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1963 Chevrolet Corvette - Lickety Split

This LS7 Split-Window Blends Timeless Looks With Peerless Performance

Christopher R. Phillip Feb 1, 2009
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Ask a sampling of Corvette cognoscenti what modern-day mod they'd find most rewarding on a midyear coupe, and they're likely to answer you with three alphanumeric characters: L-S-7. And why not? After all, mating the world-class performance of the big-cube LS to, say, the timeless lines of a '63 split-window would be a veritable dream come true.

That's what Long Island Collector Car Garage (LICCG) in Hauppauge, New York, aimed to do for a customer with his own unique vision of the ultimate Cor-vette supercar. LICCG is a private "country club" for car enthusiasts, and its facility offers 20,000 square feet of museum storage, a club room, mechanics' lifts, and exclusive high-end restorations. "We recently have become known for our midyear Corvette restomods, being one of the few restoration shops on the East Coast with this unique specialty," company team leader Peter Spinella says.

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LICCG's restorations are unique in that the company performs only one resto at a time, with three team members devoting all their efforts to a single customer vehicle. "I'm the custom carbuilder, Ruben Rodriguez is our master fabricator, and Edgar Leon is our paint-and-body specialist," Spinella says. "Combined, we have 65 years of car-building experience. We prepare for each project thoroughly, so lead times [for parts and supplies] are minimized. Almost all of our projects are completed in six months or less, and that includes full body-off restorations."

So how did this sensual split-window supercar come about? In December 2007, LICCG was approached by a Kuwaiti businessman who had bought an Ermine White '63 coupe for only $25,000. It was in good condition, but its originality had been irrevocably compromised with a nonoriginal motor. Spinella suggested the car be converted into a custom classic with the guts of a modern Z06.

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The customer already had an idea for the chassis: a C4 frame-manufactured by Street Shop Inc. in Athens, Alabama-that bolts up to any midyear Corvette. According to Street Shop's owner Tray Walden, "We built a completely new bolt-on custom chassis using mandrel-formed 4x2x0.120-inch wall tubing. We then installed C4 control arms, Aldan billet-aluminum coilovers, Wilwood calipers, drilled-and-slotted Street Shop rotors, and a hydromechanical parking brake. The brake lines are custom CNC stainless steel from the master cylinder to the rear wheels.

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"For steering, we installed a power rack-and-pinion unit and custom Addco sway bars that allow up to a 9 1/2-inch rear tire on a stock body. The fuel system consists of a Rock Valley Street Rods stainless-steel custom tank, a 255-lph in-tank electric pump, and custom-made stainless lines with GM-style push-lock connectors. When we were done, we had a complete rolling chassis with suspension, drivetrain, and fuel system, and the body was ready to be dropped back on."

Street Shop also provided a GM Performance Parts LS7 crate engine for the car. While the 427-cube motor remains internally stock, Walden did add a custom aluminum intake tube, a 90mm FAST drive-by-wire throttle body, a Street Shop custom pulley setup, and a Classic Motorsports Group LS bellhousing. A mechanically activated GM LS7 clutch, a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed trans, and a Dana 44 diff with 3.45 gears push the power to the pavement.

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The project took the three men four months of full-time work to complete, for a combined total of 2,000 hours of labor. Spinella and Rodriguez began by disassembling the Sting Ray and preparing it for mediablasting. Then, Rodriguez and Leon stripped the body with a baking-soda material, allowing the Ray's factory fiberglass to show through. The men discovered the body was in great shape, with the exception of a hole in the driver-side front fender. The metal door frames, however, were rotted. Body repair and fabrication ensued, and new frames were fabricated by hand. The original body seams were ground and filled with a marine epoxy to prevent bleed through, and the body itself was modified to accept a '67 Sting Ray hood and stand.

