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1998 Chevrolet Corvette - Multiple Personalities

Chattanooga Rod Design's Classic 1 Blends Modern Performance With '60s Style

James Berry Nov 1, 2009
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Who in his right mind would take two completely different Corvettes and turn them into one? Anthony McDowell, that's who. McDowell's abiding passion for cars led him to a 25-year career in collision repair and hot-rodding. In addition to providing him with a good living, all those years fettling wrecked and broken-down cars gave McDowell considerable insight into automotive structural design. This knowledge would eventually prove pivotal in the construction his hybrid Corvette.

McDowell's story begins after he sold his collision center-cum-rod shop. Instead of taking a typical two-week vacation, McDowell spent two years in Costa Rica. While he loved life in the Central American paradise, he deeply missed the sight of American iron. In fact, the Toyotas and Hondas that inundated the region bored him to tears. Where were the street machines, the ones that could run like drag cars but still idle all day with the AC on, or cruise across the country in comfort?

McDowell had built cars like that in the past, but he had always felt that something was missing. Indeed, no matter how much time or money he threw at them, or how great they looked, these vehicles always lacked driveability when compared with their newer counterparts.

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Eventually, McDowell had an epiphany: He would build his dream car in reverse. Instead of starting with an old car and updating it, he would begin with a late-model Corvette and modify it to look like a classic C2. But the car would require more than just looks. It needed performance, safety, comfort, and the dependability of a modern Vette.

Improving interior comfort over that of an early Corvette wouldn't be difficult. The larger doors of the C5/C6 cars greatly ease entry and exit, and the wider passenger compartment provides more shoulder and elbow room. Larger seats with multiple adjust-ments also improve fit and comfort, and the shifter is located in such a way that the armrest is still usable with the seat adjusted fully rearward.

With anticipation having reached a fever pitch, it was time to find a donor car. After moving back to the States, McDowell found a '98 Corvette online that fit his plans perfectly. But while making preliminary measurements and mocking up parts placement, it became clear to McDowell why car bodies were designed and built by corporations with teams of engineers and million-dollar budgets. In fact, he came close to scrapping the entire project numerous times. Fortunately he persevered and continued on with the conversion.

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It didn't take long for McDowell to realize that not a single part of a C2 body would fit on the C5. The newer car's front end is shorter and its doors longer compared with the vintage model. This is all well and good for weight transfer, handling, and everyday use, but it rendered McDowell's original concept untenable. And so a decision was made: Rather than an exact replica, the car would be a reinterpretation of the classic C2 built on a modern platform. After all, the same approach has been used successfully on the new Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger. Why not bring the Corvette into the mix? With a new direction to pursue, McDowell dubbed the project "Classic 1" and forged ahead.

In keeping with this retro-modern approach, McDowell chose to swap the C5 door handles and mirrors for vintage-appearing chrome replacements. Stock C2 wheels and tires were deemed disproportionately small on the bigger C5 body, so McDowell went with a more contemporary combination. In fact, the front tires on the Classic 1 are bigger than the rear combo on a stock C5, measuring 275/40-18. The rears, meanwhile, spec out at a positively gargantuan 345/35-19. The sheer width of the rolling stock makes the car look and handle like a Le Mans racer, while the modern rubber limits both impact harshness and road noise. Add to this the sound-deadening materials used in the conversion and the result is one comfortable ride for long trips or around-town jaunts.

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After some 4,500 hours of fabrication and parts fitting, McDowell's Classic 1 was finally complete. The car became an instant hit, scoring an appearance on Horsepower TV and even showing up at the premiere of the film Speed Racer. McDowell has since established a company-Chattanooga Rod Design-to build production units for customers. He's currently in the process of designing a trio of new conversions using other vehicle platforms. (Sorry, but we've been sworn to secrecy until the unveiling.)

Unfortunately for do-it-yourselfers, the Classic 1 conversion will not be offered in kit form. These are, after all, heavily customized creations requiring hours of painstaking fabrication work. But don't despair: if the Classic 1 approach of blending '60s style with modern comfort and performance seems like your thing, McDowell will be happy to convert a convertible, coupe, or FRC to your specifications. (Note that a hardtop can't currently be modified into a convertible, or vice versa.) All you'll need to supply is a donor C5 and sufficient funds to underwrite the operation.


Chattanooga Rod Design
(423) 883-9151



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