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1959 Corvette Packs a Punch with 525hp LS

Evolution in Blue: Charlene Johnson raises the bar with her 1959 Corvette

Chuck Vranas Jun 6, 2016 0 Comment(s)
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Growing up in a sleepy little town in upstate New York in the early ’70s it was a rare moment when what could be considered a true sports car would roll through town. You’d have a better chance at seeing the latest farm equipment working the fields, commercial trucks hauling goods or station wagons parked in front of town hall. For Charlene Johnson of South Hero, Vermont, her first encounter with a Corvette Stingray left an impression on her that would last a lifetime. The car’s sleek body and low stance combined with the sound of a hopped-up V-8 wasn’t like anything she had ever encountered before. Its vibe left her with a hope that someday she would know what it was like to hit the streets in one. Little did she know that she would eventually meet someone with a dedicated horsepower addiction to change her world.

Meanwhile, in the suburbs of Detroit, Dennis Johnson was deeply involved in the local muscle car scene when the streets were on fire with the latest in factory performance. Enamored with seeing street cars run hard late nights on Telegraph Road, the teenager scraped up his lawn cutting money and bought a 1962 Ford Falcon Sprint. The year was 1968 and he quickly dumped the factory 260ci mill and worked with his friends to install a 289ci V-8 for more power to get involved in the scene. When something broke, as it often did, the rebuilds would take place in the driveway or on the front porch of his parent’s house. More cars followed, including a 1963 Plymouth Sport Fury, 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 and 1969 Chevrolet Camaro. As the years passed he would stay active in the hobby until he met and married Charlene. The couple owned a number of European cars, including a Porsche Boxster and Audi R8 but somehow their conversations always went back to Charlene’s passion for a Corvette.

1 1959 Chevy Corvette Side View 2/16
1959 Chevy Corvette Headlights 3/16
1959 Chevy Corvette Taillight 4/16

To surprise Charlene for her 40th birthday in 1997 Dennis set forth to locate a classic C1 Corvette by scouring the local ads to find a suitable car. He located a Frost Blue 1959 that seemed pretty original and made a deal. The surprise was very well received and the pair worked together on it for the next year to make a few changes and update the body to white pearl with silver coves. The problem was, however, that the car’s mechanical side was riddled with issues to the point where Charlene would need to plan her drives around town just in case there was a breakdown. Add to this that the car’s handling was far from perfect, which left it mothballed in the garage for over a decade. While staying active in the scene, Dennis was able to see a number of cars debuted by The Auto Shoppe in South Burlington, Vermont, that immediately caught his attention with their meticulous attention to detail and presentation. He hauled the C1 out of hibernation and brought it by to meet with shop co-owner Scott Roth. Initially, the couple wanted to undertake a full restoration of the car to retain its purity and bring it to a concours level. Upon Roth’s inspection, however, it was revealed that it was a non-matching-numbers car, thus opening up a number of possibilities for its rebirth.

Being purists, the couple had not really experienced the restomod evolution of classic good looks fused with cutting-edge technology, chassis dynamics, big brakes and fuel injected V-8s, which was one of Roth’s specialties. After mapping out a plan, the couple gave Roth the green light to infuse his creativity and craft a fresh take on the car. Once the car was blown apart at the shop the first issue to address was locating a wicked chassis capable of bringing the car to the next level. Roth contacted The Roadster Shop in Mundelein, Illinois, for one of their ultimate performance Fast-Track chassis specifically designed for the C1 Corvette.

