Authenticity is a wonderful thing. The violinist who plays a real Stradivarius, the art lover with a real Monet hanging on the wall, and the five lucky souls who own a real Grand Sport will all attest to that. But it's not everything, and authenticity has many levels. B.B. King's "Lucille" is actually the 13th Gibson guitar to bear that name, and I haven't heard anyone complaining that he or his playing are anything less than genuine. When our dates come to the door wearing costume jewelry, who among us decides to turn around and walk away? (No one on the staff of VETTE, that's for sure.) And would any of us walk up to a street rodder and tell him that his Deuce coupe isn't authentic, even though it may have been built entirely from reproduction parts?
The fact of the matter is, there are some things worth having, even if you have to copy the original. We're talking about the "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" type of copying, not the "lets make a buck by counterfeiting" variety. Street rodders have taken this approach for years. It's not like there's a readily available supply of original T-buckets, '34 Chevys, and the aforementioned Deuce coupes sitting around. No matter-the intrepid enthusiast can build any of these rides, and others, without a single OEM component. The booming street rod component industry would seem to indicate that there's no issue with lack of authenticity.
Corvette enthusiasts have traditionally taken originality and authenticity very seriously, yet even our hobby recognizes that there are some things you just have to have, even if you have to copy them. Grand Sport replicas are well accepted, and if VETTE readers are any indication, so is Corvette Central's "Concept '57." And after reminding our readers that only 300 '53 Vettes were made (and only 4,640 Roadsters from '53-55), we'd like to submit another candidate for this group: This stunning '53 replica, owned by Lenny Chmaj (pronounced "Schmay") of Woodhaven, Michigan.
Chmaj has been into Vettes for over 20 years, starting with a new '77, which was replaced by a new C4 in the early '90s. Then came a '64 with a detachable hardtop, though he really wanted a '57 or a '62-or so he thought. All that changed during a trip to the Woodward Dream Cruise in 1997. Chmaj remembers the day well. "I saw a purple car in a parking lot," he recalls. "The closer I got, I couldn't believe it." Like many, he'd never been up close and personal with a '53, and he thought this one was real, albeit customized. No matter-he was hooked.
It's not a real '53, of course, though Chmaj isn't the only one who's been fooled. A company called Classic Sports Cars built this beauty, and Chmaj is quick to point out that its not a kit car. Rather, this re-make of the original roadster was marketed as an "E.C.", or exact copy, of a '53, and the builders only managed to complete 20 of the turnkey replicas before problems with GM shut the operation down. All were built with the classic white-on-red color scheme, and came with classic whitewall tires-as far as that goes, they were exact copies. The running gear, however, was not, though it did all come from The General.
The 102-inch wheelbase, 11-gauge, 3x4-inch box-steel chassis does indeed feature Chevy components, including the crossmember, but the rear leaf-spring suspension is from a '74 Nova, while the coil-spring front system came from a '72 Nova. Front and rear brakes are Nova drums, connected to an '85-vintage GM master cylinder, power booster, and proportioning valve by stainless steel lines. The steering column is also vintage '85, and a 14-gallon aluminum fuel tank rests behind the seats.
Another deviation from original Vette specs can be found under the hood. An '89, 325hp, 350ci powerplant provides a lot more go than the Blue Flame Six ever did. A Turbo 350 trans channels the power back to a 3.73:1-geared 10-bolt rearend from, again, a '74 Nova.