A picture may be worth a thousand words, but what happens when you have a thousand bits of a disassembled Corvette and need to put the classic vehicle back together? Do you throw your hands up in woeful desperation, thinking there are just too many pieces? Do you look back to the original schematics and recreate a factory-correct dream?
Or maybe you design a Corvette unlike the factory ever did-a vintage C2 roadster with the best in C5 engine technology and the race-bred underpinnings of a '96 C4. A miscreation, you say? No, brethren VETTE readers, it is a Corvette masterpiece.
For George Crawford, of Aiken, South Carolina, there was no room for doubt when he built his '64 custom. George has been a fan of Chevrolet's Corvette since he worked hard for his first brand-new hardtop in 1969. That's 38 years he's been part of the Vette family.
George loves the look of midyear cars. To him, the midyear embodies the true spirit of an American sports car. Starting in 1997, George and his wife, Dee, talked about building themselves a dependable, first-class classic Corvette that could be driven anywhere-and comfortably. George wanted his Corvette to have the feel and dependability of a C5 and-even more importantly-all of the style and looks of a midyear.
As a dentist, George is trained in making people's teeth beautiful. So, when George embarked upon his C2 project, he built the car in much the same way a dentist would build a perfect set of teeth. He started with the realization that even the toughest project (and his was to be pretty tough) was attainable, thanks to his mastery of the skills required. Then he called in a highly respected specialist who built a framework upon which the project was based.
At this point, we should introduce Jamison's Custom Corvette-the specialist in our story. This well-known, Charleston-based Corvette shop focuses on full restorations, as well as the sale of its own tubular chassis for midyear Corvettes. The chassis is designed for the express purpose of bolting any and all C4 suspension, brake, rearend, and tire/wheel components onto a C2 chassis. The chassis fits all original C2 body mounts without alteration or modification.
What George loves about Jamison's is the quality of the shop's workmanship. Twenty-five years earlier, he had his very first Corvette painted there. Even now, people come up to George and ask him if the paint job is new. George thinks that's a huge compliment, and it's the main reason he entrusted Jamison's with his '64 project.
George met up with John Jamison, the shop's owner and founder, at a show in Orlando, Florida. George was pleased to see that John had introduced what was then a newly developed product-his C2 tube chassis. Upon talking to John, George determined the proprietary tube-chassis design was exactly what he wanted to provide the framework for his project.
While sticking a tube chassis under a rare midyear Corvette might be anathema to some, Kerry Jamison (John's son and a partner in the business) is quick to point out the combination's advantages. "We won't try to deter a purist. However, if we have a customer who wants a car that has better handling, better ride quality, and modern performance, then the C2 tube chassis is the only way to go. We have incredible adjustability with coilover shocks to match either the stock C2 height and ride measurements or accommodate drivers who want an aggressive package for motorsports."
The engineering of the Jamison's chassis started with a close look at the suspension design of the C4 Corvette. Using drawn-over-mandrel (DOM) tubing, a wheelbase of 98 inches (matching that of the C2 Corvette) was designed and prototyped, making sure the geometry was identical to that of the '63-'67 Vette chassis. It was also crucial that all C4 suspension, brake, and wheel components could be bolted on.
Next, the C2 body mounts were integrated into the chassis design. In the front section of the frame, multiple mounting locations were designed to accommodate a choice of engines and transmissions, from vintage to modern to a combination of the two. Jamison's tested the design, and when finally satisfied, began producing the chassis for customer use.
When George Crawford brought his '64 to Jamison's, it was in pieces-a thousand of them. Over the previous 10 years, George had been keeping tabs on a '64 Corvette sitting in a friend's garage. The friend always talked about performing a restoration on the Vette, but the car sat in the garage until his wife cornered him with threats of selling it. To her, it was like a bad tooth: She wanted it pulled. Thankfully, George's friend knew he was a dentist. In the end, George was called to "extract" the Corvette.
George laughs when he recalls taking the disassembled Corvette to Jamison's. He knew that Jamison's was known for national-award-winning paint jobs, but he had no idea how the Vette would turn out mechanically. "I didn't know how it was going to drive, but it was sure going to look super," he says.
Jamison's Custom Corvette, meanwhile, knew exactly how the tube-chassis '64 Vette would ride, handle, and perform. Jamison's had already built a complement of turnkey Corvettes featuring the C2 tube chassis, and all of the company's customers had been pleased. John and Kerry could clearly see how the dismantled pieces would come together and make a picture-perfect Corvette. There was no guesswork.
