Every year, more and more Corvette drivers are discovering the joys of fusing the classic looks of early Vettes with the modern technology of the C4. While the first of the genre were cobbled affairs with questionable geometry and shade-tree mechanics, today there are a number of companies that produce turnkey rolling chassis ready to accept first-generation Corvette bodies. The result of this synthesis is a Corvette that's an absolute joy to drive and open to any styling interpretation the owner chooses.
Rick Treworgy, of Punta Gorda, Florida, found this LeMans Blue/Spiral Gray '59 Vette conversion four years ago and, after taking a testdrive, plain fell in love with it. "The handling of this car is absolutely phenomenal," Rick says. Built by Billy Dawson, of the Corvette Correction, in Seguin, Texas, the chassis is designed to be fitted with any Corvette body from '53 to '62.
Dawson is not the first builder to place an early generation Corvette on a later-model chassis; that's been going on for some time now. The difference here is that Dawson has apparently learned how to do it better. He conceived the idea of "hot-roddin'" an old Corvette in this manner six years ago.
"Upon looking at many possible projects out there," explain the folks at Corvette Correction, "Billy decided to create his own. What he was looking for did not exist. So he rolled up his sleeves, cleaned the shop floor, and began to draw out a frame that pleased him. He picked a '58 Vette for the right look, but he wanted a better-driving-and-handling car. He wanted to devise a way to put a newer-style Vette under the old-style body. With a tape measure and a good creeper, he ascertained that the new suspension and engine would fit, but the old frame had to go, and so it did."
While the tale may sound overly romantic, it's true that Dawson's rectangular-tube frame caused such a stir at Bloomington Gold in 2002 that he found himself taking orders on the spot. Today, he's producing complete rolling chassis as well as selling the individual kits needed for do-it-yourselfers to build their own projects. Or, a customer can purchase the basic frame and start from there.
Corvette Correction's frame weighs 335 pounds and has a wheelbase 6 inches longer than that of a C4 (102 inches, as opposed to the '84-'96 model's 96 inches). It's that additional wheelbase length, in conjunction with the modern suspension components and 17-inch wheels and tires, that enhances the car's cornering acumen without sacrificing ride quality.
The frame uses the same attaching points as a C4, so the suspension components require virtually no modifications to mount to the chassis. Another benefit is that the frame completely tucks in above the rockers. "In my opinion," says Rick, "no one has anything on [Dawson's] cars."
The body rests on Dawson's chassis using the standard C1 mounting locations. From there, it's up to the individual to decide what's going under the hood or how the interior will be dressed out.
Rick's '59 boasts a gray-leather interior with custom door panels and well-bolstered seats with crossed-flags embroidery. A Delco AM/FM radio, a door-lock button, and an A/C outlet reside in the center stack, while a late-model PRNDL indicator and a C4 automatic shifter are mounted to the floor.
The instrument panel appears original at first, but first impressions can be deceiving. Look closely, and you'll see there's a digital dash that reads out behind the gauges when the instrument lamps are on. The steering wheel is also subtly modified. It's been cut down to a slightly smaller diameter to complement the quicker C4 steering gear.
The Vette's LT4 engine boasts a massage job by Street & Performance, in Mena, Arkansas. Along with headwork, the LT4 runs a hotter camshaft, the usual air-induction work, and other performance tweaks. The headers kick out to a set of Walker mufflers, ending in some very cool custom-exhaust-tip work at the rear bumpers. A set of vintage-style Edelbrock valve covers and color-keyed covers dress up the potent small-block. Other enhancements include the mandatory late-model master cylinder, aftermarket A/C, and a touch of chrome dress-up.
From the outside, the rich '04 blue/gray exterior combination looks awesome, and the C5 badges-paired with vintage fuel-injection emblems-provide an additional personalizing touch. Throw in a set of C5-style five-spoke wheels, and there can be no doubt that this Vette truly offers the best of both worlds.