Telling the story behind a customized Corvette requires more than listing a pile of parts for the project. It's also about a relationship between man and machine-and sometimes a woman, too. Jeff Hess knows that all too well. He's owned a few Vettes and other collectible cars over the years, and also signed more than a few ladies' dance cards. But when it came time to build his Coupester, a really special '66 with an LS7 engine and other modern enhancements, there was one really special person involved as well.
"My partner and the love of my life, Sheila, is the only woman I've ever been involved with who truly loves cars. Many of the others faked it and god knows what else!" Hess admits. Sheila Williams has owned a Porsche 365, a Karmann Ghia, a BMW, and she now drives a Porsche Cayman, but the Vette takes this automotive passion to a whole new level.
Not only partners in life, "We are partners on Coupester, which she has affectionately named 'Chuck'," Hess explains. (There's no particular reason behind the sobriquet-Sheila just likes to name her cars.) "And she was instrumental in the decisions that went into the overall concept, especially the color schemes."
The fevered inspiration for this neo/retro ride came about during a hot August night-yet not in the way you might think. It was literally at the Hot August Nights event in Reno, Nevada, a world-class car show that's rated as America's number-one outdoor event. (To call it simply a "show" hardly does it justice, since the entire city becomes one humongous collection of cool vehicles of all years, makes, and models, with more than 5,000 cars and 800,000 spectators.) Pre-'72 models in general are the main attraction, but it was the second-generation Corvettes that became a shared attraction for Hess and Williams.
Hess relates how, after the show, he and Sheila got totally psyched to own a C2 coupe. They later found an original factory-air car with a 327 engine and an automatic tranny. Their acquaintance with the car was gradual at first, but it deepened quickly.
"Our initial plan was to find one in reasonably good shape-put wheels on it, maybe a new paint job, and get it running well, but not much beyond that," he says. But just as a relationship between man and woman can blossom, so, too, did the Coupester concept. "Well, one thing led to another and we went the whole frame-off, restomod deal."
But that description doesn't do full credit to the concept. The treatment is a distinctive mixture combining equal parts hot rod and gentleman cruiser, plus more than a smidgen of street fighter.
The basic black paint job is as formal as a wedding tuxedo, with subtle accents of metallic charcoal gray for the hood stinger and the rear deck. The effect is classy and ominous at the same time, like James Bond stepping into Casino Royale.
But like the latest incarnation of Bond, the swanky duds barely disguise the menacing thug beneath. The spun-aluminum Budnik smoothies are an obvious tip-off that this classic Corvette has a license to kill.
Look under the hood and you'll see what sort of heat it's packing. In this case, the weapon of choice is an '07 LS7, supplied and dressed by Street & Performance. Hess, a retired insurance agent who's very familiar with risk assessment, took no chances with the performance of the Coupester. But Williams, a history professor, wanted to preserve the Sting Ray's legacy and heritage. Hence, the intriguing combination of old and new elements, capably integrated by John Vestri of Vestri's Vettes. The effect is sufficiently stunning to have garnered the car a slew of awards at several prestigious events. (An anniversary celebration of sorts is planned at this year's Hot August Nights.)
The mix of components included a '64 grille, a '67 big-block hood, functional venting, and LED sequential lights in the bumpers. This amalgam of vintage and modern continues with the C5 door handles, '78-'82 side mirrors, and "Double-D" Callaway exhaust tips behind the Flowmaster mufflers. The frame was gusseted for extra strength and fitted with modern suspension parts from Vette Brakes Products. A single carbon leaf spring replaces the traditional leaf springs in the front and rear.
In the cockpit, a pair of customized midyear seats are swathed in leather upholstery. The charcoal-gray carpeting, echoing the exterior color, is a '58 Vette hue. A Budnik steering wheel on a Flaming River column, a Callaway knob on the shifter, and a full complement of custom switchgear and lighting provide some extra sparkle to the enduring substance of the Coupester. Unlike the previous automotive loves of Hess, this one's a long-term relationship, a keeper for sure.