Kerry tells VETTE that like all the shop's C2 conversions, the George Crawford project started with the tube chassis first. Jamison's then added brand-new components originally manufactured for the '96 Corvette: A-arms, coilover springs, rear differential and axles, brakes, wheels, and tires. Although chassis components from any C4 will function properly on the C2 tube chassis, Jamison's prefers the longer A-arms and more-modern hardware of the '95 and '96 models.
Once a rolling chassis was assembled, George contacted Street & Performance of Mena, Arkansas. The shop delivered a brand-new drivetrain for the '64 Vette, consisting of an '04 LS6 motor, an LS6 wiring harness and engine-control unit, and a T56 six-speed transmission. Air-conditioning and power-steering parts were ordered from Vintage Air of San Antonio, Texas, and mated to the powertrain.
Kerry Jamison tells us the tube-chassis design allowed George to choose from a variety of powertrain options, including traditional Chevy small-block and modern LS engines in either carbureted or EFI form. Transmission choices are even more extensive, including four-speed Muncies and Borg-Warners; contemporary five- and six-speeds; and Turbo 400, 700R4, and 4L60E automatics.
Jamison's next step was to custom-build a 211/44-inch, steel driveshaft to fit the unorthodox combination; then exhaust headers and pipes were fabricated and installed into the tight spaces of the tube chassis before the body was attached. A custom gas tank was built by Jamison's, and the fuel and brake lines were fabricated, hung, and tightened.
Days ticked by slowly for George. It was like waiting for braces to straighten misaligned teeth. Finally, two years later, the day came. The rolling chassis was ready for its '64 body. The Vette was lowered and bolted into place, its mounting positions perfectly matching the tube chassis.
Jamison's then went to work on the car's award-winning finish. John Jamison says that every paint job performed by the shop is a show-stopper. Jamison's uses Dupont paint in a urethane/clearcoat combination and then wet-sands the result to a mirror-like shine. The color chosen by George to grace the Corvette's body is '93-'04 Corvette Torch Red, accented with subtle ghost flames. The paintwork is designed to look just as grand 25 years from now as it did on its first day.
After the Vette was painted, the interior work got underway. George had Jamison's use the seats from a '94 Corvette and sheath them in '94 red leather; hen '64 Corvette emblems were embroidered into the headrests.
The gauges were deliberately left vintage-style, but to bring back a factory-new appearance, they were refaced with original needles. The two changes made to the gauge cluster were important to George. First, the ammeter was converted to a voltmeter; second, the mechanical tachometer was upgraded using electronic parts. The door panels, headliner, carpet, and interior trim followed-all brand new and in a matching red color.
Kerry Jamison says the 405hp LS6 engine was a great idea. "It's got more power than the car can hold. It's an enjoyable car to drive. When you compare it to the original car, the lower-rpm driving speed makes it much more comfortable."
George laughs when asked if he and Jamison's Custom Corvette have out-built the factory. "Oh, the C6 is an incredible engineering feat, but I'll tell you this-my car draws a lot more attention than any C6." Does George feel he's built the ultimate Corvette? "Probably pretty close," he says. "It's the ultimate for the old-style look."
Kerry Jamison calls the stunning work on George's '64 a "standard job-but with unbelievable winning results." The car nabbed Best Paint Job at the Coastal Carolina Corvette Club show in Aiken and continues to win accolades in every show it enters. George is especially proud of the fact that his '64 won the VETTE magazine Editor's Choice award at the 2006 Year One Experience car show held at Road Atlanta.
In fact, George was so tickled-pleased with his tube-chassis C2, he participated in the 2006 Hot Rod Power Tour, driving from Aiken to Orlando, up to Englishtown, New Jersey, and back home without incident.
And-wouldn't you know it?-George Crawford has already commissioned a second C2 custom. This time, the candidate is a '65. What's going to be different? "Not much," George says. "Maybe we'll put an LS7 into this one. Maybe we'll add a split window. Maybe we'll add some flares on the rear wheels."
And what about the previous owner, the man whose wife wanted the Vette out of the garage? "He couldn't believe it was the same car," George says. "It was beyond his wildest expectations. He's real happy." And the wife? George laughs again, "She was the one who wanted the junk out of her garage. Wait till I go by and show her."
Before we could ask him any more questions, George had to go. He had to listen to his favorite song-the sound of the engine rumbling through the vintage off-road side pipes of his '64 Corvette. We weren't about to keep him waiting.