Modifying a classic Corvette, or any Corvette for that matter, is a contentious point within our hobby. The purists want to preserve every last detail just as Chevrolet designed it while the hot rodders will happily hack a car within an inch of its life all in the pursuit of performance and style. To put it in the now cliché words of one of the greatest poets and playwrights of all time, “To modify or not to modify, that is the question.” Well, maybe that’s not quite how Shakespeare wrote it, but you get the idea.
For Danny Shaffer of Bakersfield, California, the question isn’t so much if he should modify a car, it’s when he will modify a car. That’s not just us at Vette making generalized assumptions either. He said it himself while we chatted over the phone saying, “I don’t particularly like leaving anything stock.” So when he came across an already-modified 1954 Corvette at an L.A. Roadster Show swap meet on Father’s Day some six years ago, it was the perfect fit.
Not only did the modification aspect make it a perfect fit for Shaffer, but also the uniqueness of the car. It was, after all, a 1954 Corvette, which made it one of only 3,640 ever produced. As we’ve come to find out, if there’s one thing Shaffer appreciates even more than modifying cars it’s owning and experiencing a wide variety of cars. “Cars have been my hobby my whole life and I like a variety of them,” Shaffer told us. When we asked him to clarify what types of cars constitute a “variety” he said, “I’ve got everything from a ’32 Ford roadster pickup to a twin-turbo 911 Porsche and everything in between.” He then proceeded to rattle off a long list of vehicles that definitely fit the “variety” profile. The ones that caught our attention included ’62 and ’66 Corvettes plus a 2009 Z06, and even a C6 ZR1, some of which he used to own and some he still does.
With years and years of experience owning and modifying a wide range of cars, Shaffer has developed an eye for making any given car look just right. His ’54 Corvette is no exception. When he first brought the Corvette home, Shaffer described it as “just a nice driver, but nothing special.” What we’re thinking he meant by that is it was just a few tweaks away from being something special. Overall, it was actually quite a nice little restomod Corvette.
When Shaffer bought it, the ’54 was sitting on a Jim Meyer custom tube chassis with coilovers all around and a Ford 9-inch rearend with 3.73s and a limited-slip. The Corvette also had late-model Camaro spindles in the front with 14-inch drilled and slotted Baer disc brakes at all four corners. The powertrain consisted of a stout 383-cubic-inch small-block crate engine paired with a TREMEC five-speed gearbox. A custom stainless exhaust system tied together a pair of block-hugger headers, MagnaFlow mufflers and late-model Corvette-style (quad) exhaust tips. The holes in the body where the stock exhaust once exited were simply capped off. Back inside the engine bay, the 383 was topped by a 600-cfm Edelbrock carburetor and a custom air cleaner. Finally, a Ron Davis aluminum radiator and electric cooling fan kept engine temps under control.
After purchasing the ’54 roadster, Shaffer simply brought it home and enjoyed it for a few years before deciding it needed a few things. “It just needed to be freshened up a bit,” he recalled, “but as usual I got a little carried away and did some extra.” He started with getting the stance of the car just right. The custom tube chassis didn’t necessarily need any help in the handling department, but it sat too high for Shaffer’s liking so he threw on a new set of coilover shocks from QA1 and brought the car down a few inches. While he was under there, Shaffer also installed a modern rack-and-pinion steering system. He then got a set of chrome 17-inch Billet Specialties Mag wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich g-Force Sport Comp rubber measuring 215/45ZR17 front and 245/45ZR17 rear.
After getting the stance right with the correct wheel and tire combination, Shaffer moved onto paint and body. He sent the Corvette over to H&S Body Works & Towing in Bakersfield, California, for a freshening up. Shaffer decided to have the car resprayed in the same color, silver mist, with DuPont paint, but not before the guys at H&S gapped all the panels and perfected the bodywork. Then Shaffer had Sherm’s Custom Plating out of Sacramento, California, touch up some of the chrome pieces on his ’54, such as the bumpers and the 1959 Corvette grille insert. He also got rid of the plugs where the stock exhaust once exited and installed a pair of backup lights.
Inside the cabin of Shaffer’s Corvette, most of the big stuff like upholstery was already done and in good condition but that didn’t mean he was going to leave it alone. With the help of friend and automotive handyman Eddie Carter, he installed new custom gauges from Classic Instruments and reworked some of the ducting for the Vintage Air climate control system under the dash. Shaffer also swapped out the steering wheel for something a little more modern.
Once the modifications began, the process took about a year before Shaffer finished massaging the Corvette. When we asked if there was anything he would change about it now that the car was complete, Shaffer replied, “Nothing. We like it just fine and drive it quite often.” The roadster gets a disproportionate amount of attention compared to his other cars thanks in no small part to his wife, Diane’s, approval of it. In Shaffer’s words, “Of all my cars—and I have a few—my wife says this is her favorite and likes to drive it.” Whether her approval comes from Chevrolet’s iconic design, Shaffer’s refined taste in modification or a combination of the two, we may never know. What we do know is that we won’t be the ones to disagree. Vette
Photography by Eric Geisert