As we said a few issues back, many Corvette enthusiasts point to the '67 Sting Ray as the best of the second-generation Vettes. But how do you improve on the best? The improvement came by adding that earlier generation's legendary styling to the current world-class C6, and that's what Karl Kustom Corvettes has done. Located just north of Des Moines, Iowa, this 12,000-square-foot shop-owned by the same company that owns the Karl Chevrolet dealership in Ankeny-converted a C6 convertible into the C2 look-alike seen here.
Sounds like a good idea-but how did it start? Dave Carnock, the custom shop's team leader, recalls that a very particular Vette customer, Jarred Johnson, who'd had many previous-generation Vettes over the years, inspired them. "He decided that he wanted a Midyear, and he went and bought a nice '63, drove it, and was terribly disappointed with it," says Dave. "He thought he'd bought a bad car, so he bought a '67, but it wasn't any better. His son said, 'You're not buying bad cars, you're buying old cars!'" It turned out that customer's son happened to own a C6, and he told his dad to go drive it. As Dave puts it, "Once he came back, he said, 'That's what I want!'"
There's a lot to like about the C6, especially when its standard LS3 engine puts out as much advertised horsepower as the ultra-rare '67 RPO L88 427. (Stop laughing already! We know the L88's "advertised" 430hp rating was both a way to keep it a race-only option, as well as an inside joke for the Vette community -Ed.) But, instead of a de-contented, race-only car, the LS3-powered C6 comes with a raft of standard features and options that were once the wildest dreams of every Vette engineer since Zora Arkus-Duntov, and every Chevy division boss since Ed Cole.
Dave says with enough time, anything is possible, and his shop set out to make a C6 body that looked just like the'67 Sting Ray. They wound up changing nearly every panel on the car. "On a roadster, the only original body panels on the car are the trunk lid, the two mirrors, the gas door, and the rocker panels," he notes. Instead of using a factory-style press molding operation, the Karl Kustom Corvettes team uses hand-laminated fiberglass, using modern-tech vinyl ester resin. "Every panel we build uses the factory fasteners and attaches where the original fenders on the C6 attach," says Dave. "Every door hinge and latch, every hood hinge and latch, and every weather seal is the factory C6 part."
And every powertrain, chassis, interior, electric and electronic component is also factory C6, as is the factory warranty that covers the car once it rolls out of their shop. By the way, the body panels that they take off don't go to waste. Dave says that they go into the parts pipeline to repair unfortunately-crunched C6s.
When long-time Vette owner Bob Young was looking for a Midyear not long ago, he heard of the new concept taking shape in Karl shop. Bob was a long-time customer of Karl Chevrolet, as well as a long-time acquaintance of dealer founder Carl Moyer. "He's an old racer, a drag racer, and he still races ARCA trucks on the circuit," says Bob, who's purchased more than a few Chevys (including Vettes) from Karl over the years.
Bob, who'd graduated from high school in 1967, had always wanted a '67 Sting Ray. "About every 5-6 years, I find a good '67 convertible, and after I drove it for ten minutes, I knew why I wouldn't buy it," he says. "They squeak, they rattle, and the high-performance clutch makes your left leg tired. I could never bring myself to own one because I wanted it as a driver."
Carl called Bob to tell him of this concept, and all it took for Bob to decide that he wanted one of these "old-look" C6s was one look through his discerning eyes. "Those guys did it right," he says. "They have all the right dimensions, they use the original taillights, and the headlights are hidden in the grille." Bob adds enthusiastically, "They're a quality bunch-they love automobiles. When the owner says, 'Do it only one way, and do it right,' they do it right. They do a lot of work building a lot of special-interest cars. They can do it all, and they've done some national-prize-winning street rods, in addition to this Corvette stuff."
By national-prize-winning, we mean cars that compete for the top titles in the rod-and-custom show world, including the Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama and "America's Most Beautiful Roadster" at L.A.'s Grand National Roadster Show. Lest you think this car is a one-off like a Ridler or AMBR contender, Karl Kustom Corvettes has turned out more than just this one. "To date, there are about 12 of them on the road," says Dave, "and I've got five of them in the shop in production."
