No neophyte to the world of desirable Vettes, Joseph Raia has kept a Corvette in his garage since 1960 when he was first courting the girl who would later become his wife. in fact, said Corvette was the inspiration for the purchase of this featured vehicle. The elusive '59 was followed by a sequence of rare, unique, and characteristically "Josephized" Chevrolets; the array of machines included a numbers-correct '67 427 coupe punched out to 496 cubes and a split-window fuelie. His eight-car home garage contains a fabrication shop with enough equipment to deconstruct and rebuild projects at his leisure.
While attending Orlando's '00 NCRS regional meet and auction, Joseph's wife spotted this black-and-red drop-top as it cornered the bidding line. The previous owner was upside down in the car after putting over $100,000 into the '59's restoration. The car had been bounced from one specialty shop to another for years, with the bills accruing to the point of near nausea, forcing the owner to rid himself of the roadster. Joseph's wife recognized the '59 as a near identical clone of their first Corvette and coaxed her husband into purchasing the six-figure convertible for her.
Of course, the elation wasn't totally one sided; Joseph's excitement for a new acquisition was evident as he repeatedly jumped to his feet thrashing the air with both arms during the bidding. his enthusiasm paid off as the keys and pink slip were handed over after the fall of the gavel.
Heading back north to their Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, home, Joseph realized just how truly anemic the factory 270-horse plant was. Composing an ethereal checklist in his mind, replacing the feeble 283 with a big-cube combination crept to the top of Joseph's inventory.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and Joseph's radical '59 roadster exemplifies this philosophy. He knew the Corvette was immaculately restored, but most of the labor was hidden until he began tearing into the machine. With the cost of a modest home invested in the rebuild, Joseph smiled when he saw how meticulously the Corvette had been returned to its factory-built glory. Immense care was taken to protect the car while the small-block was extracted. In lieu of rebuilding the 283 into a stroked, hi-revving version of its once former self, Joseph adhered to the timeless hot-rodder credo: Go big or go home.
With that in mind, a limited-edition World Products Motown 454 was ordered. The race-prepped blocks are completely reconfigured castings with expanded water jackets, extra-thick cylinder walls for extra overbore, and larger oiling journals.
What distinguishes this 454 from any other is this 454 is a small-block. Dyno proven at 600 ponies matched with 605 lb-ft of torque, the Motown-made iron block is topped with the brand's own aluminum heads filled with Manley valves and rockers and Hardcore springs. The 9.8:1 compression crate engine was finished with a MSD distributor, coil, and box, and topped with dual 500-cfm Edelbrock carburetors on a dual-quad intake from the same manufacturer.
The World powerplant was hoisted down into the engine bay and bolted to the Corvette's T10 four-speed gearbox. The rear was opened up and filled with 4.11 gears spinning the Posi-traction differential. A pair of Kook's stainless headers and full-length exhaust now tunnels the spent gases out the stealthy factory outlets fixed in the rear bumper. Seeing the danger of doubling the Corvette's original output, Joseph was wary about fully opening up the 454 for fear of quickly discovering the roadster's weak points. A set of trick MT whitewall slicks wrap around the Vette's original wheels, while the capricious '59 brakes remain the same.
Other tricks and subdued modifications reside on this re-invented drop-top, including a highly altered factory air-cleaner tin that was made to accept the dual Edelbrocks, nickel-plated valve covers to resemble the factory pans, but with tiny "454" monikers, and a very modern sound system. A 10-disc CD changer was mounted to the bottom of the trunk's spare cover panel. Tucked in the hub of the fullsize spare, the changer is surprisingly safe from vibrations and jostling that would cause persistent skipping and interruptions. The CD control pod is found in the center waterfall between the bucket seats, but the overall enjoyment of the personalized stereo system is dubious once the blaring roar of the built stroker motor fires up.
Though the '59 has not seen an official track time for fear of snapping something, Joseph keeps his foot to the floor on sunny days and weekend jaunts. A jack of all trades, the roadster shuts down would-be street racers, as well as taking first place at a local car show, and wowing the crowds at national Corvette meets and concours events.
Though the drop-top was initially purchased for his wife, Joseph's persistent inability to leave well enough alone has made it a little too wild for her tastes. Joseph will never admit if that was the intended strategy or not, but we have a pretty strong inclination when we see his smile as the pedal is pinned to the floorboards.