What generation of Corvette makes the best Vette Rod? Some say the C2, combining the classic Sting Ray styling with latter-day Vette power and handling. Some say the C4, as a well-used one can be turned into quite a performer and looker (like what we're doing with Project C4orce). Wayne Ausherman's '56 makes a strong case for treating first-generation Corvettes to Vette Rod-style powertrain and chassis updates, along with some custom touches all its own.
If you're afraid that Wayne tore up an ultra-rare '56 to build his beauty, don't worry...Wayne says that the driver-quality C1 that he found in Connecticut was far from a Top Flight car. "It was not the original color, matching numbers, or anything like that, but it was a decent driver," he says from his Frederick, Maryland, home. "The owner was retiring and moving to Florida, and he couldn't find anyone up there to put air conditioning in the car. He said that he wasn't going to have it in Florida without A/C in it. I wanted the car, so I didn't tell him about Vintage Air-and it has Vintage Air A/C in it now!"
Wayne enjoyed his '56 in its as-purchased state for about a year, and then he decided to do something with it. That involved swapping the original front and rear suspension for Jim Meyer's high-performance hardware. "I like the Jim Meyer stuff, because I like to play with the car a little at the dragstrip-the 9-inch and four-link under the car, and coilovers-I like that idea," says Wayne. "Of course, having tubular A-arms and coilovers up front with rack-and-pinion steering-I like that too."
He also liked not having to replace his C1's original frame, as the Jim Meyer Racing parts were bolt-in replacements for some OEM hardware whose designs dated back to the '40s. "You don't have to cut your original frame up," Wayne says. "You do have to make a couple little tack welds, like for the rear sway bar mounts, but nothing that can't be ground off and fixed (restored) later. It's not like you're cutting the frame up."
Even though Wayne did much of the work himself, he did get some help with the '56's frame." I took it up to my brother's house, in a three-car garage that he has, and re-did the whole suspension. That's where I POR-15'd the frame."
Another difference between Wayne's car and other Vette Rods: the powertrain. Instead of picking an LS-series engine or a later version of The General's venerable small-block, he stuck with the non-original engine that was in the car when he bought it. "It's a 283, whose block was bored out to four inches, giving 301 cubic inches," Wayne says. "It's got a good Comp Cams camshaft in it, and I put a quiet gear drive in it. It's got heads from a 365 horsepower 327, with 2.02-inch intake valves, and it's also got a 750 Holley on it." Backing the now-301 is a Muncie M-21 four-speed with a Hurst Competition Plus shifter, with a 3.55-geared nine-inch rear end putting the power on the pavement via the Goodyear-shod American Racing Torq-Thrusts.
Wayne definitely went the custom route when it came to the '56's body. Instead of major modifications that you'd see right away, Wayne added details and custom touches that you notice the second or third time you look at them. Those include: A NACA duct in the hood, filled-in stock exhaust holes, a '55 rear bumper, tan vinyl on the auxiliary hard top, and "Z56" emblems on the sides, which Wayne made with a CNC machine after he scanned in the "Z06" emblem.
As for the body and interior color, Wayne says they're something that a lot of people ask him about. "Everywhere I go, the first thing that people want to know is, what color is it? It's House of Kolor's Sunset Pearl, and the dash is Tangerine Metalflake." Those colors were sprayed on by Wayne's buddy, Mickey Schultz, in Union Bridge, Maryland.
Instead of being a "perpetual project" that's never quite finished, Wayne got his '56 done to the condition you see it here in about two and a half years. What's this Z56 like to drive? "It's a ball, but it sure does draw attention," says Wayne. "The car is very adjustable in height, ride, and everything."
If you're considering a first-gen Vette Rod of your own, following Wayne's example is a good idea. "I'm not a purist, and the car was not numbers-matching when I bought it," he says. "This is what I wanted to do-I wanted the old look with later technology, that I could get in and drive to Ocean City, Maryland, or anywhere I want. It's got air conditioning, power windows, rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes-and you can do all that without ruining a good car."