"Oh, I'd never do that to a classic Corvette!" critics may comment about Larry and Sandy Cleveland's modernized '56 roadster.
To which Larry replies, "Neither would I!" He considers what he started with to barely be a Corvette-and certainly not a classic. "I wanted a car that had been violated," he said, "and this one was it. It had been modified for drag racing in the '60s, been on fire, and many parts were missing. In short, it was a basket case."
But it was just the thing the Westminster, Colorado, alarm and detection company manager and his wife, Sandy, needed to start their latest dream car. "We wanted to build a driver that paid respect to the original design, but yet had many modern features such as AC, cruise, six-speed, a smooth ride, etc."
The first order of business was to strip the original frame of all the suspension components. With specifications provided by Larry and Lee Bumgardner of Zoomer's Automotive in Denver, renowned street rod builder Kugel Komponents of La Habra, California, cooked up a new front end. "Komponents" included a custom frame crossmember, stainless steel upper and lower A-arms, coilover shocks and spindles, C4 Corvette rotors and calipers, and a modified Omni rack-and-pinion steering. The custom front end assembly, as well as the engine and transmission (a '98 C5 LS1 and '98 Trans Am T56 six-speed) were installed by Lee Bumgardner.
Out back, Pat Condon Race Cars of Denver, built a 9-inch Ford rearend and fitted it with 4.11:1 gears, a Detroit Locker differential, and Mark Williams axles. Cadillac Seville disc brakes were added, along with '60 Vette traction bars and antisway bar. The '56 Vette leaf springs were moved in 1-1/8 inch and angled in another 1-1/4-inch per side to provide clearance for wider wheels.
Larry's plan was to make the old roadster look somewhat original, with Coker wide whitewall radials and original hubcaps. To make that work with its updated underpinnings, the front suspension was engineered to work with the stock '56 tread width, and 215/70R15 tires were mounted on 15x6 GM rally wheels. The rearend measures 1-1/4-inch per side narrower than the original '56, so 15x7 rally wheels from a '68 Stingray, mounting 255/70R15 Coker wide whites, are centered in the wheel openings. For variety, Larry can give the Vette a road race look with a set of Firestone Firehawks on polished 16- and 17-inch Halibrand "kidney bean" wheels with low-profile rubber and knock-offs.
Street and Performance of Mena, Arkansas, supplied the Corvette LS1 crate motor, complete with some of their dress-up goodies. In absolutely stock form, the LS1 cranks 345 hp. Custom-built headers dump into a HPC-coated, custom-fabricated 2-1/2-inch exhaust system. A Griffin radiator provides cooling.
With the engine, transmission, driveshaft (by Coleman Racing), and third member all of aluminum, the vintage Vette weighs in at 2,700 pounds, about 170 pounds lighter than a stock '56.
Getting the former race car body back to pristine appearance required a new front clip from Legendary and a reproduction grille and front bumpers from Corvette Central. The taillight bezels and rear bumpers were rechromed by Smitty's Chrome. Lucas headlight lenses are the only deviation from original. The Cascade Green and white PPG finish was sprayed by Al Bonk at Paint Masters in Commerce City, Colorado, and Larry added '57 "Fuel Injection" emblems to both front fenders and the trunk lid.
For the interior, where they spend a lot of time, Larry and Sandy agreed on a combination of old and new-rolls and pleats in beige leather over stock seats, and German wool carpet. Ron Nelson at Auto Weave Upholstery in Denver expertly carried out their wishes. The original speedometer was converted to electronic operation and the Wonderbar radio was converted to AM/FM. A Delco six-disc CD player and cruise control were added. Although top-down is the usual way to go, the Clevelands have an original '56 hardtop available if the weather dictates.
"We thoroughly enjoy this car," says Larry. "It's been on runs in several states and is the most fun to drive on winding mountain roads. It's made hot laps at Texas Motor Speed-way and Pikes Peak International Speedway and has turned a respectable 103 mph in the quarter-mile at 6,000-feet elevation, on street tires." Along with a long list of show awards is one other Larry and Sandy are particularly proud of. At the Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Corvette Weekend, they won the fuel economy run with a mark of 28 mpg!