1953 Chevrolet Corvette - Kool Kustom

Collector John Goodman Now Owns A True Piece Of Custom-Car History

Iain Ayre Apr 9, 2009 0 Comment(s)
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The customizing added drama and cleaner lines to a shape that was basically well-proportioned in the first place.

It would be unthinkable to chop and modify the only 77th straight-six '53 Corvette today, but in 1959 it was written off, valued at $75, and chopped up into a radical V-8 Kustom. Sometime between 1966 and 1989, it was stripped and dumped before being rescued and beautifully restored. The Kustom shown here has been featured in many major magazines in its time, although its biggest score was landing on the front cover of Motor Trend in 1959. Like many significant works of art, it speaks to new generations and is always worth revisiting.

The original customizer, Buster Dobbs, would probably have laughed his head off if anybody had called him a visionary automotive sculptor. It's true that he just cut up an existing crashed car and added a few bits and pieces of other cars to it, but the key point is that he added the right choice of bits in exactly the right places and transformed the '53 Corvette body styling from a mixture of slightly boring shapes and fussy detailing into a much cleaner and more dramatic look. I know I'm not supposed to say that about the treasured '53, but just look at the Kustom and a C1 side by side and tell me I'm wrong. It's a shame that General Motors didn't look at Motor Trend, track Buster down, and drag him into Chevrolet's styling department, but of course the next and much sexier generation of Corvette was well on the way by then anyway.

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These rear fins aren't quite as high or as extreme as the wild '59 Cadillacs', but they're not far off it.

The story of the Kustom Corvette begins in 1953, when Beaty Chevrolet, located in Knoxville, Tennessee, was having a hard time getting Corvettes off its forecourts, just like many other Chevrolet dealerships back in the day. Eventually one Joe Morris was offered a sweet enough deal and drove away in the white Corvette. It was probably a trade price, as Joe was a former Beaty employee and owned the Morris Pure Oil Service Station on nearby Henley Street. He must have liked the car, as he kept it and installed a 283 V-8 later in 1957. That was also when the hood got its scoop. The old Blue Flame engine was bought by Ed Cureton, who fitted a hot Howard cam, shaved the head to raise the compression to 9.5:1, and used it in his '52 Chevy race car.

In 1958, Joe traded the '53 in on a new fuel-injected Corvette, and the very same Ed Cureton bought it for $1,980. In 1959 Ed totaled the car in the wet as he "was driving careless and slid it into a wall." Corvettes are tough, but not as tough as walls-the car was written off and offered back to Ed by the insurance company for $75. He passed on it, and local body-shop owner Buster Dobbs bought it. Buster had seen another customized Corvette in Custom Cars magazine and used that as inspiration for creating his own piece of auto art.

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We don't know whether it was a happy coincidence that the right brightwork and lights were lying around Buster's workshop or whether he picked them specially, but the list looks quite contemporary rather than being old junk. The frenched headlights and surrounds are from a '58 Lincoln, probably a Continental or Premiere; the square radiator grille is from a '56 Studebaker Hawk; and the rear lights beneath the new tail fins are from a '56 Dodge, probably a Coronet or Royal. The Lincoln headlight surrounds are mounted at a more aggressive forward-facing angle compared to their vertical angle in the Lincoln, which could explain why spotlights have replaced the original conventional headlights, probably because the original headlight mounts wouldn't have been able to work at that angle. After its transformation, the car was painted flat white, and later sprayed blue and fitted with a rollbar.

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