Economic downturn notwithstanding, it's clear that customized cars are currently all the rage. For evidence, just take a look at the popularity of Chip Foose's mind-bending creations, the late Boyd Coddington's SPEED TV show, or the hottest trends at the yearly SEMA spectacular.
The archetype of the custom Corvette has traditionally been a stock-looking late-model with its guts upgraded to deliver more horsepower, better handling, and superior driveability. Custom interior appointments and aftermarket wheels may have been part of the deal, but for the most part, the focus was on non-cosmetic upgrades. But another trend has been resurfacing of late, and '60s Corvettes are at its forefront.
You may remember what customizing meant in the '70s. It was all about flared fenders and custom paint-that is, aesthetic excitement rather than gripping performance. Everywhere you looked, you could see custom fiberglass molding, larger-than-life side pipes, and acres of metalflake. And a top candidate for this treatment was the '60s Corvette.
The two mid-'60s Vettes pictured here are prime examples of this customizing approach. One is a '65 model that has been fitted with front and rear flares and finished off with Plexiglas front headlights, instead of the standard flip-up lights. Other obvious deviations from stock include a molded rear ducktail spoiler and 17-inch Torq-Thrust wheels. The sole concession to mechanical modernization can be found in the drivetrain, which comprises an LT1 engine and 700R4 trans lifted from an early-'90s C4.
Unlike some customs, this '65 has also been treated to a number of interior alterations. Its original dash is now filled with digital gauges, while a billet steering wheel and shifter knob further contribute to the hot-rod theme.
Next to the '65 is a '67 Vette with even-larger front and rear flares. At some point it was finished without its factory front chrome bumper, though the rear unit was retained. Like most '60s custom Vettes, it also sports a set of outsize side pipes.
The '67's interior has been left mostly factory-stock, with a few additions such as a Hurst shifter. A set of 17-inch Compomotive wheels and 245/45-17 Sumitomo tires round out the presentation.
But where this car really differs from most of its peers is in its original 427/435 engine and four-speed transmission. A stock, matching-numbers car with this powertrain combo would command a hefty price in today's market. It's surprising, then, that the '67 has remained in its customized condition and not been returned to as-purchased form.
Tom Souter purchased the '67 at a recent Mecum Collector Car Auction. There were reasons behind his impulsive purchase. "I used to own a similar car-Marlboro Maroon with a white stinger and white interior. It, too, had a big-block and flared fenders. It isn't often that you find a car like that. I have fond memories of that car and the times spent cruising to car shows." With any luck, Souter will enjoy a similar run with his new custom. His plans? Take it to car shows and cruise nights, of course.
To get some perspective on the recent resurgence of '60s custom Vettes, we called upon some industry experts. Our first contact was Dana Mecum, impresario of the nationally held Mecum auctions. The company, whose slogan is "Nobody sells more muscle," reported record sales of $20,000,000 during last year's Kissimmee, Florida, event. With that in mind, we figured he was just the person to ask about the rising popularity of customized '60s Corvettes.