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1959 Chevy Corvette - From Basket to Beauty

Once-In-Pieces '59 Now One Cool Vette Rod

Scott Ross Jun 28, 2010
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It's said that good things come in small packages. But when Laurie Hekking's '59 Corvette first arrived at Jim Barr's shop, Barr's Performance in Naples, Florida, more than five years ago, it came in small packages, big packages, really big packages-the very definition of a basket case.

Corp_1009_01_o 1959_chevy_corvette Side_view 2/11

"There was nothing there," recalls Jim. "Most of the parts had been lost over the years."

Laurie had purchased the '59 from a friend after that friend lost interest in the project. His efforts stalled when he realized how much time (and funds) would be needed to bring this '59 to NCRS standards from, basically, nothing.

But this basket case had one big advantage over other Vettes that have been similarly blown apart. Its frame had been modified to accept C4 steering and suspension, and the chassis hardware from a '91 Corvette had already replaced the long-gone OE pieces. Jim has plenty of good words for the guy in Connecticut who did the conversion work. "He did an absolutely beautiful job grafting the C4 stuff to the original '59 frame," he says. "It was rolling. All the coilovers were in place, and all the geometry was welded in place."

As for the body, let's say it was in bad shape. "The body was half-assed on the car, and most of the parts were gone," Jim says of what he started with. "I just had a shell, essentially. We bought all the pieces and parts to finish the car and spent the next two years building it."

The '59's build had to wait, however, as Laurie had a '63 Sting Ray in the Barr Performance shop that Jim and his crew were upgrading. Once the Midyear was done, their attention turned to the '59. Attention is what it got, because it needed it. Not just to rescue the body, which Laurie said had stress cracks all through it, but inside as well.

"There was more than a little work done on the inside of that car," says Jim of the tailoring done to the '59's cabin. "When we initially mocked up the car, he couldn't even get in and out of it," he says of the six-foot-five owner. "We had to modify the car extensively to get Laurie into it. In doing that, it became extremely comfortable to drive and easy to get in and out of."

Those interior mods included a Flaming River tilt steering column that put the smaller-diameter Momo steering wheel closer to the dash, a reworked dash panel that was relocated farther forward for more room, and a pair of '62 Corvette seats. Why those, instead of the '59 buckets? "The '62's design allows the seat to go an inch farther back into the car," Jim says, adding that he modified the '59's floor to lower the seat frames below the stock locations. "We didn't change the pedal locations because they're actually quite good."

Also quite good: the upgrades to the rest of the chassis, as well as the powertrain. Collier Machine in Naples built the stroker small-block. "It's a 383 with Edelbrock Victor cylinder heads and a mild Edelbrock camshaft," says Jim. "It was an entire upper-end engine package from them. It doesn't heat up, it idles nicely, and you can get in and drive it around like anything else."

Jim also says that the engine, while not radical, is plenty to move this C1 around. "It was toned way down from the '63 that we built for him," he says. "It's designed so his wife could drive it." Street drivability for Laurie and his wife was also the reason why a Turbo 350 automatic went in instead of a six-speed manual gearbox.

In addition to the C4 steering and suspension that were already on the frame when the build started, Jim added more hardware, including springs for the coil-overs that helped this C1 ride just right. "AFCO was extremely cooperative in getting the right spring rate," he says. "We went through probably four or five different coil spring setups to get the spring rate right for the weight in the car." Jim also mounted 13-inch Wilwood disc brakes all around, with six-piston calipers in front and four-pot calipers in back.

Jim's shop got the body in fine shape before the black two-stage DuPont ChromaBase paint went on. "You couldn't tell that it was a basket case when it was done," he says. "Everything was worked out of it. You couldn't tell that anything was ever hurt on it." Except for the grille, all of the trim below the '59's beltline, including the bumpers, was de-chromed and painted to match the body.

You'll also notice that this is a hardtop-only car, with no soft top. "The hardtop was a must," says Jim of Laurie's top preference. "He loved the car with the hardtop, and he hated it without it. He didn't even have a convertible top on it." The top well behind the seats, plus the adjacent area where the OE fuel tank was, are now a carpeted storage compartment.

Now that the one-time basket case is an air-conditioned grand touring car, what's it like to drive? Says Jim, "It's fast. The car is light. It puts out about 430 to 450 horsepower, and it weighs about 2,700 or 2,800 pounds wet, so the car is fast. It stops on a dime, and it's a lot of fun."

If you're not scared of the idea of turning a garage full of parts into a Vette Rod or other fun driver, Jim has some sound advice about one thing you should have from the get-go. "Start with a good rolling chassis," he says, noting that step is much easier now than when he started on the '59's build. "When the chassis work was done on this car, there weren't all of the different companies that produce the [modified] chassis. You can buy a rolling chassis now from several different companies that are as good, or even in some cases better, than what we had. They're lighter, and they're stiffer."

Data File ::: '59 Chevrolet Corvette

Owned by: Laurie V. Hekking, Naples, Florida



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