Enjoying a '58 Corvette has always been about the beauty of the car's sirenic exterior, which serves as a welcome antidote to the pitfalls of its premodern engineering. But while some Vette owners deliberately cleave to the C1's original blueprint, others are willing to make concessions against originality to create a Corvette that is as pleasing to drive as it is to behold.
Carey McMahon, managing director of an engineering and technology company in Wahroonga, Australia, tells VETTE he wanted a '58 Corvette but was shocked at how poorly a stock example performed. "One day I saw a '58 advertised, so I went over to check it out," he says. "It looked like sex on wheels sitting in the guy's driveway. Then I took it for a test drive and got such a disappointment. It drove like a truck-a '50s truck. Driving special cars just warms my core, but this car left me cool as ice."
As fate would have it, McMahon's search for the perfect Vette led to a different '58 model. "I went to Portland, Oregon, to buy a '67 Mustang GT500," he says. "After I bought it, the seller told me about his next-door neighbor's '58 Vette. He took me over to meet him, and I offered to buy it. Two months later, he told me to come and get it."
According to McMahon, the garage-banished '58 roadster had left the factory painted in Regal Turquoise with white coves and a Charcoal interior. But when he found it, the body was sandblasted back to fiberglass, and the front clip was completely missing. He immediately thought of a comment he made to himself following his inaugural ride in a C1 some months earlier: "Wouldn't it be great if a '58 Corvette drove like a new one?"
Fortunately for McMahon, Paul Newman of Newman Car Creations in Paso Robles, California, had shared the same thought and gone so far as to develop a solution. He explains: "McMahon's complaints about C1 Corvettes were similar to so many others: lack of control, poor ride, brakes not suitable for today's traffic, and engine overheating. Our advice to him was to have us engineer a complete C4 Corvette suspension to his '58 frame. Forged-aluminum, independent front and rear suspensions with power rack-and-pinion; modern, lightweight composite springs; sway bars; performance shocks; and disc brakes will stand a classic Corvette on its nose."
McMahon was sold on the idea, and in mid-2002 he delivered the chassis to Newman for modernization. The project consisted of stripping the frame of its original components and modifying it for a rebuild utilizing C4 parts. Newman suggested a custom fiberglass spring from Vette Brakes & Products, Bilstein shocks with a custom valve rate, and a '96 Corvette steering system for the front. For the rear, he prescribed a VBP transverse spring, another pair of custom Bilsteins, and a Dana 44 differential with 3.42 gears. Polyurethane bushings would be used throughout.
The Corvette's original drums were deemed unacceptable for providing modern braking power, so front '04 Z06 calipers, rear '96 C4 calipers, and Disc Brakes of Australia (DBA) 4000 slotted rotors at all four hubs were selected to take their place.
Whereas most customers would have allowed Newman to install the components, McMahon wanted to handle the reassembly himself. In September 2002, using the modified frame, suspension components, body shell, and a freshly sourced front clip, he loosely assembled the Vette and shipped it to Australia. Upon its arrival, he embarked upon what would become a 4,000-hour restoration to turn his '58 Corvette into a modern-driving rocket.
Working with George Athan of Mirrorfinish in Moorebank, McMahon designed and implemented the chrome and polished metal that can be seen under the hood and on the suspension components, driveshaft, and differential. "Athan and I worked together on most of the aluminum and steel items," he says. "I would do the rough work, and he would finish it off."
Next, he commissioned Chad Parrish of Mustangs R Us in Castle Hill to restore the body to its original beauty. Parrish labored 500 hours on the Vette's fiberglass panels, straightening them to perfection and widening the rear quarters 35 mm on each side to allow for larger wheels. Upon McMahon's orders, he then sprayed the body in two new shades: black followed by silver for the coves.