilwood rear.
With the suspension now set up for a RHD conversion (using an ididit column and Mustang rack), John had to figure out how best to transform the cabin to suit and it proved to be a lengthy, complex process. “It was definitely the most involved part of the build,” he says. “First, the dash in a C1 is not symmetrical and the grab bar is thinner at one end, so simply swapping the two sides isn’t an option.”
Instead, John had to modify the dash, cutting out the two coves and flipping the grab bar and insert over, fiberglassing on the passenger side. This also required repainting the cove insert and applying new lettering the right way up. All the mounting brackets for the dash had to be relocated, the center console had to be modified and while he was at it, John also strengthened the firewall before relocating the brake booster, pedals, handbrake and hood release handles.
With all the dirty stuff done and Dynamat covering every inch of the floor, firewall and doors, John turned his attentions to the upholstery and ordered a pair of Torch Red seats and carpet from Al Knoch in Texas. John had the dash and door trims covered in matching red leather and painted the metal parts for a retina-burning effect when compared to the Inca Silver exterior finish. John also chose a 15-inch replica steering wheel over the large 17-inch original to help get some extra upper leg room.
Hidden in and around the cockpit is a stereo system comprised four Rockford Fosgate speakers and a vintage-looking digital source unit in the center console. There are also two 6.5-inch Rockford subwoofers mounted in the equally red trunk, with a 5-channel power amp hidden behind the seats to power all the drivers.
A quality stereo is one technological improvement over 1950’s comfort levels, but it wasn’t enough to fulfill John’s vision for Doris. First, all the gauges were converted to digital (minus the speedo, which remains mechanical). Then he went all-out, adding keyless entry, central locking and even keyless ignition. Just approach the car with your key in your pocket or hand and the interior lighting turns on. So does the red-flashing Start button.
“Seeing the car for the first time after the paint went on, having spent a year fixing up the bodywork was a real milestone,” John says. “Everything after that was very enjoyable.
“Building a car that has all the original looks of the 1950s, but upgrading the driveability was what I really wanted to achieve and I think I’ve done that with Doris.”
Since completion, the car has won a slew of silverware from various Corvette shows on the east coast of Australia, but John is ready to see it go to a new owner and start something new. “It turns heads and draws crowds wherever it goes.”
We’re not surprised.