Fate often has a way of setting a path for your future when you least expect it. For some it’s a gradual journey with a number of twists and turns where for others it’s more of an arrow-straight path with a direct route to the promise land. For Rod Halsell, growing up in Blytheville, Arkansas, during the mid ’70s certainly had its perks, especially when it came to honing in on his early automotive influences.
Since his parents were passionate enthusiasts who were heavily involved in foreign sports cars it was commonplace to come home from school and see everything from classic MGs and Triumphs to rarely seen Alfa Romeos in the driveway. This fueled his personal fire starting with competing remote controlled cars as a young teen while also spending plenty of time in the family two-seaters with the top down and wind in his face. Eventually, afterschool jobs landed him his first pair of convertibles—a VW Beetle and an MGB—which he spent plenty of time cruising on 10th Street.
It wasn’t long till the stop at an Auto Shack (later becoming AutoZone) store during a visit to Memphis, Tennessee, changed everything. Entering the store he saw an entire automotive aftermarket world unfold right before his very eyes, filled with the latest cool parts and accessories just waiting to be discovered. From that point on he was hooked, the only problem was the chain didn’t have any stores in his hometown. Not long after his family relocated to Tupelo, Mississippi, and as fate would have it, there was a store in town. Rod wasted no time in applying for a job there and his path was now set for a career with the company.
With the new job also came plenty of influence from muscle cars and hopped-up V-8s since an endless stream of clients frequented the store. Rod recalls his first experience riding in a 1978 Indy Pace Car Edition Corvette with its low-slung stance and mile-long front fenders as life changing. At the same time he was a regular visitor at the dragstrip to watch quarter-mile heroes like Force, Prudhomme and Amato lay down blistering times in a nitro-fueled haze. Combine this with being able to regularly watch co-worker Barbara Mitchell race her Corvettes on a number of SCCA road courses and it’s easy to see plenty of inspiration.
As the years passed, Rod met his lovely wife, Barbara, who was also very active in performance cars. They started a family and continued a joint appreciation of all cars, especially Corvettes. The pair, along with their son Cody, recently participated in track days at Memphis Motorsport Park with Barbara in her C6 Z06 complete with a 630hp Lingenfelter performance package while Rod and Cody shared laps in their C7 Z51 at speed. Somehow, there was still something missing. The couple often dreamed of owning an iconic 1963 split-window coupe fused with plenty of cutting-edge technology and handling.
Having heard of the state-of-the-art vintage Corvettes being crafted at Heartland Customs in Purcell, Oklahoma, they scheduled a meeting with owner Jeff Page to discuss their ideas. Heartland’s SPECVETTE program instills years of engineering and design in creating a line of custom, classic Corvettes that are built to perform at modern 2016 supercar levels combined with all of the comfort and reliability today’s drivers expect. It wasn’t long till a deal was made and a donor car was sourced to begin the build.
The backbone of a Heartland Customs build resides in their SPECVETTE chassis. Teaming up with the Roadster Shop to create the ultimate base, it starts with fully hand-fabricated 10-gauge boxed steel framerails with custom crossmembers for the greatest strength. Out back you’ll find their exclusive SPECVETTE IRS featuring a 3.50:1 rearend ratio with custom fabricated upper and lower control arms deftly matched to Penske Pro-Touring performance adjustable coilover shocks and a 1 1/4-inch splined sway bar. For impeccable handling, the IFS utilizes proprietary geometry matched to C6 Corvette spindles and Z06 hub assemblies combined with their exclusive large-diameter 1 1/4-inch upper and 1 5/8-inch lower control arms, 1 1/4-inch splined sway bar and Penske Pro-Touring performance adjustable coilover shocks. For the ultimate in stopping power, a Baer dual power master with a Hydratech braking system pushes fluid through stainless lines to Baer Pro+ six-piston calipers with 14-inch cross-drilled rotors anchored at each corner. Connecting it all to the street you’ll find 18x7 front and 18x10 rear Intro Vista model wheels with custom SPECVETTE center caps wearing Michelin Pilot Sport 225/45R18 front and 285/35R18 rear rubber.
When planning on building plenty of seamless power into your Corvette there’s no better way to go than with a fresh Chevrolet Performance LS376 crate engine generating 525 horsepower. Packed with all the right bits from the factory, the engine features a cast-aluminum block filled with a nodular iron crank linked to powdered metal rods connected to aluminum 10.7:1 hypereutectic pistons. An ASA hydraulic roller cam adds thump while endless power comes from a pair of aluminum L92-style rectangular port heads.
It’s hard to mess with perfection so a factory EFI seals the deal while spent gasses dump through a custom ceramic-coated exhaust from Borla linked to electronically controlled side pipes, allowing the driver to keep it mellow or let it roar through the pipes. The team at Heartland dressed the engine to impress with custom-painted engine covers and chrome-plated accessories while also smoothing the firewall and inner fenders, color-matching them to the exterior. Crisp shifts move through a TREMEC TKO-600 five-speed trans to put the power down while a power rack-and-pinion steering unit helps carve the corners.
A signature of every build at Heartland Customs is that each donor car gets completely disassembled to prepare it for a complete ground-up restoration before being fitted to the new chassis and driveline. As was the case with the coupe, once stripped bare any problem areas were identified and tended to by the team followed by the body being gapped and meticulously blocked to perfection to prepare it for paint. In selecting the exterior color, Rod and Barbara wanted something dramatic to give the car plenty of allure. The decision on PPG Merlot Pearl Metallic brought the car to life once the spray gun laid down the vibe.
When wanting to bring the interior of a ’60’s-era hot rod up to luxury car standards it takes far more than a leather interior to get the job done. Plenty of design and engineering needed to be addressed for both comfort features, fitment and infusing plenty of modern-day electronics into the mix. Getting started, the factory dash was fitted with custom LED –illuminated electronic gauges while a custom walnut steering wheel sets the course and retro-fitted 2016 Corvette air conditioning and heat set the climate utilizing original controls. To fuse modern-day features the team then added updated flip-up light sensing headlights, adjustable traction control, pushbutton start, theatre-style dimming interior lighting and delay wipers. They continued with a rearview mirror backup camera, custom-made turn signals hidden in the exterior side mirrors, LED taillights and wrapped it up with a power-operated hood.
With comfort being a priority, the interior ergonomics received plenty of attention with custom-sculpted, heated seats with bolsters along with the addition of a 1967 Corvette console and emergency brake. The car was then handed over to Compton Custom Interiors of Burleson, Texas, to add the final magic, luxury touch with yards of butter-soft custom Silk-toned leather from Relicate Leather. Impeccable details include custom-wrapped door panels, dash, console and one-piece Alcantara headliner and complementing beige carpeting. The final icing comes in the audio department with a RetroSound Model C2 head unit featuring Bluetooth hands-free calling along with amp power and speakers to fill the cabin from Kicker. The coupe was unveiled at the National Corvette Museum to great acclaim by all in attendance. Rod and Barbara followed by laying down the miles on it, and to us that’s just plain cool.