We have no intention of trying to pass this custom '58 Corvette kit car off as an authentic '58 Vette-Rod, though it could easily fool most passersby. The details in the meticulously sculpted body lines, the shapelier dimensions in comparison to the real-deal roadster, and the recent trend of converting classic Corvettes into modern-powered, late-model, hybrid performers all help to substantiate this Street Rods Only halo car.
Mike Walker, proprietor of the Macon, Illinois, custom-fabrication shop, has been in the business of building customized street rods for 25 years, from wild Willys, '32-'37 Fords, '35, '49, and '57 Chevys, and a little bit of everything else mixed in between. Among the wild creations rolling out of his garage, several have been client-customized, first-generation Corvettes. Working on the fiberglass-bodied, lightweight roadsters gave him a certain buzz, and the more he worked on them, the more he realized the potential for greater and more creative avenues he could follow with the American sports car. And so he began negotiations with the Mastretta brothers.
If you haven't heard of the Mastretta brothers you simply haven't been reading your issues of Corvette Fever close enough. In our August '06 issue, we answered a reader's inquiry concerning a mysterious Corvette kit car featuring a unique Mexico-built body produced during the late '90s. Our research (with help from Rich Lagasse) discovered that the Mastretta brothers from Mexico had graduated from Texas University with engineering degrees, returned back home, and began a lucrative business in custom fabrication. Using detailed CAD illustrations and high-tech computer equipment, the two Mastretta brothers began producing '58 through '60 Corvette bodies. While their innovative body designs were sold throughout North America, the Mastrettas also fabricated the chassis, suspension geometry, and platform underpinnings for their retro creations. Complete, rolling, revamped Corvettes began rolling out of their shop shortly thereafter, with the fabled "Mexican Vette" moniker.
Unfortunately, the Mastrettas were only able to assemble a total of 20 complete vehicles as the costs of producing a complete vehicle in-house were too prohibitive for the small company. In lieu of manufacturing complete cars, they chose to begin selling off their custom bodies. Several companies throughout the States purchased the Mexican Vette bodies. While a few private companies' misdealings with customers had no direct connection to the Mastrettas' south-of-the-border Vettes, people's opinions of the Mexican Vettes began to sour. Clients lost deposits, companies vanished, web sites were shut down, and a long list of grievances caused many of the enthusiasts to simply turn their backs on the idea of suitable Corvette kit cars. Sales slumped, and the Mastretta brothers decided to pursue other ventures and sell off their interest in the Corvette kit car industry.
Mike Walker caught wind of the Mastrettas' desire to sell off their investment and promptly flew to Mexico to look at their operation. He was given a tour of the organization and shown all the individual parts and pieces needed to create the Mexican Vette. Impressed with the facility and the careful detail taken to produce the kit bodies, Mike was quick to purchase everything the Mastrettas would sell. After the sale, a large truck was loaded up to head north. When the shipment arrived, Mike and crew immediately began establishing a new department in their Street Rods Only shop.
The few remaining items at the Mastrettas' warehouse were then loaded up and sent north. Unfortunately, between the time the truck pulled out of the Mastrettas' driveway and the time it was scheduled to back into Mike's loading bay, two passenger jets struck the World Trade Center. The government quickly shut down all borders, airports, and docks. Both Mike and the Mastrettas had to verify the truck's legality over and over again until officials found no sign of WMDs amid the fiberglass panels, body molds, and tooling dies. finally after several weeks, the shipment was cleared through customs, and Mike and his crew could begin building their first Mexican Vette.
Even though Mike's first Vette was built per the Mastrettas' blueprints, he found certain places where revisions and modifications could improve the overall performance and look of the car. Since his first build, Mike has modified the chassis to accept an independent rear Dana 44 as opposed to the rigid 10-bolt from before. In addition, the original design was setup to utilize a Mustang II front suspension. Knowing that component had to go, he decided to ramp up the stakes a little and reconfigured the custom-boxed chassis to mate to all C4 suspension components.
Not content to simply tweak a few minor things, Mike added aggressive Aldan coilover adjustable shocks to all four corners. The brake and clutch assembly was modified and relocated under the dash, leaving the firewall clean of unnecessary hardware. Larger diameter discs and heavier-duty calipers were bolted at each wheel to ensure the Vette-Rod's stopping prowess. the chassis was modified to allow the seats to be pushed back an additional 3-4 inches to accommodate taller passengers. The chassis was formed from solid 4x2-inch steel boxed tubing, which made the frame more rigid in case of a side impact. The box tubing also provided significant added resistance from torsional twisting and flex. This allowed Street Rods Only to use a wide variety of powerplants from LS1s, LS2s, Z06 LS6s, and the new 427ci, 505hp LS7.
Unlike the standard first-generation Corvette, Mike raised the rear deck to allow massive 11-inch wide rims in the back. This accounts for the rod's lowered stance and its ability to run either custom street-rod rims and/or late-model Corvette factory wheels. He employed the services of Time Machines Unlimited to develop a conventional convertible top for the kit Vette. A-1 Fiberglass made several subtle changes to the body to give it a more sleek, street-rod appearance.
Initially, the custom car kits couldn't accommodate the original '58's interior, requiring all those who used the Mastrettas' body to custom stitch a unique cabin particular to the client's tastes. With the reworking talents of the crew at A-1, that is no longer a concern. The refurbished bodies can now take a completely restoration-true interior, including the dash pad, gauges, center console, door panels, and seats.
This particular black-on-red kit Vette-Rod served as not only the halo vehicle for Mike's Street Rods Only Vette venture, but also as the tooling car-the template for all changes devised or experimented on. Patterned after a '58 roadster, this faux Corvette features a 350 small-block hand-built by Street and Performance out of Mena, Arkansas, and is married to a Tremec six-speed manual transmission. All that power turns the independent Dana 36 out back with freeway-friendly 3.08 posi gears. Big Weld 18x10-inch rims up front and 20x10 rollers are wrapped in BFGoodrich rubber. A PRC custom aluminum radiator is cooled by dual fans, chilling the powerplant, while all factory C4 suspension helps the kit car carve the corners. A Flaming River steering column and Classic Custom gauges embossed with the Street Rods Only logo adorns the trick Schober's Upholstery leather interior. The cockpit is covered by a unique convertible top when the A/C is on and the power windows are up.
Once completed, the Corvette was rolled into SRO's paint booth and beautifully painted by Jimmy Mardis. Mike assures us the undercarriage is just as gorgeous as the top.
Liquid Cutting Concepts provided all the intricate metalwork, while Street Rods Only tackled the majority of the car build.
With customers calling from Russia, Australia, and Canada, Mike is more than happy to provide you with everything needed to build your own Vette-Rod no matter where you might live.