Englishman Bernie Chodosh doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, and doesn't go chasing after loose women-so he feels entitled to spend a bit of money racing his old '58 Corvette. The car has been part of the UK racing scene for 20 years, and has always been known as "Blood and Thunder."
There's only one early-model Corvette racing in the UK, partly because of their handling and partly because of their rarity and value. Bernie certainly wouldn't have chopped up a pristine '58 to make a racer. However, the car was already a mess when he got it-there wasn't really enough of the original car left to be worth restoring. An ex-dragster from Florida, it had a Chevy big-block in it, with a four-speed, and a Dana axle. The huge slicks on the back were crammed inside the original body, and most of the chassis had been cut out and thrown away years before.
Bernie runs the car in the Anglo-American Challenge, in which American-muscle gets to mix it up with Jaguars and Aston Martins. The rules say the car should be pre-'70 and basically stock, but nobody in the UK knows what's supposed to be stock for a '58 Corvette. Bernie's approach has been to obey the spirit of the rules rather than the detail. The monster drag racing big-block went and was replaced with a 327 from a '62 Vette. The brutal locking diff and Dana axle were replaced by an early Camaro axle with a limited slip. The drag strip setup was great for taking off, but unfortunately there are corners on UK race circuits, and the car in its drag racing form really needed a trolley jack and a couple of people pushing on the front wing if you wanted it to go round a corner.
Most of the chassis was missing, but Bernie got ahold of some original drawings for the Corvette, and a local car trailer builder made a replacement, even following the right welding pattern-6-inches welded, 6-inches not. Knowing what he knows now, Bernie would have been better off getting the whole chassis seam-welded to stiffen it up a bit more, but as he says, "you live and learn." New floors were made, and a rollcage built. The dreadful original front drum brakes were replaced with slightly less dreadful drums from a '64. The rear springs were replaced with stronger ones by Guldstrand, but with the original pattern, and they are still parallel leaf springs.
If people didn't think Bernie was mad when they checked out his drum brakes and leaf springs, they certainly decided he was when it came to the first corner of any race. Bernie knows his car's handling is awful, and his cornering technique is not the most subtle. "Fling it in, ride it 'round on the throttle, back end out, dirt track style," he explains with a big grin all over his face. I went for a ride at Mallory Park circuit in this car in the wet, and corners are indeed terrifying-simply a series of lurching skids, which keep going until the end of the corner comes into view, at which point the engine bellows, your shoulders hit the back of the seat, and the world starts getting blurred.
About five years ago, an accident at the Historic Sports Car Club Chairman's Invitation Race totaled the front and back ends of the car, so some repairs were needed. The frontend of the chassis was replaced with a narrowed unit from an early Camaro, which, at this point, was possibly stretching the originality clause a little, but gave Bernie better front suspension and disc brakes for the first time-he hasn't stuffed the car into the tire wall since, so the change was obviously a wise one. Power is somewhere between 350 and 400 bhp, but the best feature of the engine is its strength. It's been going well for a good few years now, and can always be relied upon to give a big burst of raw grunt whenever you want it.
Bernie's son, Simeon, has now taken over the car, which is an excellent way of learning how to drive on racetracks. If you can drive a '58 Corvette successfully on the track, you can probably drive just about anything.
Is Bernie retiring from Corvette racing, then? No chance-he's just taking time out to build a new car. The new one is loosely based on a '59 shell, and will have another hot small-block, this time mounted back under the dash to get the weight just right. Will the car be black with hot rod flames? Of course it will. The plan is to have the new car ready for the Corvette's 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2003, and to ship it out to the States for some racetrack action. That'll be a relief for the Aston boys, then: They'll feel a lot safer with Bernie charging around on the other side of the Atlantic rather than sliding sideways across the track in front of them on the first corner of every historic sports car race.
1958 Corvette, with new front and rear bodywork, original doors and hardtop.
Some original '58 Corvette, some replica. Front end narrowed '67-69 Camaro.
327 Chevrolet, bored .030 over, with Carillo HB rods, Ross racing pistons, Lola T70 heads: about 375-400 bhp.
McCloud clutch release in bellhousing, double plate clutch,up rated Super T10 four-speed, Camaro live axle with limited slip differential.
Flaming River Vega for Camaro axle.
Front: Camaro wishbones, '68-78 Corvette spindles, 650-pound springs, big antiroll bar. Rear: live-axle on Guldstrand leaf springs, Koni racing shocks.
Front: '68-78-type disc brakes with two-pin callipers. Rear: original drums.
Wheels & Tires
Various 15x7 racing five-spokes, with Yokohama A008 225/60x15 tires.