When we've seen some Vette Rods before, we've described them as a "C4 hiding inside a C2," for their later-generation (or later) Corvette powertrain and chassis hidden underneath an earlier-generation Vette body. This car does it the same way, but differently. The body is a reproduction '63 split window coupe, while the frame, powertrain, chassis, and interior are original '96 items. Confused? No need to be once you hear A-1 Fiberglass' Dan Gernstein. "I've always liked the '63," he says from his Omaha, Nebraska, shop. "We decided that we'd build our own 'tools' and see what we came up with, and that's what it ended up to be," he says of the silver split-window that you see here.
A-1 is already in the fiberglass-body business, whose products include repro '58-'62 C1 bodies for Macon, Illinois' Street Rods Only. Thanks to some dedicated in-house work, A-1 came up with the tooling to reproduce the classic split-window Sting Ray coupe body. "I've got a couple of really talented guys that work for me, Gary Berthelsen and Jim Hatch," says Dan. "They did a bunch of research on which newer Corvette would fit under a '63 body, and the '92-'96 was the closest measurement to it. That's what we ended up using-we bought a '96 that had about 70,000 miles on it. We took the body off, and we started from there." Dan adds, "It turned out to be a really neat project, and they did a heck of a job on it. They're car guys stuck in a fiberglass shop. We do a lot of different high-tech projects, but for them to do this project, they really got into it." If you think they tore up a perfectly good '96 Corvette in the process, guess again. "It was hit in the front right corner," says Dan. "The frame horn was bent a little bit, the hood was broken, and the right rear quarter was broken." He adds, however, that the car was in great mechanical condition.
Speaking of great mechanical condition, if you can't find your copy of Mike Antonick's Corvette Black Book, let us fill you in on some of the mechanical goodies that the '96 Corvette has that many of its predecessor C4 variants don't have. That starts with the 300-horsepower LT1 version of the venerable Chevy small-block V8, standard on all automatic-equipped '96 Vettes (including the donor car that A-1 used). Add to that options like the available RPO Z51 Performance Handling package, and you're talking "Factory Vette Rod" with or without the RPO Z15 Collector's Edition or Z16 Grand Sport option packages.
Adding the genuine C4 to the repro C2 body started with subtraction. "We unglued the original body and left the box area that the seats and dash are contained in," Dan says. "After we made our body, we made sections that would attach to the original box and to our body, and then we glued the car back together, as it should have been from the factory. So, there are no rivets or screws-it's a bonded car." Plus, Dan adds that A-1 took about a year to design, engineer, and develop their split-window body, so when they put this one on, a top-quality fiberglass creation was created. Dan also says there were some other aspects of the C4-to-C2 conversion that went extremely well. "We didn't cut one wire on this car," he says. "The only thing we did was change the ends, to plug them back into the taillights. Matter of fact, we didn't even drain the refrigerant out of the air-conditioning system."
Inside the wheelwells, Dan went with something that looks like Chevrolet Styling (back in the day) or GM Design (nowadays) could have come up with. "I wanted to have the 'fin'-style, knock-off wheel look," he says. "We found a company out in California, EVOD Industries. They cut the wheels for us, and we put 19s on the front and 20s on the back." Another component that came from the 21st Century customizers' kit: The paint that went on this retro split window. "It's an '08 Chrysler color (Bright Silver Metallic) that they painted their Chargers and 300s with," says Dan. "Walker Street Rods out of Macon, Illinois, painted the car for us."
And, like most Vette Rods being built today, this one is no trailer queen. "I've got about a couple hundred miles on it right now, and it's really a neat car," Dan says. "I'd never owned a '96 before, so I assume that it has all the driving characteristics of the '96." Good driving characteristics, yes. Bad kit-car characteristics, no. "I don't want this to have the standard 'kit car' reputation-where if we sell the parts to someone, and they assume they can do it but can't, it ends up in a garage and gets a bad name," says Dan. "The way we'll approach this at Classic-Glass.com is, if someone wants their car re-bodied, we'll take the old body off and put one of our new bodies on, to make sure that it's put together properly. If they want to do things like paint it and do their own interior, they can. We want to control all the hard parts, to make sure that job gets done right the first time. We don't want something out there that's not put together properly."
Right now, the factory C4 chassis is the only one they've used. "I'm not sure what other levels we'll take this thing to, but we're working with Blue Fusion," Dan says of their ongoing development work. "They're a privately-owned company that's a Tier 1 designer for Ford and Chrysler. They're coming in and doing a lot of scanning on our body to make some adjustments, to make for a little easier installation." Easier, that is, with the next ones they plan on building. "We're gonna do, I think, four or five more, "Dan says. "That's so we get an idea of what our costs to produce it really are, and what our time is to build it."
Regardless of the time that A-1 will need to turn out the second C4-inside-a-C2-split-window Corvette, Dan has plenty of praise for his two key employees, Gary Berthelsen and Jim Hatch, whose talents made this car a reality. "Their extraordinary workmanship and devotion to excellence resulted in the success of this project."
'96 Chevrolet Corvette (Inside Reproduction '63 Sting Ray Coupe Body)
Owned by: Dan Gernstein, Omaha, Nebraska
Reproduction '63 Sting Ray coupe body by A-1 Fiberglass, Omaha, Nebraska
Bodywork: And paint preparation by A-1 Fiberglass and Street Rods Only, Macon, Illinois
Paint: DuPont 2008 Chrysler Bright Silver metallic basecoat/clearcoat
Paint: Applied by Walker Street Rods, Macon, Illinois
Frame: OEM '96 Corvette
Suspension: OEM C4 Corvette
Steering: OEM C4 Corvette rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
Brakes: OEM C4 four-wheel disc brakes (13-inch rotorsd in front, 12-inch rotors in rear), with ABS
Wheels: One-off custom wheels made for A-1 by EVOD Industries, 19-inch diameter in front, and 20-inch diameter in rear
Tires: General Exclaim UHP, 245/35ZR19 in front, 245/35ZR20 in rear
GM powertrain LT1 small-block V8
Displacement: 350 cubic inches
Compression Ratio: 10.1:1
Cylinder Heads: OEM LT1 cast iron
Ignition: OEM LT1 electronic
Induction: OEM LT1 sequential electronic fuel injection
Camshaft: OEM LT1 hydraulic roller
Exhaust: OEM LT1 exhaust manifolds, 2/1/2-inch exhaust/tail pipes and MagnaFlow mufflers
Horsepower: 300 @ 5800 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 340 ft. /lbs. @ 4500 rpm (Advertised)
GM 4L60E overdrive automatic
Shifter: OEM '96 Corvette, console-mounted
Rear End: Dana 36 differential
Customized '96 Corvette (made to fit inside split window body)
Modifications: Power windows and door locks added to C2 doors, custom armrest and dash, custom rear storage area
Seats: '05 C5 sport seats upholstered in Red Flame soft-side vinyl by Sky's Seat Cover Center, Fremont, Nebraska
Carpets: Dorsett original-style loop pile
Door Panels: Al Knoch Interiors' reproduction C2 coupe panels
Instrumentation: OEM '96 Corvette ( Digital speedometer, 0-6000 rpm tach with 5300 rpm redline, plus ammeter, oil pressure, oil temperature, coolant temperature and fuel level gauges)
Sound System: OEM '96 Corvette Delco/Bose AM/FM Stereo/CD
HVAC: OEM '96 Corvette