Before the 327 Nova, Super Sport 396 Chevelle, and the Z28 Camaro, Bow Tie loyalists with a penchant for performance were treated to the W-headed 409 nestled in SS Impalas from 1961 through 1965. Various iterations of the famed, odd-shaped, valve-covered plant inspired the Beach Boys billboard hit and wins at the Winternationals. Although later engines pushing higher compression through larger cubic inches with improved intake and exhaust flow would succeed the venerable powerplant, none would be so revered. Topping the rarity chart, the General's "mystery motors"-fresh from their sweep at Daytona-were installed only in the General's passenger car line. In addition to the 427 mystery motors, another variation were the Z-11s. primarily designed for drag racing, it was hailed as one of most wicked motors that GM produced that decade.
Arkansas City, Kansas, native Larry Barnes is familiar with the W-Series as a 348 "Turbo-Thrust" propels his '58 Impala. But in April 2004, while perusing a copy of Hemmings Motor News, he found this '54 roadster, and a plan for a project vehicle was hatched. The Corvette was sold as a rolling chassis, void of an engine or transmission but with all the rolling stock included. The car was located only a few miles from the LAX airport, so Larry was able to fly in, look over the car, seal the transaction, and fly right back home. He arranged for a car shipper to haul the car east. sadly, this would be the car's undoing. Negligent workers failed to strap down the drop top, which caused it to violently roll around during the trip. The Corvette arrived at Larry's home with the front clip totally decimated.
Because of the '54's condition, Larry opted for a totally different build. Locating a new front would only be a small portion of everything he had in mind. A complete C4 suspension modernized the roadster's drivability, giving the car contemporary braking, handling, and ride characteristics. A modified frame came from Paul Newman Car Creations in Templeton, California, which has a long-honored reputation for performance parts and up-to-date conversions. An '86 C4 was sacrificed, offering up its rack-and-pinion, control arms, and IRS. Baer discs replaced the factory brakes, while the rear retained its street-friendly 3.73 posi-traction gear ratio. Wanting the car to roll on as much rubber as possible without altering the chassis, 7x17-inch rims front and back were wrapped with large Nitto 245/45ZR17 tires.
The body, after being meticulously treated with the kindest of hands to reshape the wounded fiberglass, slipped over the 99-inch wheelbase. The skin, smoothed and sanded, was coated in Polo White BASF Diamont (basecoat/clearcoat) by Riverside Auto in Arkansas City. In addition to the front clip, a bulge hood modification was made to the original fiberglass. A complete drivetrain was rebuilt and prepped; the key component-a wild-looking 409-opened up to 483 ci and required the extra hood clearance. The block was filled with 11:1 compression slugs, Manley H-beam rods, a steel crank, a roller Comp Cams camshaft, and a complete Lamar Walden Z11-style top end. Aluminum heads and a two-piece intake with matching 560-cfm AFB carburetors with a custom airbox topped off the plant.
Sanderson headers flowing through Spin Tech mufflers and out 3-inch tubes spill the exhaust out the rear, while between the pipes an automatic 700R4 splits the shifts via a Lokar shifter. Built by Cliff Gotllob, the gearbox spins an idle-smooth 2,500-stall torque converter.
It goes without saying that a build such as this required an obscene quantity of assembly, disassembly, and refitting to get everything to mate up right. Lamar Walden, who built the 483ci 409, and Larry have plans to convert the dual-quad intake to fuel injection, ramping up the modernization just another notch. with only 121 miles on the odometer since the build, this '54 has many more years of life ahead of it.