Corvettes represent much more than transportation to their owners. It's not about getting from Point A to Point B as much as it is about the fun in getting there. Because of the excitement and the memories of driving their cars, many Corvette enthusiasts hang on to their Vettes for decades, restoring or refurbishing them along the way. Some owners, like Ron Emmons, take a different route.
Ron and his girlfriend (now Mrs. Emmons) purchased a '64 Corvette back in 1991. "She loaned me some of the money to buy the car," he says, "later realizing any engagement prospects were gone, as I was now broke. I'm sure glad she loved the car. We used it for our wedding getaway!"
The Vette was in good condition, and being a non-matching-numbers car, it was perfect for a daily driver. The Emmonses also discovered that it was a very early-production example. "It was manufactured on the third day of 1964 production," Ron says. "It's Number 232 [from September 6, 1963]; therefore, it has some '63 parts like rockers, gauges, glovebox, gas cap, etc."
Along with trips to the office and the grocery store, the couple took the car on excursions to Key West and the Smoky Mountains, with diving gear and camping equipment strapped on the back. Through the years, they maintained the '64 with thoughts of one day doing a total restoration. "When the frame broke in half while driving on I-75," Ron says, "we knew it was time to start the restoration process."
Ron had debated selling the Vette, but ultimately chose not to. "With 16 years of memories, and both of us loving midyears," he says, "it was the perfect opportunity to build a resto-rod."
Ron located the late Craig Anderson, owner of Southeast Frame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to replace the frame. "Craig was an accomplished machinist," Ron says, "and had a background in racing." The result was a one-off box frame loaded with custom tricks. Anderson modified the front shock towers with adjustable jack bolts and fabricated adjustable shock mounts for the rear. He then TIG-welded and powdercoated the frame itself.
The stock suspension was scrapped in favor of the underpinnings from a '96 Corvette. The transverse leaf springs were replaced with QA1 coilovers, and Vette Brakes & Products supplied a set of its Smart Struts and trailing arms. To quicken the Vette's response, a 12:1 ratio Appleton rack-and-pinion steering box was installed. Out back, a Dana 44 rear was bolted into the IRS with a set of 3.73 gears.
Ron worked with Max Carr, an accomplished machinist and metal fabricator, to construct a variety of special components during the course of the project. For example, when Ron wanted to install C6 Z06 front and rear brakes, he and Carr had to fabricate frame adaptors. The rear-brake mounting required a mock-up, followed by computer-aided design and then CNC fabrication from an aluminum block. The differential-support bracket and the lower shock mounts for the QA1 coilovers were also custom made by Carr.
In conjunction with the big Z06 brakes, Ron installed a Hydratech hydraulic brake-assist system with a Wilwood dual master cylinder. Smitten with the look of the stock Z06 wheels, he chose to mount 18x9.5-inch fronts all the way around. They were shod with Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s-245/40ZR18 in the front and 275/40ZR18 in the rear. Ride-height considerations mean the tires tuck deep into the wheelwells, with more than adequate room for clearance.
Like any finely built custom, there's a considerable amount of detail work hidden beneath the body and out of view. Ron wanted a stainless-steel fuel tank with an internal pump and built-in baffles, for example. That required him to design and build an 1/8-inch plywood mockup for test fittings. It was placed low on the frame, and the tank bottom followed the rear-panel contours. Once satisfied, Ron noted the dimensions, and a stainless tank was fabricated.
The tired 327 was pulled and set aside in place of an '02 LS1. Rob Basler, of Skip's Automotive in Sarasota, put together a strong, high-revving engine with lots of reliability built in. He added a Lunati 382 stroker kit, ported and polished the heads, and then flow-tested them. A Weiand/Lingenfelter intake-painted red to match the exterior-was added with a ported stock throttle body. Aaron Quintez of Sarasota fitted up the Street and Performance 13/4-inch headers and custom-bent 21/2-inch exhausts exiting from the rear valance. On the dyno, the tricked-out LS1 produced 446 rear-wheel horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 438 lb-ft of torque at 4,900 rpm.
With the rolling chassis and drivetrain completed, Ron began the search for a competent shop to complete the body, marry it to the chassis, and perform the assembly work. He also had some decisions to make about exterior features. "As we continued with the restoration," he says, "we had to decide if we were going to incorporate the 'stinger' hood and side pipes that are so prevalent with modified midyears." He made the decision to pass on both after going to a Corvette show. "The final decision not to incorporate these items came when we were at a Vette show and two midyears were parked side by side. One had the stinger hood and side pipes, while the other did not. I thought without the hood and side pipes, you get a better view of the lines and sleekness that we love about the midyears."
Although Ron had hand-picked all the components for the Vette up to this point, he finally found a shop to which he could entrust the car's completion. Still, it was important to him to remain as involved as possible. "It took a year to find Mike Griffin of Sarasota," Ron says. "Mike is an exceptional street-rod builder with great attention to detail. It was a perfect setup to allow me to be involved but get the job done in a timely manner."
Griffin had to fabricate a dolly and a rotisserie in order to complete the work on the body. The old, damaged panels were replaced or repaired, and PPG Corvette Torch Red paint was applied. Next, Griffin fabricated hidden hood hinges and a removable rollbar. Once the body was mounted on the chassis, work began on installing new Painless wiring harnesses for the body, engine compartment, and interior. To deaden sound and keep the passenger compartment cooler, Griffin laid down an application of Lizard Skin, followed by a layer of Dynomat. NU Relic power windows were installed, as were the plumbing and vents for the Vintage Air A/C system.
Custom Auto Sound's AM/FM/CD player with 10-disc changer was selected to replace the factory radio. The radio head is configured the same as stock, and the changer installs behind the seats. Ron also chose not to cut up the door panels for speakers. Instead, they were subtly placed in the top of the dash and in the rear. The factory gauges were replaced with Auto Meter's Pro-Comp Ultra-lites, which use black alphanumerics and red needles on silver faces. A traditional, midyear-correct teak steering wheel sets off the completed dash.
With all the wiring and instrument panel work completed, an Al Knoch reproduction interior was installed to maintain the classic midyear appearance. Ron chose a set of Simpson safety belts to replace the factory units.
In total, it took about 1,000 hours over a four-year time span to complete the '64. Close inspection reveals that not a single detail was overlooked. The engine compartment, for example, is a feast for the eyes. The intake was cherried and painted exterior color. Drive accessories, such as the power-steering pump, A/C compressor, and alternator, were placed low and out of view. The Torch Red engine top and compartment are contrasted with smooth, satin-finished billet valve covers, a bright air inlet, and a polished-aluminum radiator shell.
Now that the '64 is done, will Ron drive it to work and take it on vacations as he did in the past? "It was my intention to have another daily driver," Ron says, "with the ability to play with my Cobra friends on the track. Until the newness wears off and my wife says it's OK, though, there is no track time planned." Fortunately for Ron, this is one midyear that's sure to get the blood pumping-regardless of the driving environment.