1959 Chevy Corvette Side View 5/16
1959 Chevy Corvette Quarter Panel 6/16

The frame starts with hand-fabricated, 10-gauge boxed framerails and custom crossmembers for a rock-solid base, which is set up to utilize all the factory body mount locations. For Roth’s specific application the chassis was narrowed 5 1/2 inches both fore and aft. Out back, the exclusive Fast-Track IRS assembly features a 3.50:1 rearend ratio combined with a 1 1/4-inch splined sway bar and Penske double-adjustable coilover shocks. For razor sharp handling, the Fast-Track front suspension utilizes proprietary geometry matched to C6 Corvette spindles with Z06 hub assemblies combined with their exclusive upper and lower control arms, 1 1/4-inch splined sway bar and Penske double-adjustable coilover shocks. To make sure there was plenty of stopping capability an ABS Power-Brake, Inc. power master pushes fluid to each corner through stainless lines to Wilwood 13-inch cross-drilled rotors with six-piston calipers up front and 11-inch versions with four-piston calipers out back. To connect it to the street a set of 18x10 American Racing VF498 wheels were capped with Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber.

1959 Chevy Corvette Engine Bay 7/16
1959 Chevy Corvette Engine Bay 8/16
1959 Chevy Corvette Ls Engine 9/16

For plenty of horsepower a Chevrolet Performance LS376 crate V-8 generating 525 hp was selected to bring the project to life. Packed from the factory with all the right go-fast goods it features a cast-aluminum block filled with a nodular iron crank linked to powered metal rods wearing aluminum 10.7:1 hypereutectic pistons. An ASA hydraulic roller cam sets the beat while plenty of power comes from a pair of aluminum L92-style rectangular port heads. Up top a flawless factory EFI moves the fuel while spent gases dump through factory headers to a custom 2 1/2-inch stainless exhaust by The Auto Shoppe matched to Borla mufflers. The team also created custom engine covers, added a Detroit Speed power rack-and-pinion and fabbed a custom transmission mount. They continued on, replacing the stock firewall with a custom-contoured unit fashioned from 16-gauge cold-rolled steel, fabricated custom inner fenders (to accommodate the wider tires), radiator support and added a custom fuse panel recessed into the top of the firewall. Three pedals always mean more fun so a TREMEC Super Magnum six-speed trans moves the goods rearward through a driveshaft from Denny’s.

When it came time to address the body, Roth got busy and started to map out a plan to up the ante and infuse his special magic to separate the car from the rest. Wanting to finesse the car’s original factory good looks he focused on dialing in the details with a plethora of custom updates. Starting at the front, 1 1/2 inches was clipped from the grille area from left to right and pinched to tighten up the area with the lower nose being reshaped to blend in. The fender tops were then gracefully reshaped where they meet the windshield as well as their top sides to where they meet reshaped and reworked headlight bezels. The door coves were then stretched and deepened to add an updated outline along with custom stainless molding crafted from 3/4-inch half oval stock. Finally, the inner rear wheelwells were tubbed, electronic hood and cowl vent added with Dakota Digital linear actuators and bumpers were cut apart, reshaped and finished with new mounting hardware. From there the team set the gaps, made it razor sharp and prepared it for paint. When it came to color selection Charlene wanted the car to have a newfound elegance to match all of its subtle changes. She worked with Roth who created a custom PPG mix she calls Leonardo Blue Pearl. Spray guns then laid down a dramatic vibe adding life to the project accented by white pearl coves.

1959 Chevy Corvette Interior 10/16
1959 Chevy Corvette Interior 11/16
1959 Chevy Corvette Steering Wheel 12/16

In creating a car with such great detail the interior would need to reflect an equal balance to bring the project full circle. The dash was gracefully reshaped and fitted with Dakota Digital dials to monitor the vitals while a reshaped lower console was fitted with a Kenwood touch-screen unit featuring GPS, satellite radio and back-up camera. A custom Corvette steering wheel was crafted in Italy while a modified TREMEC shifter pulls gears, Vintage Air cools the cabin and an electronic emergency brake holds the car when needed. A passive entry system and pushbutton starter add the final bit of coolness to the interior. For the ultimate in comfort, Richmond Upholstery of Richmond, Vermont, updated the interior with butter-soft black leather, covering the seats and door panels while also adding plush matching carpet and re-covering the convertible top with black Haartz fabric. We’re sure that this Corvette won’t see any idle time in the garage as Charlene is already racking up the miles cruising through New England and to us that’s just plain awesome.

1959 Chevy Corvette Rear Side View 13/16

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