The rarest of all standard production years; there weren’t a lot of Corvettes built in 1956. In fact, the exact number was 3,467 and of that number only 547 were optioned with power windows. The first 145 Corvettes built in 1956 came with recirculating-air only heaters, and only 111 customers chose to have the factory slip in an RPO 449 special high-lift camshaft. On the flipside of rare, an amazingly high number of 1956 Corvette 265-inch V-8 engines left the factory equipped with RPO 469 dual quads—3,080 to be exact.
In the 21st century there’s a lot more interest in learning a vintage Corvette’s history, but there weren’t a lot of clues for Phil and Kevin Koykka of Bellmawr, New Jersey, to identify how their 1 of 1,043 Venetian Red 1956 Corvette came from the factory. The Corvette started as a father and son project in 2001 when a lifelong friend of Kevin’s dad was diagnosed in the late stages of cancer. Phil had tried many times through the years to get his friend to sell him the Vette, but the friend said he was going to restore it one day. That day never came for the friend. Sadly, it wasn’t a month after selling the ’56 to Kevin and Phil that he passed away.
The father and son team rolled the 1956 Corvette off the car trailer and into the garage. It was almost as if the Corvette was cursed never to be a complete car again, as it sat in the Koykka’s garage for 10 years before the two turned their attention to it. They picked up where Phil’s friend had left off. Part of the original Venetian Red DuPont nitrocellulose lacquer had been stripped to the bare fiberglass and other sections were coated in a light gray polyester primer. This was Kevin’s first Corvette and during due diligence prior to tackling the body and paint work Kevin had heard horror stories about Corvette bodies removed from their frame and left spineless, warped horribly.
There wasn’t much done to this Corvette that Kevin and his dad didn’t approach hands-on, but almost as soon as the restoration work was underway Kevin’s dad was diagnosed with cancer. Kevin said from there he, “built the car alone at home in my garage.” The brand of paint products Kevin chose to shoot over the top of his fiberglass repairs was PPG, and the color was 2014 Corvette Blade Silver with Ermine White coves. Kevin got the prep work ready for paint at home and then Marty Doto, a friend of a friend, had a spray booth in his shop and the two got the ’56 Corvette into color.
Although a lot about the Corvette’s original factory specifications were lost to previous owner modifications and resting in a semi-disassembled state for decades at a time it wasn’t hard for Kevin to discover the car had been campaigned as a drag racer. The battery was mounted in the trunk and a B&M ratchet shifter gave it away. The years of indoor storage were kind to the original equipment windshield, side windows and most of the chrome as it’s all St. Louis issue. The genuine parts that couldn’t be perfected with chrome polish were sought out in reproduction form from Corvette America and Corvette Central.
Kevin’s preliminary plans for the ’56 were to return it to gasser form and indulge his passion for drag racing. Design direction changed when Kevin’s wife, Lori, pointed out the Vette was turning out way too nice and she’d really like to accompany him on drives, but that couldn’t happen a quarter-mile at a time. A distinctive hallmark of 1956 Corvette interiors, the waffle pattern seats Phil’s friend had re-covered using Corvette America kits were stored in plastic bags and looked as fresh as the day they were re-covered. The rest of the upholstery and carpeting Kevin handled with restoration kits, and looked further to the aftermarket for a dashpad, among other essentials. The gauges are from Auto Meter and the steering wheel from Billet Specialties. The sound system replacing the Corvette’s 1 of 2,717 signal-seeking AM radios included for 1956 is a Retro Sound head unit with concealed speakers. Disassembling the doors for restoration revealed the ’56 Corvette was 1 of 547 that came equipped with power windows.
The chassis under Kevin’s ’56 is as detailed paint wise as the topside of the car. After restoring the original suspension mechanically and upgrading with Bilstein shocks and Wilwood disc brakes at all four corners, 17-inch Billet Specialties wheels were shod with fat rubber all around. Under the hood Kevin replicated a 350-inch ZZ430 starting with a ZZ430 short-block and then mounted GM fast burn heads and an Edelbrock Performer RPM intake with Holley EFI for induction. For ignition and exhaust there’s a 6AL MSD distributor and ceramic-coated Doug’s headers. The Lokar-shifted automatic transmission is a TCI Automotive-beefed TH350 transmitting power through a custom-made driveshaft into a Corvette rearend with an Eaton posi and Yukon axles.
It took Kevin the better part of five years to complete the 1956 Corvette. Kevin almost had the Corvette completed in time for his dad to see how it turned out, but in December 2015, Phil passed away. Toward the end of construction Kevin had his 11-year-old son Brenden out in the garage learning about cars and helping where an extra pair of hands was needed. Kevin said he’s not big on believing in things of a metaphysical nature, but when he took the Corvette out on its maiden drive he turned on the radio playing a Phil Collins song and the digital screen froze spelling out Phil while it continued to play other artists.