When Chevrolet finally entered the two-seater roadster pool, many felt the overly-common, Blue Flame inline six-cylinder engine was insufficient for the inaugural domestic-built Euro-roadster competitor. With an ultra-futuristic fiberglass body, lightweight chassis, tight interior quarters, and exclusive pricing, the first generation Corvettes were more of a glorified go-cart than the successive generations with engines such as the 396, 427, and 454.
The Corvette world cherishes its history and the super-rare coupes and roadsters that symbolize the evolution of the true all-American sports car. But moreover, automotive envy and appreciation sweeps over enthusiasts when somebody takes what never existed and makes it into something that should have been-even if only in our imaginations.
John Vestri, a Corvette enthusiast of the highest degree, realized there are many Vettes that can't be restored back to original, and demand was rapidly growing for cool resto-Vettes with greater drivability. Seeking to change the face of Corvette restoration, John pooled some resources to launch Vestri's Vettes, a resto-modification specialist shop that offers turnkey Corvettes with modern running gears and characteristics.
As a rolling example, John built this exquisite '54, claiming it's the first '54 with a LS6 427 bolted to a six-speed manual. Believe it or not, this roadster is driven-and by driven, we mean to the fullest extent of its ability-and we wouldn't have it any other way.
John had the fiberglass body removed from the aged chassis immediately after the roadster was found without engine and transmission in San Diego. Eagleton's Custom Auto Paint and Body out of Huntington Beach, California, attacked the ancient fiberglass. As the body was prepped to receive several coats of PPG Torch Red paint, the chassis was outfitted with a Jim Meyer Racing (JMR) coil-over suspension all the way around, as original GM-made front discs and Disc Explorer discs went to the four-link rear. JMR left its mark with a specialized rack-and-pinion steering kit as the Ford 9-inch differential was filled with Richmond 3.70 gears, JMR axles, and special-made shocks. The Corvette went from a demure cruiser to a hairpin-carving, cornering machine in one fell swoop.
Up front, Pro Design of Santa Ana, California, did the trick engine and transmission install.
Fiber Technology of Huntington Beach, California, was drafted for the interior stitchwork. Rich, black Selva leather was used for the door covers and seats, and the steering wheel was wrapped with Budnik leather. A Custom Autosound tuner and CD changer with a Clarion amp and speakers provides the tunes if the sounds emanating out of the tailpipes doesn't suit the driver.
The car has a totally-unmodified, General Motors LS6 427 crate engine that is still under factory product warranty. A complete MagnaFlow exhaust kit-from the factory manifolds down the 211/42-inch pipe and through the rear tail pipes-funnels all the fumes and rifles the noise into a fine mechanical symphony. A GM T56 six-speed, found in latter-day Corvettes, shifts the gears fluidly and as reliably of any current Vette with a B&M Automotive Products shifter.
The result was a drop-top with all the characteristics of a factory-fresh late-model Corvette, able to cut corners with ease or consume the 1,320 feet of the quarter-mile at breakneck speeds. John's unassuming little '54 takes many Corvette aficionados by surprise as it rumbles by with almost-too-many horses thumping under its hood-and that is never a bad thing.