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The SplitRay 1966 Corvette Breaks New Ground for C2 Coupes

The Auto Shoppe Brings Dennis Johnson’s 1966 Coupe to Life

Chuck Vranas Nov 27, 2017
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Ever since the very first Corvette rolled off the assembly line there have been hot rodders who have modified them to suit their own needs. Regardless if they were changed to increase their performance on the street, dragstrip, road course or for land speed racing, one thing for sure was that their iconic look and heritage were always honored.

There were also times where particular decades (mostly the ’70s) subjected the cars to wild modifications including wicked wheel flares, radical hoods, chops, widebody kits, station wagon conversions and even way-out spoilers, all awash in metalflake and candy vibe to bring them to life. Any way you look, it comes down to individual impression and truly studying the design elements of one of the most revered sports car designs in history before you make the choice to change any of its perfectly balanced details. The SplitRay 1966 coupe raises the bar in a way never attempted before with regard to bringing the design elements of the C2 to a new level.

07 1966 Corvette Sting Ray Split Ray Ridler Johnson 2/43

Dennis Johnson of South Hero, Vermont, is a die-hard hot rodder whose history of growing up in suburban Detroit during the ’60s led him down a high-performance path from a young age. Being able to watch first-hand the muscle car wars erupting during late nights on Telegraph Road as all the latest factory performance mules battled for supremacy to see who would rule the streets secured his calling. A number of cool cars passed through his hands eventually, including a ’62 Falcon Sprint with a 289ci V-8, ’63 Plymouth Sport Fury, ’62 Galaxie 500 and ’69 Camaro. While they were all hopped-up and held their own on the streets, it was the sight and sounds of the new Corvettes that caused his pulse to race with every gear change he’d hear. Meanwhile, his soon to be wife Charlene was also captivated by early Corvettes from an early age, making their union one with a truly unique bond. As the years passed the pair finally started to pursue the dreams of ownership, starting with a ’59 for Charlene followed by a ’62 for Dennis, both being well-sorted driver level cars. Wanting to bring the ’59 to a whole new level, Dennis had seen a number of well-balance builds with meticulous attention to detail from The Auto Shoppe in nearby South Burlington. This led him to schedule an appointment with shop co-owner Scott Roth. The pair shared the vision of what it would take to bring the C1 to the next level, being that it was a non-numbers-matching car, complete with a cutting-edge Fast Track chassis from the Roadster Shop along with big brakes, a Chevrolet Performance LS376 crate V-8 and a bevy of custom touches.

37 1966 Corvette Sting Ray Split Ray Ridler Johnson 3/43

While Charlene’s freshened C1 was a total restomod, the ’62 was an original timepiece. The differences in the cars were remarkable and with Dennis now leaning to modifying his car it was Roth who stepped in to add just the right amount of influence. Seeing that Dennis always loved the styling of C2 coupes a decision was made to offer the ’62 up for sale while starting the search for a suitable donor car to start a fresh build. In a flash Dennis’ roadster was snapped up giving Roth the chance to dedicate time to locating the start of the coupe project. His search led him to a veritable basket case 1966 coupe just outside Philadelphia that was missing its chassis and driveline. The car did however have a body that had been broken in two, boxes of random parts and a valid VIN so a deal was made and the lot was hauled back to Vermont to be evaluated at The Auto Shoppe. Both Roth and Dennis studied the newly acquired pile as it sat in the back of the shop to fuse their individual creativity and come up with a game plan. One afternoon Dennis commented that it might be cool to put a new C7-styled interior into the car as one of its neat characteristics and days later Roth showed up with a complete interior from a 2015 Z06 that had been totaled after only 3 miles on the odometer. The fuse had been lit and now it was time to decide on how to incorporate the newly acquired business office into the build.

