1954 Chevy Corvette Roadster - Feature

John Loeper's '54 Shows What The Vette Could've Been . . . A Lot Sooner

View Full Gallery

After that trip to Carlisle, John came home, sat down, and did some more thinking and planning. He decided the approach that he saw in a lot of hot-rodding-oriented magazines was not the way for him to go. Instead, he went in a different direction and looked to the Corvette "godfathers" for inspiration. "I got away from the hot-rod magazines look," he says. "I went more to circle track and NASCAR with some of the thought processes." He adds, "Every time I came to a turning point where I had to do something or think about it, I'd think 'What would Harley Earl and Zora Arkus-Duntov have done at this point?' And that's where it is today."

Corp_1008_05_o 1954_chevrolet_corvette_roadster Racing_seat_shot 2/12

Where he arrived came after one more trip to Carlisle, where he met with Paul Newman of Newman's Car Creations. "He was very helpful," John says. "He and I could not get together on a timeframe where I could send him a frame, have him do it, and send it back to me. But he was very honest with me. He said, 'This isn't rocket science. You can figure this out if you've worked with anything.'"

John adjourned to his garage, where he spent the next three years building his C1 his way. "I got the '90s Corvette suspension, held it up underneath the frame, cut and fabricated the brackets, tack-welded them on, then the welding shop would come around late in the afternoon every day and do finish welds on everything that I'd tacked," John says of the three-month process where he added C4 chassis hardware to his C1 frame. He says that cutting out steel parts like brackets was the hardest part of this project. "I thought it would never end because I didn't have a lot of steel-fabrication in my background," he says.

Compared to that, the rest of the project went easier. That includes the bodywork, done when he rolled his '54 out of his garage to a friend's shop. That's where the fender flares went on. Why? Says John, "I didn't want the flush-wheel effect of the new Corvette. I wanted the wheels to have back-sets, like the original cars. So, it has a little wider stance, and that's why the fender flares are there."

Also going in: a GM Performance Parts ZZ430 crate engine, with some notable upgrades. "The front pulley assembly is from KRC in Georgia, and they do that kind of equipment for stock cars/circle-track race cars. The bellhousing is by McLeod and the clutch is a hydraulic Centerforce clutch." John adds that Tilton Engineering designed not only the clutch, but the brake system, which John says is so well done that it needs no power brake booster. All the hoses and AN-fittings in the powertrain and chassis came from ARP, which John points out also make hoses and components for not only NASCAR and Indy Car teams, but also NASA.

The result of John's work (and his inspiration by Zora and "Misterl") is the roadster you see here. "It has the full stance of a '90 Corvette-it's not a 'shortened-in' version," he says. "It has a shorter wheelbase than those cars, so it corners better." How is it as a driver? "The car drives and handles extremely well," John says. "It's very fast off the line, and it corners extremely well." How fast? "I did the Toys for Tots Run at Kerbeck at 150 miles an hour," John says. "It's a top-down car. It's easy to say that you did 200 in a Z06, where you're in a coupe. Doing 150 in a car with the top down, it's different!"

John adds that the original Corvette body design is an early example of stealth technology. "If you break down all the curves on that car, all the angles come out to 33 degrees," John says. "What's 33 degrees? Stealth technology-that car does not print radar! I've had friends on the police force with radar, and they tell me that it doesn't print radar very well."

John's '54 draws crowds whenever he shows it. "I take this thing to Corvette events, and people are all over it. You can have 500 Corvettes in a show, where people walk by a lot of cars, and people are all over my car."




Connect With Us

Get Latest News and Articles. Newsletter Sign Up

subscribe to the magazine

get digital get print