The year was 1967. The United States was right in the midst of the Vietnam War and racial tensions were at an all-time high but, for just a moment, Harold Fudge didn’t have a care in the world. Why? Because he was riding in his best friend’s 1965 Corvette convertible.
Fast forward a couple of years—more like 48—and Harold had spent almost a half-century longing for a mid-year Corvette to call his own. Finally, in April 2015, as he was perusing the swap meet at the Goodguys show in Pleasanton, California, he came across a 1965 Corvette convertible. As Harold remembers, “It was sitting on a trailer and it caught my eye.” He decided he’d been waiting too long and it was finally time to act on the dream of his youth, so without even taking it off the trailer he bought it.
Harold’s nostalgia for the mid-year Corvette wasn’t so strong he felt the need to go through the painstaking process of bringing it back to numbers-correct form. Instead, he wanted to bring it into the modern era with all-new drivetrain, suspension, brakes, wheels and bodywork. He wanted to give this Vette the whole nine yards and to do that he had it sent over to Leonard Lopez at Dominator Street Rods in Tracy, California.
This wasn’t a frame-off restoration, but it was a frame-off build, as Leonard and the crew at Dominator stripped Harold’s Corvette down to the bare bones. With the body off the chassis, they proceeded to grind smooth the stock frame, reweld everything and then powdercoat it to give the frame a fresh start. In the rear they installed a RideTech independent rear suspension. The stock rearend was rebuilt with 3.73 gears and Positraction complemented by new halfshafts from Valley Balancing & Machine in Ceres, California. Up front, they bolted on RideTech’s independent front suspension and taller, billet steering arms for better steering geometry. Dominator installed 3/4-inch antiroll bars to keep the C2 flat when cornering and RideTech monotube coilovers front and rear to soak up the bumps. In place of the stock ram power steering is a Borgeson Power Box connected to a tilt steering column from Flaming River to give the Corvette a modern feel. Continuing outward from the suspension and steering, Leonard utilized Wilwood disc brakes all around with six-piston calipers squeezing 14-inch rotors up front and four-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors in the rear controlled by a Wilwood master cylinder and proportioning valve.
The modernization of Harold’s Corvette continued by installing a brand-new Chevrolet Performance Connect & Cruise LS376/480 and T-56 Super Magnum six-speed manual transmission. Its name is slightly misleading because while it is a 376ci LS3, it doesn’t make 480 horsepower, it actually makes a stout 495 horsepower and 473 lb-ft of torque. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver! To get that added power over the stock LS3’s 430 hp, Chevrolet Performance tossed in their LS Hot Cam with 0.525/0.525-inch lift and 219/228-degree duration.
On the front of the crate engine is an Eddie Motorsports front drive system and water pump, which pulls from a Dominator-built aluminum radiator with electric fans from SPAL. The guys at Dominator Street Rods were definitely working with some space constraints so they stuck with the stock exhaust manifolds Chevrolet Performance supplied. They ground the manifolds smooth and then ceramic coated them for durability. Dominator fabricated the rest of the exhaust system with 3-inch steel piping, including custom side pipes. You might notice that those side pipes aren’t exactly factory because, according to Leonard, they were intentionally made smaller than stock for a cleaner, “more trim-like” look.
Speaking of looks, this mid-year Corvette is quite the looker thanks to hours and hours of bodywork and subtle modifications. The guys at Dominator started by stripping the body all the way down to bare fiberglass so they could reinforce it and get it ready for black paint. They wanted to make sure the panels would be visually perfect, a tough task since black paint is notoriously good at showing even the slightest imperfection. Once the fiberglass was reinforced, they primered, guide-coated and blocked it three times to get the panels as flat as possible. House of Kolor Jet Black was chosen to really show off the detailed bodywork. They also chose to accent the Stinger hood with silver paint and a red stripe to outline it. The stock bumpers were modified to fit a little tighter to the body and then sent over to Sherm’s Custom Plating in Sacramento, California, along with various other trim pieces to bring them all up to show quality.
The final piece of this artistic puzzle was the wheel and tire combo. Harold decided on 18x7 and 18x8 Schott Mach V wheels wrapped in Nitto NT555 G2 tires that measure 225/40R18 and 235/50R18. Sitting on the ground, the Nittos just tuck up under the flat-topped wheelwells for the perfect fit.
If you haven’t noticed yet, this Vette is a convertible, meaning the interior is now almost as important as the exterior of the car. Any cut corners that might go unseen in a coupe have nowhere to hide now. The Dominator Street Rods crew worked alongside Acme Auto Interiors of Pleasanton, California, to bring together the perfect mix of modern luxury and classic styling for Harold’s dream convertible. Acme took the stock seats and reworked them with all-new foam and supple red leather and then mounted them back in the cabin atop beautiful velour carpeting. Dominator fitted Classic Instruments gauges and Vintage Air vents into the dash and center console along with a full sound system from ARC Audio. Tying together all the electronics, Dominator utilized a wiring harness from American Autowire.
The final product was everything Harold had hoped for and more. That Jet Black paint could be stared at for hours along with the subtle changes in trim and the understated side pipes. Sitting in the driver’s seat, that Stinger hood pulls your attention out the windshield before the silver-trimmed gauges and red leather bring your eyes back inside. One of the best parts for Harold is the LS3, which gives him all the power he needs under his right foot along with great reliability. But Harold doesn’t want to just take it home and look at it for the next few years, he’s going to drive it. In fact, he’s currently planning to take the Corvette on an extensive road trip across the country. He’s starting on Route 66 then through Tennessee and Texas before coming back to his home in Tracy, California. Finally, Harold can fulfill his lifelong dream of being carefree once again in a ’65 Corvette—only this time it’s his 1965 Corvette.
Photography by Eric Geisert