The recipe for the perfect Corvette is never clear-cut. Opinions of what makes a car ideal are as unique and numerous as the enthusiasts who have them. When getting involved with a new project car, we must make a great many decisions about what approach to take, and of course there is no right or wrong way to go. The first order of business is deciding what year Corvette is best, and then we get into the dilemma of how to build it. Should it be a perfect NCRS restoration? Maybe a lightly-modified street machine? An over-the-top autocross racer? Or perhaps we should update that older Vette with all of today's modern bells and whistles? These decisions may seem overwhelming, but for some individuals the choices are clear.
Tom Rodriguez of Cypress, California, never had any doubts about what would be a perfect Corvette for himself. Like many residents of the southern part of the Left Coast, Tom has no taste for the mundane (as if a Corvette could ever be that), and takes great pride in expressing his individuality through a unique ride. As a professional automotive painter and owner of Cypress Auto Body, Tom has had many opportunities to play around with his cars. Over the past 20 years he has built a great many hot rods, including a '66 Vette, but "I've always loved '58 Corvettes," Tom proudly declares.
Thus, it was obvious to Tom what he must do when he stumbled upon a basket case '58 Vette that had been sitting dormant in a local garage for 18-plus years. Basket case has to be an understatement, seeing as he paid a miserly $5,500 for it-in May 1998! The Corvette had apparently been an old racer, or at least was being turned into one before going untouched for so long. The clock showed only 66,000 miles, but the car was minus an engine. The rear fenderwells had been radiused, the inner fenderwells and firewall had been cut up, the frame was hacked, and the suspension had been altered severely. Its body wore faded-yellow paint with plenty of road rash, but all the moldings were in good condition.
Far from a pristine example, this '58 was a perfect candidate for some fairly extensive, but carefully executed modifications and updating. Tom filled the empty engine bay with a '86 L98 with aluminum heads. The stock motor was rated at 235 hp from the factory, but probably performs substantially better now thanks to a balanced and blueprinted short-block, a free-flowing 2-inch exhaust that begins with HPC-coated Block Hugger headers, and the highly polished ACCEL Super Ram intake that he utilized for added hood clearance. To keep the package looking more "correct" Tom fitted the fuel pump for the electronic fuel injection into the original gas tank. The 350 is cooled by a Mattson radiator and sends power through a 700-R4 automatic transmission.
Underneath the Corvette, the workmanship gets even wilder. Tom replaced the '58's front suspension with a Mustang II-based independent front. Ford front disc brakes cap off Mustang II spindles and make use of a custom power booster and master cylinder, as well as a custom pedal assembly. A shortened, custom-fabricated steering column connects the driver to the Ford power rack-and-pinion steering. In the rear, Tom has a narrowed Ford 9-inch differential fitted with disc brakes and 3.70:1 gearing. At the time this article was written, Tom was in the process of upgrading the rear chassis from the stock parallel leaf springs to a four-link suspension. This should give the '58 a better ride and improved handling, as well as creating more tire clearance, so Tom can bring the Vette even closer to the pavement!
The '58's body is absolutely stock other than the radiused rear fender openings. Tom and the crew at Cypress Auto Body spent countless hours prepping the glass shell to perfection, then he coated it with 15 layers of a vibrant, custom-mixed red PPG paint. The matching red interior is enhanced with some modern gadgets, but it still possesses the original character. The factory instrument cluster has been restored with the sole exception of a Moon tach. Dashtop speakers and a Vintage Air heating and A/C system are carefully hidden in the dash, as well. The seats don red leather courtesy of Gabe's Auto Upholstery, and Gabe's covered the floor with red wool carpeting.
Although Tom's '58 took literally thousands of hours to complete, the soft top was well worth the wait. With its immaculate body radiating with red and chrome, the Vette gets more than its share of attention on the street and at shows. Tom is ecstatic that his hot-rod hybrid is earning quite a collection of awards, but that's not the reason why he built the Corvette. "I intend to drive the heck out of it," Tom says. We can't think of a better way to go!