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1986 Chevy Corvette C4 - The C4.5

What Do You Call A C4 That Looks Like A C5? We Call It...

John Nelson Jun 1, 2001
Vemp_0106_01_z 1986_chevy_corvette_c4 C45 2/1

Mixing and matching. It's one of life's great pleasures. Whether it's putting our own toppings on a nice big ice cream sundae, ordering a favorite combination on a piping hot pizza, or picking out the perfect wine to go with a fine dinner, the ability to create exactly what we want is something to relish. Jim Waldschmidt of San Carlos, California, likes to do his mixing and matching in fiberglass, and has the years of experience to turn imaginary creations into tasty dishes that he-and others-can enjoy.

As a young man, Jim was working part-time at Sears and learning to paint cars on the side. When his brother Bob landed a job with a large company that manufactured, among other things, fiberglass body parts, Jim got the opportunity that set the direction for his life. In his 13 years with that company, Jim learned all the intricacies of creating plugs (the patterns from which molds are made), body part molds, and the fiberglass body parts themselves.

Though portions of his work dealt with other fiberglass auto body parts, the bulk of his experience came with Corvettes. While with his former employer, Jim was part of a team that produced two catalogs worth of fiberglass Corvette items, and also worked with several Corvettes aftermarket accessory makers. He was pretty much hooked on Chevy's 'glass wonder at this point, so when he opened his own business, Waldschmidt Automotive, he chose to specialize in Corvette restoration and repair-and in custom fiberglass fabrication, of course. It's been a successful run. Besides creating a custom rear bumper for a '78 Vette (utilizing ZR-1-style taillights), Waldschmidt tells us he's performed his fiberglass magic on an original Grand Sport, Kim Baker's BR-1, and Bill Verboon's Paul Newman chassised '62 (see "Modern Conveniences," July '00). He also created a custom C4 body kit for his brother Jerry's car-work that would come in handy later on.

The beginning of Jim's "C4.5" project looked more like the end of the line for a certain '86 Corvette coupe. Jim was hard at work one Saturday morning in 1996 when a couple came in, looking for a Corvette to buy. They explained that their '86 had been demolished by a semi-truck on California's Highway 101. The couple was so happy with the way the car had held up (i.e., the driver had escaped unscathed) that they were looking for another one. Jim didn't have a car to sell them, but he did take a look at the hammered '86. According to Jim, the body had "basically exploded," with every panel and the doorskins suffering some kind of damage. Among the more notable scars were a shattered rear window, a lug nut hole in the driver's door, and truck-sized tire marks on the hood.

Incredibly, the Vette still ran and drove, and even had a "clean" title. Jim bought the car and had one frame rail straightened, intending to build a car similar to the custom C4 he'd created for Jerry. At this point, however, Jim found reason to make a major change in his plans. That reason was his first look at concept photos of the soon-to-be released C5. His reaction to the new car's sexy shape was instantaneous: "I wanna do that, it's a better upgrade." So he put his plans for the '86 on hold until after the C5 was released, and then got to work.

As Jim tells it, "an idea comes to you, and you just do it. My imagination went wild." As a starting point, he purchased OEM C5 front and rear bumpers, as well as fenders. Using his years of experience creating custom fiberglass components, Jim made molds of the C5 parts. These molds were then used to adapt the C5 styling cues to the "plugs" that Jim had used for his previous C4 body kit. These plugs, in turn, were used to create new molds-the basis for the "C4.5" you see here.

Of course, it all sounds very easy and straightforward here. In fact, the process was time-consuming and intricate, and adapting the C5 styling cues to the C4 bumper covers was the "easy" part. Jim also created a new "clamshell" for the C4, using a custom high-rise hood up top and the molds he'd made of the C5 pieces to incorporate the newer car's coves into the custom piece. Finding the cost of C5 doorskins prohibitive, Jim created his own, minus doorhandles (a remote system handles opening chores) and with the appropriate character lines running into the coves.

Jim knew that he wanted wider-than-stock rubber out back. In fact, he'd already created an upper deck/quarter-panel piece for a convertible that featured 2-1/2-inch flared fenders. So, following his theme of using pieces he'd already created whenever possible, Jim adapted the drop-top part to the coupe, filled the wheelwells with ZR-1 inner splash shields, and blended the bulging fenders into the C5-esque rear bumper cover. He eliminated the antenna hole, and reshaped the gas lid area, utilizing a '73 Corvette hinge. He then adapted stock C5 mufflers and tailpipes to the older Vette, filling the cover's center notch with the now-familiar quartet of exhaust tips, and completing the new-Vette rear end look.

Along the way, the fact that Jim was working from pieces that had already been designed to fit on a C4 paid dividends. All the reinforcements hiding behind the new bumper covers are factory C4 items, along with all nuts, bolts, clips, and fasteners. The C5 running lights even plugged into the C4 pigtail harnesses. In fact, the car is virtually bone-stock, with the exceptions of the bodywork (of course), the exhaust system, and the Fikse wheels, 17x10 inches up front and 17x11 outback, shod with appropriately sized Z-rated Goodyear Eagle GS-C rubber, including ZR-1 sized 315/35R17 meats out back. An additional non-stock element is Sikens Majestic Amethyst paint that Jim and his wife Cyndi picked to top off this mix-and-match special.

Future plans may include a new engine (an LT5 or a 427/390 are possible candidates) and maybe Baer brakes. But for now, Jim's satisfied.

He figures that it took three years of working in his spare time just to create the molds, "easily" totaling 1,000 hours of work. He finally made it a shop project, and insists that his employees share the credit. The result is a car that others have told Jim is "the prettiest C4 out there." But what makes the whole thing worth it for Jim, however, is a more personal motivation. "I truly love to custom-build cars," he tells us. "Imagining ideas, and how to adapt the stuff to's just fun." As getting exactly what you want almost always is.

Waldschmidt Automotive can be contacted at (650) 594-4986.

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