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Next, Rodriguez mocked up the body to the Street Shop chassis, installed Rewarder Racing ceramic-coated headers with 1 7/8-inch primaries, and fabricated custom stainless-steel head and side pipes. Other hand-fabbed items include the oil-tank hangers and brackets, the battery tray and wheelwell access panel, and the hidden computer mount with ECU plug in. Rodriguez also converted the stock ashtray to an iPod holder, modified the stock glovebox to accommodate a stereo head unit, and built a custom emergency-brake pulley system utilizing the factory handle.

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With that done, Leon applied three coats of Spies/Hecker polyester primer, followed by block-sanding and three coats of Glasurit Primer. After final block-sanding, he sprayed five coats of Diamond Platinum Ice, a three-stage Diamond Candy Black Cherry hood stripe, and five coats of Glasurit clear. He labored four weeks on the five-stage color wet-sanding system alone, progressing from 600 through 3,000 grit until a perfect, mirror-like reflection was achieved.

Then came the trim. "We hand-hammered all dents from the factory stainless, then wet-sanded and polished them to perfection," Spinella says. "Most of the trim was in good enough shape to be restored instead of replaced. We did replace the door handles and door mirrors with reproduction originals, and the bumpers were sent out to a local vendor for stripping and triple-plate chroming."

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Vehicle assembly was next, including the doors, hood, trim, bumpers, emblems, and various chrome and stainless bits. According to Spinella, "Only minor shimming to the stock body mounts was necessary to get the correct clearance over the five-speed transmission and custom chassis. A custom steering shaft and coupler were used to adapt the stock steering shaft to the rack-and-pinion. In regards to the engine fitment, custom-made aluminum motor-mount plates were made to get the engine positioned with enough firewall clearance."

Turning to the interior, Spinella installed Dynamat material for heat and sound insulation, while John Goncharuk III installed an Alpine head unit, custom speaker and subwoofer enclosures, and hidden panels housing the amp and CD changer.

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Spinella then took on the electronics. "The car's complete front engine harness was retrofitted using the original firewall plug, but conversions to all the terminals were made, including converting the harness from an old-style, externally regulated alternator to a new, internally regulated one," he says.

The original mechanical tachometer was sent out to Corvette Clocks by Roger in Jackson, Tennessee, where it was converted to electronic, while the speedometer and gas gauge were restored to original. The amp meter, meanwhile, was con-verted to a voltmeter, and the oil-pressure-gauge readout was bumped from 60 to 80 psi.

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"The real trick was converting the signal from the FAST harness to the signal needed on the tachometer," Spinella says. "We used a tach-ometer digital interface from Dakota Digital, along with some programming, to get the tach-ometer to work. The tach was the most involved conversion, because we insisted on using factory-faceplate gauges. Performance replacements would have been too easy, and taken away from the original style of the car."

Other mods included a custom aluminum radiator with an electrical fan setup, a Classic Air midyear A/C kit with custom lines, a custom power-steering pump and lines, and a Master Power Brakes master cylinder linked to a Hydroboost brake system.

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Lastly, Miller Place Auto Upholstery in Miller Place, New York, installed the cabin upholstery using original-style seat covers, door panels, and carpet from Al Knoch Interiors. American Racing Torq-Thrust II wheels wrapped in 18-inch BFG rubber were mounted on the completed Sting Ray, and the project was, at long last, adjudged a success.

LICCG delivered the car to an understandably happy customer in September, 2008. "We wanted to create a 'Super Corvette,' one with classic original style, modern performance, and luxury," Spinella says. "We focused our attention on detail, while strictly preserving the original Sting Ray's style as much as possible. Our goal was to make the car look almost as if Chevrolet had built it themselves.

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"When we had to make decisions for interior, trim, gauges, and emblems, it was always original first. That's what sets this car apart-it's not overdone. A Z06 split-window is the ultimate Corvette. We are thrilled with the outcome."

For more information on Long Island Collector Car Garage, visit or call (631) 514-7585.



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