After studying all of the options it was Roth who came up with the idea of going where nobody had ever gone before. His vision of incorporating the newly minted interior with all of its technology and comforts into the C2 shell led him to start measuring the width differences of the stock C2 interior and that of the wider C7. On paper, the difference was found to be 6 3/8-inches, which doesn’t seem like a lot until you have to make a decision on fitment. Making one decision changes everything and it would have been easy to cut down the C7 dash and console to fit the C2. In Roth’s mind however there was a better way to address the situation by cutting the car down the center and widening the body to accept its new interior components. Since this would be a ground-up build the car would also receive an updated chassis and driveline to bring it all to life, all within a 17-month timeframe. It takes guts to take on a job in creating something like this. Doing something that’s never been done leads you down a path where you’re setting the new standard and there is no margin for error. It’s one where custom fabrication is the norm and designing new elements to infuse into the build is a way of life that occupies you 24/7. Melding the past design with cutting edge performance, technology and comfort without sacrificing the original elements is the key in making the project work.

36 1966 Corvette Sting Ray Split Ray Ridler Johnson 4/43

To set the car on a cutting-edge base a call was made to the Roadster Shop in Mundelein, Illinois, for one of their extreme performance Fast Track chassis specifically designed for the C2 Corvette. The build of the frame started 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. To accommodate larger tires on deeper dish wheels Roth ordered the frame with a custom narrow track width of 54.75 inches. The rear features the Roadster Shop’s Fast Track IRS assembly with a 3.73:1 Eaton Detroit Truetrac locker combined with a 1 1/4-inch splined sway bar and optional Penske remote reservoir triple-adjustable coilover shocks. For the ultimate in 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 optional Penske remote reservoir triple-adjustable coilover shocks.

Once the chassis was received, Roth set out to customize it for fitment to the SplitRay. First, the main framerails were the cut and triangulated to allow for additional room inside the cabin while all body mounts were moved outboard by 3 3/16 inches to match the now wider body. To add an even deeper ground-hugging stance, the body was then channeled 3 inches over the frame along with dropped 16-gauge steel floors while also having an airbox grafted in place in front. Finally, all the welds were smoothed and the base was prepped for a subtle coating of PPG Waterborne Mercedes Bronze with the suspension components treated to a combination of gloss and satin custom-blended PPG Silver. All bolts for final assembly were then smoothed and treated to a custom bronze powdercoating and secured in place with Nord-Lock fasteners. To make sure there was plenty of stopping power an ABS Power-Brake master pushes fluid through custom hand-polished copper nickel alloy lines to Baer Pro-Plus 14-inch cross-drilled rotors with matching six-piston calipers at each corner. The crowning touch linking it all to the street are a set of one-off, turbine-style wheels from Evod Industries of Escondido, California, with matching knock-off style caps sized 19x11 front and 20x13 rear, wearing Pirelli P Zero Corsa 295/30ZR19 and 345/30ZR20 tires, respectively.

12 1966 Corvette Sting Ray Split Ray Ridler Johnson 5/43

Wanting to infuse a supercar essence to the car, Roth contacted Chevrolet Performance for one of their fire-breathing LS9 6.2L supercharged V-8s. Being that it was the most powerful regular-production engine ever offered from GM direct from the Corvette ZR1, it was a perfect match for the SplitRay. Displacing 376 cubic inches, the engine features an impressive 9.1:1 compression ratio generating 638 horsepower and 604 lb-ft torque for plenty of blistering power throughout the rpm range. It’s packed with the best performance bits available starting with a cast-aluminum block with six-bolt, cross-bolted main caps filled with a forged steel crank with nine-bolt flange linked to forged titanium connecting rods wearing forged aluminum pistons. A hydraulic roller cam sets the beat while high-flow aluminum L92-style heads with 68cc chambers generate plenty of power while matched with EFI and the crowning touch of the Eaton R2300 supercharger with its four-lobe, 160-degree twist impellers running at 10.5 psi of boost through a liquid-to-air intercooler setup. In detailing the engine to pay homage to the early C2 fuel injection systems, Roth set forth to add his own personal design elements to give it a much cleaner look while also incorporating additional functionality. Starting at the top, the supercharger lid was redesigned for added cooling along with fins added on top to take advantage of the functional hood intake. Supercharger coolant was then redirected to exit from the rear of the engine, separated into two circuits flowing into billet reservoirs mounted on the rear of the supercharger then onto custom intercoolers by CBR Performance. The ignition coils were repositioned behind the dash and vintage-styled finned script valve covers were designed by Roth as well as custom covers for the master cylinder and reservoir covers. Finally, a custom curved firewall and inner fenders were crafted along with the radiator crossmember and cooling fan shroud.