Already, these '67-look C6s are getting plenty of attention. "People look at it twice," Bob says. "All of the panels fit in the same places-at first you look at it and say, 'That's an interesting '67.' If the top's down, they say, 'Boy those are different wheels!' And then when they start looking closer, they say, 'This isn't a '67! This isn't a Midyear-what's going on?' If the top's up, because of the slack windshield and shorter convertible top, it's easily identifiable." But, when it comes to driving it on the road, Bob says his defensive driving skills are put to the test. "I've had people with their cellphone cameras coming up alongside me taking pictures, and cutting in front of me to take a picture of the front end, riding my bumper."
We took our first look at the car at 2009's C5/C6 Bash in Bowling Green, and Bob's also had it out to Vettes on the Rockies in Colorado. "Rollie Purifoy was out there from Lupton, Colorado (whose Callaway Corvettes we've previously featured -Ed.). I've known him for a while, and he had Ron Fellows come in for a day. Fellows pulled up with Rollie and introduced himself, and they were circling around it and kidding each other about taking this one out for a ride. Rollie said, 'The last time you did that, you scared the crap out of me,' and I said, 'Neither one of you is going to drive it, after listening to you guys for a while!'"
Bob is also particular about what cars go in his garage, as well as who drives them. "I've got 22 different cars that are high-dollar cars," he says of his collection, which also includes a pair of '53 Vette Commemorative Edition look-alikes (a roadster and a "Waldorf" Nomad wagon). "I'm real picky about quality, fit, and finish, and those guys just do it right." In Bob's mind, they do it so well that he came back to Karl for another C6/C2 conversion: a coupe converted to a '63 split-window look-alike. "That also turned out great, says Bob. "We did that in Mosport Green-the '66 light-silver-green color. It's very subtle, but it's very attractive."
Meanwhile, Dave has this to say about a repeat customer like Bob: "He's a great spokesman for us," he says. "If a guy's coming back for seconds, I don't think I need to say anything else. That speaks volumes for me!"
'08 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible
Owned by: Bob Young, Adel, Iowa
Hand-fabricated fiberglass panels made to replicate '67 Corvette Sting Ray convertible
Conversion By: Karl Kustom Corvettes, Des Moines, Iowa
OEM Body Components: Deck lid, side mirrors, rocker panels and gas door
Bodywork: Karl Kustom Corvettes, Des Moines, Iowa
Paint: Victory Red basecoat/clearcoat (Same color car was painted at Bowling Green Assembly); Paint preparation and applied by Karl Kustom Corvettes, Des Moines, Iowa
Frame: OEM 2008 Corvette
Suspension: OEM 2008 Corvette
Steering: OEM 2008 Corvette rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
Brakes: OEM C6 four-wheel disc brakes (13-inch rotors in front, 12-inch rotors in rear), with Wilwood calipers and ABS
Wheels: OEM 2008 Corvette 5-spoke chrome-plated aluminum, 18 x 8 1/2 inches in front, 19 x 10 inches in rear
Tires: OEM Goodyear Eagle F1 (245/40ZR18 front, 285/35ZR19 rear) with '67-style red stripes added
GM Powertrain LS3 aluminum-block V8
Displacement: 376 cubic inches (6.2 liters)
Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
Cylinder Heads: OEM LS3 cast aluminum
Ignition: OEM LS3 coil-on-plug electronic
Induction: OEM LS3 sequential electronic fuel injection
Camshaft: OEM LS3 hydraulic roller
Exhaust: OEM LS3
Horsepower: 430 @ 5900 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 424 ft. /lbs. @ 4600 rpm (Advertised)
GM Powertrain six-speed overdrive automatic transaxle
Shifter: OEM 2008 Corvette: Console-mounted, with paddle up/down shifters on steering wheel
Final Drive Ratio: 2.56:1
OEM 2008 Corvette with "Karl Kustom" logo on center panel (waterfall) between seats
Seats: OEM 2008 Corvette sport seats, upholstered in red/black leather
Carpets: OEM 2008 Corvette cut-pile
Instrumentation: OEM 2008 Corvette (0-200 mph speedometer, 0-8000 rpm tach with 6300 rpm redline, plus ammeter, oil pressure, oil temperature, coolant temperature and fuel level gauges)
Sound System: OEM 2008 Corvette (in addition to exhaust system)
HVAC: OEM 2008 Corvette (in addition to lowering top and windows, then driving briskly)