First-gen Vettes have never been known for handling prowess. When new they could compete with other sports cars, but once the '63 Corvette Sting Ray came out with its independent rear suspension, the handling woes of the solid axle cars were exposed like Tiger Woods in the tabloids. Undaunted, it was a C1 Vette that The Roadster Shop chose to enter in the second-annual Super Chevy Suspension & Handling Challenge.
The Roadster Shop is known for building some of the best handling muscle cars on the planet. Its selection of newly-manufactured chassis come equipped with the modern suspension parts necessary to make a classic car handle unlike anything from days of old. When it came time to design a bolt-on chassis for the '53-62 Corvettes, a basket case '62 was found to be used for mock up work, and eventually built into a demo vehicle for the new chassis.
That is, until Barry Bloomquist walked into the shop. He had stopped by to get parts for his '56 Ford pickup when he spied the '62 being worked on. One thing led to another, and in July of 2008 Barry became the new owner of the Corvette. The plan was to build a chassis offering unparalleled handling, performance, and ride comfort while fitting the stock Corvette body. Barry and Jeremy Gerber, one of The Roadster Shop's owners, began brainstorming the car's particulars, and the initial plan soon morphed into a vehicle of epic proportions. One key theme was to build a Corvette with the looks of a modern concept car if GM built a '62 Corvette today. Artist Eric Brockmeyer was called in for visual renderings of the ideas being discussed and design input.
For the front suspension, the C1 uses Detroit Speed & Engineering components. During the design process, all ideas were heavily inspired by European supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, and others. Jeremy and Roadster Shop's chief fabricator Chad Glasshagel worked together on the build. Numerous hand-formed aluminum pieces were made, and hours were spent mocking up everything to ensure every line, angle, and curve of the Vette flowed smoothly. Dean Ellis, Roadster Shop's CNC plasma cutting and C.A.D. design chief, made the custom brackets and mounts on the car, and Jim Taylor handled the fiberglass work. Once finished, the car went to Joe Belfiore in The Roadster Shop's paint department, where he practically lived getting the body prepped and painted.
For power, the Corvette uses a Turn Key Engine Supply-built and tuned LS7 crate engine with custom exhaust, connected to a Tremec T56 trans custom-built by Bowler Performance Transmission. Power goes through a 9-inch Factory-built 9-inch style rear with Strange Engineering 31-spline axles and Tru Track limited slip differential. Braking is handled by Brembo at all four corners, with massive six-piston calipers on 14-inch rotors up front, and four-piston calipers on 13-inch rotors out back. Forgeline custom three-piece aluminum wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires hold the car to the asphalt.
Once finished, it was time for the "C1-RS" (as it was christened) to take on one of its designed challenges, winning the Goodguys 2009 Street Machine of the Year award. The C1-RS took top honors, stunning the judges with its awesome looks and head-spinning autocross performance.
Driver's Impression-On the Autocross Course
First off, this is "That Car." You know, the one that just stands out no matter what. It oozes arrogance, dares you to challenge limits. It makes you run with scissors. Hell, it's the reason we want to eat dessert as an appetizer. The image and theme, drivetrain and chassis, the workmanship and attention to detail-all were proof that The Roadster Shop stepped up to the plate and hit a homer with this Corvette.
Watching Nick Licata fling the car through the slalom, I thought it looked quite promising. No fuss, no twitch, plenty of compliance, just enough body roll to allow the suspension to work ... I couldn't wait. As this car was one of the last to be tested, I had plenty of practice under my butt. Giving this one the best trips possible was high priority. So when I was presented with "That Car," I eagerly opened the door and was faced with a huge dilemma-I wasn't going to fit! The seat wasn't adjustable and neither was I. We were at an impasse but I was going to give it the good old college try.
I folded myself in the drivers' seat, looped a leg over the pedal assembly where my feet met these very cool pedals that were raised about six inches from the floor. I ended up scrunched recumbent with my knees pressed against the bottom of a very small diameter steering wheel. I was worried. Here I am behind the wheel of "That Car," given the driving opportunity of a lifetime, and I look like a pretzel and I can't even move. Crap!
I fired the engine and got this tingly sensation replete with grins, depressed the clutch and selected first gear, and headed to the start line. Taking a deep breath, I thought "It doesn't get any cooler than this. I wonder how long it'll take for The Roadster Shop guys to figure out I'm not coming back ..." and just went for it. Got into second gear, rounded the left-hander and thought the car was doing really, really well with only a fraction of accelerator pedal. Hit the offset slalom element and realized some serious WOW was taking place. The Corvette drove like a slot car. It went where it was pointed, and it didn't get excited under quick directional changes. We hit the crossover and turned down to the end sweeper where I found the brakes good, but slightly touchy at the end of full pedal depression. The Corvette got around the end sweeper very well and it was easy to hit the apexes under power. Coming back, I finally managed WOT at the finish and have never been behind the wheel of a car that had that kind of power. It was that smooth and transient. And what a huge power band.
My overall impression of The Roadster Shop's Corvette is excellent. The car gives great feedback and I never approached any limit where the car was out of sorts. Transitions were fluid and as mentioned before, the Corvette has that "slot car" type of traction and change of direction. If you get your braking done early, power transfer is awesome. My observations of Nick were right on as compliance was the key. Without it, a car will never be able to respond to driver input. This Corvette has it in spades.
As for the drawbacks, the driver's compartment was just plain uncomfortable and I never found a "home." Definitely recommend that the controls (steering wheel and seats) be made somewhat adjustable. I'm positive there was tons of time left on the course due to me not being able to move a bit behind the wheel. The pedal assembly was also placed higher than what I'm used to causing my knees to continuously hit the steering wheel. Fix this and "That Car" will be perfect.
Driver's Impression-On the Street
I've driven some expensive cars in the past, everything from Ferraris and Lamborghinis to Top Flight Corvettes and a Saleen S7 Twin Turbo, but that stuff was all low rent compared to this machine. This piece would cost over a half a million bucks to duplicate. Cha-ching!
I found the layout and design of the interior to be at the head of this pack of cars. My only complaint was the opposite of Mary's-I found the pedals to be too far forward for me. But it was designed with my bod in mind so what can you do? Once I got used to the floor mounted pedals, I discovered they and the shifter worked flawlessly. The steering was exceptional, linear and responsive with no dead spots. It communicated everything that was going on with the tires. Power from the LS7 was like getting kicked in the back by God.
I've also been fortunate to drive a number of '53-62 Vettes not one ever handled or rode like this. It was a revelation. The ride was sublime, though there was some cowl shake on when we hit the railroad track portion of our test loop.
Where do I sign?
Roadster Shop '62 Corvette Specs
Type: LS-based 427
Fuel Delivery: Kinsler Cross Ram EFI with carbon fiber ram tubes
Transmission: Tremec T56 custom built by Bowler Performance
Rearend: 9-inch Ford
Steering: One-off Woodward rack and pinion unit
Front Suspension: Detroit Speed & Engineering
Spindles: C6 Corvette
Front Shocks: Afco double adjustable with remote reservoir and custom valving
Front Springs: Eibach
Front Control Arms: Detroit Speed & Engineering tubular
Front Sway Bar: Splined design
Rear Suspension: Four-Link design
Rear Shocks: Afco double adjustable with remote reservoir and custom valving
Rear Springs: Eibach
Rear Sway Bar: Splined design
Front Brakes: Brembo six-piston calipers with 14-inch drilled rotors
Rear Brakes: Brembo four-piston calipers
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Forgeline, custom design three-piece aluminum
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport PS2, P275/30ZR19 front - P335/30ZR20 rear