Evod Industries then brought the designs for the supercharger lid, valve covers and custom covers to life in high-polished billet aluminum showcasing the beauty of the LS9. The level of detail is staggering and can be seen in the replacement, for example, of all the factory plastic lines with hand polished copper nickel alloy lines. The exhaust itself is a work of art with each handcrafted header constructed from 1 7/8-inch stainless which has been pie-cut, TIG-welded and purged with well-over 100 cuts per header. The exhaust merges into custom collectors to 4-inch stainless side pipes featuring one-off muffler inserts capped by polished handcrafted covers to echo the originals with the exception these are 5 inches in diameter. Putting the power to the pavement, a Chevrolet Performance T56 Super Magnum six-speed manual trans with a 10 1/2-inch dual disc clutch links to a custom driveshaft.

21 1966 Corvette Sting Ray Split Ray Ridler Johnson 6/43

At the beginning of our story we mentioned the most unique feature in creating the SplitRay was in fact the actual splitting of the body and widening it to accommodate a new C7-styled interior into the car as one of its main focal points. The journey was not one for the meek as it meant re-engineering not only the design elements, but that of the chassis dynamics as well. Starting with a body shell that had been stripped bare, Roth and his dedicated team began the process of measuring and then cutting the body down the center from stem to stern. It was then widened 6 3/8 inches while also massaging all surrounding body lines to balance the newfound width, infusing a subtle aura into its personality. To accommodate the greenhouse changes the rear glass was made 2 inches longer to help disguise the extra width of the body. A buck was then made for the front and rear and shipped to Bent Glass Design of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, to create the new DOT-certified glass. Window moldings were then handcrafted from aluminum, including a custom profile with final production by Evod who also produced the unique emblems and sill plates. Out back, three taillights per side were incorporated to the tail along with custom bumpers fashioned from aluminum on a power hammer and sculpted to perfection. Up front, the signature grille was designed by Roth with Evod carving it out of an 800-pound block of billet aluminum accented by custom steel front bumpers designed to integrate into the grille. Once the body was completed, it was gapped to perfection, made razor sharp by the team and given a dramatic coating of PPG Waterborne Sharkskin Grey metallic vibe. The final icing came from Advanced Plating who handled all the brightwork on the car with mile-deep chrome to accent the body details.

Sitting in the car you’d swear you were in a brand-new C7 awash with unique updates. Designed to look like a new Corvette business office, it was actually all custom fabricated starting with the handformed dash melding into the heavily modified original factory console. To monitor all the vitals, the gauges were designed by The Auto Shoppe and brought to production-perfection by Classic Instruments while the shifter and custom pedals were by Evod. For plenty of travel comfort, a Vintage Air system was installed to maintain the perfect temperature of the interior for all seasons. Wiring the car, the team installed a custom designed and built multiplex system from Infinity Box allowing an array of 13 computers within the system to allow complete control through their exclusive web router integrated to both the dash touch screen and owners phone. To complete the electronics, Creative Sound of Williston, installed the Kenwood interface sound system adding a symphony of sound to the interior as well as full GPS capabilities. To add just the right amount of fine details and complete the interior, Richmond Upholstery covered the seats and panels with a combination of soft antique walnut and black grain leather from Relicate Custom Leather complimented by luxurious black wool carpet. In the world of custom Corvette’s, the SplitRay has raised the bar to a new level with The Auto Shoppe creating something truly distinctive and we can hardly wait to see Dennis hit the streets in his new ride. Vette

Photos and video by Chuck Vranas

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