Very few cars can match the style of the Corvettes that came with chrome bumpers. From the frank, wide-eyed front end of the late-'50s C1s to the muscular smugness of the early sharks, they embody the central tension between elegance and raw power that has always defined America's sports car. Unfortunately, for those accustomed to modern performance vehicles, driving one of these vintage Vettes in "spirited" fashion can be a truly terrifying experience. Indeed, given the heart-pounding fear that comes from combining razor-thin tires with sudden rear-wheel camber shifts while cornering, perhaps it's no wonder Chevy long called itself "The Heartbeat of America."
There are modifications that help, but they never quite fix the problem. In 2004, I was in the throes of modifying a 1971 Chevy Corvette 454 convertible to make it more amenable to the sinuous roads of the North Georgia mountains where I lived, and had only mixed success. Poly bushings and hard springs helped, but they also revealed massive frame flex-until I put in a heavier rear sway bar, going over an uneven road would pop the rear of the convertible top up out of its latches.
It was around that time that I was wandering around Knoxville's Corvette Expo and noticed a tent exhibiting Corvette frames. Built by a company named Street Shop, they looked like C2 and C3 frames, only they weren't-they had C4 suspension . . . and rack-and-pinion steering . . . and Dana 44s. And they had my attention.
Laying The Framework Like many great ideas that seem to suddenly burst on the scene, Street Shop is the result of several years' labor by a committed entrepreneur-in this case, Tray Walden. Walden, an Alabama native with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science from Auburn (and a matching MBA to go with it), was working at a CD-manufacturing plant when he made the decision to leave the corporate world in 2000. "I've been gone almost as long as I was there," he tells me about going into business for himself, "and I haven't missed it for a day." And so it was that he was in a position to create and sell the aftermarket frame that he first showed at Carlisle in 2001.
The idea for the frame, however, goes much further back. An inveterate racer, Walden had been taught to weld in his teenage years, and had been building frames and rollcages for drag cars even while working at the CD company. What he had not done, however, was anything for a Vette, even though he owned two. It hit him one day when he was standing in his garage between his black '67 coupe and his matching black '94.
"You know," he mused, turning first to the midyear, then to the C4, "if I could have that, and make it drive like that, I'd be pretty happy." After combining his engineering experience with his ability to fabricate what he designed, he had the first frame. Intended as a one-off for his own use, the frame fit under his '67 without modification and accommodated C4 suspension and brake parts.
Enter Jim Hornaday, a Corvette aficionado par excellence who lived nearby. Hornaday managed to talk Tray into displaying the frame at Carlisle. Several orders, hundreds of frames, and three patents later, Street Shop is alive and well, and still making the latest incarnation of that frame, along with several more-advanced variants. Available for '53 through '82 Vettes, all of the Street Shop frames start as a pair of mandrel-bent framerails made from 4x2x0.120-inch tubing. From there, though, almost anything is possible.