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Chevy Corvette Conversions - Body Language

The Right Body Conversion Can Give Your Corvette A Whole New Look-And Attitude

Steve Temple Jan 22, 2010
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Putting a different body on an automotive chassis is a time-honored technique, dating back to the first cars ever produced. These early vehicles had wooden coaches, followed by sheetmetal bodies bolted to wooden frames. Henry Ford even experimented with a plastic body made from soybeans. Of course, the Corvette was the first production car to have a fiberglass outer skin. As composite technology advanced, so did the lamination quality, with sheet molding compound (SMC) replacing the old-school resin-and-glass layup starting with the C4 model in 1984. Later, high-tech materials such as carbon-fiber were introduced.


What's the point of this brief history of car bodies? Well, Corvette owners with a creative bent have never been reluctant to customize the shape of their cars, with the 'glass body material simplifying the process. Initially, these changes consisted of grafting on wider fender flares to make room for bigger racing tires, along with various aero pieces for more downforce. This trend quickly evolved into more personal and extensive expressions, albeit not always in the best of taste (Corvette Summer, anyone?).

One of the most famous Corvette body conversions of all time was the black '72 Daytona Spyder that appeared on the Miami Vice TV series. Created by Tom McBurnie to fit on a 1980 Chevy Corvette C3, it prompted lawsuits from Enzo Ferrari, who sought to protect his design from replication. Actor Don Johnson's ride was ultimately blown to pieces in the premiere episode of Season Three, after which Ferrari donated a couple of '86 Testarossas as replacements.

But we digress. All this background basically illustrates the versatility of the Corvette for various enhancements and embellishments. To that end, we've gathered a bevy of bodies beautiful-some intended as tributes to legendary Corvette racers, others as individual expressions of creativity. Many of the companies also offer various upgrades that take performance to a whole new level. In other cases, you can have a high-performance, specialty-constructed vehicle that uses Corvette components on a custom frame. Whatever your taste or inclination, there's something for you here (but no soybeans, sadly).


Projex Motors PC-3
Projecting an entirely different persona
Even though a number of vehicles have served as platforms for various body-conversion projects, the one that offers the most promise is America's sports car. After all, the Corvette's performance is undisputed, and prices of certain models have been dropping like a stone in recent years. These fundamental features make the new Projex PC-3 an appealing new entry, as it represents an attractive and high-quality body conversion on the capable C4 chassis.

What made Projex pursue this particular platform? The firm's founders, Richard Graham and Evan Greenberg, have a long history of producing fiberglass sculptures and other objets d'art for Las Vegas casinos, but it was more than just their facility with fiberglass that led them to this project.

The principals of Projex favored a gentleman's touring machine that would convey a certain "quiet style, like a good wine-bold, but not arrogant." An Italian flavor came to mind, but this would not be a slavish copy that would invite the wrath of trade-dress attorneys (as did Tom McBurnie's faux Daytona). Instead, Projex insisted on creating something unique, incorporating multiple design styles.


Once the specifics of the PC-3 were finalized, Projex decided on two packages. The Basic Panel Kit ($9,995) consists of 11 major components, including the nose, hood, doors, rockers, vents, and rear clip. For an extra $2,000, the Enhanced Car Kit adds headlight bezels and covers, along with a front grille, a windshield-frame cover, and interior console trim. These components are designed to fit C4s from '84 to '92, but not the later '93 to '96 models. Turnkey models are available, and a roadster version is in the works.

Although some panels use factory mounting points and standard body-shop techniques, keep in mind that this isn't a weekend bolt-on project. Aligning the panels can be a challenge, depending on the condition of the Corvette chassis used as the foundation. Given that caution, the basic build process is otherwise fairly straightforward, working from front to back.


Once all the body components and seams are flowing together in smooth fashion, the panels are then prepped and painted in a conventional manner. In addition to a custom hue, some aftermarket wheels and dress-up items for the cockpit can further disguise the car's origins. It's not that there's anything wrong with driving a Corvette, but the whole point of a body conversion is to create a fresh new look on an old favorite.

Projex Motors
(661) 268-1883

Mongoose Motorsports Grand Sport And Imsa GTP
A tribute to racing Vettes past and present
What Vette enthusiast worth his salt hasn't wondered what it would be like to drive one of Duntov's ultra-rare Grand Sport racers? For those not familiar with the first Grand Sports, these experimental Sting Ray racers pounced on some unsuspecting Cobras at Nassau, Bahamas, in 1963 and 1964, and the Shelby team went home dragging its tail both times. Sadly, GM execs pulled the plug on the program, rather than building the 125 cars required by GT class regs.


Fortunately, replica firms have no such constraints, as demonstrated by Mongoose Motorsports' coupe, roadster, and new spec-racer Grand Sport models. Mongoose employs C4 suspension components with adjustable coilover shocks fitted to a stout 4-inch, round-tube frame made by Altair Engineering. Lest you feel challenged in building your own car, the company's product offerings are available in several levels of completion, including formidable turnkeys in both street and track trim.

Speaking of track duty, the spec racer features an SCCA-legal rollcage (made of 1 5/8-inch diameter, 0.120-wall tubing), along with a Lexan windshield. The 515hp LS3 crate motor is carbureted with a 770 Holley, but it does use an LSX Ignition Controller to run a coil-on-plug system with a 58X Reluctor Wheel.

Backing up this mill is a Lakewood blow-proof housing and a Tremec five-speed fitted with a Centerforce road-race clutch and a Fidanza aluminum flywheel. Included in the driveline are a pair of protective hoops (along with other competition safety gear), along with a 3.54-geared Dana 44 rearend. Overlaying the whole deal is a super-light fiberglass body (150 pounds total) with removable front and rear clips for easier pit-stop access. Race-ready rubber (Kumho V710 R compound) wraps over 18x10 CCW Classic rims (front 315/30R18s and rear 335/30R18s). The Mongoose spec racer, with both driver and fuel, tips the scales 2,550 pounds, putting it in the same weight class as a certain snake-skinned opponent.


Given these modernized tributes to the legendary Corvette comp cars, what other racers would make sense to emulate? The Mongoose wranglers looked back not quite so far, to 1986, for inspiration to put their own spin on the IMSA Corvette GTP (Grand Touring Prototype). The seven original GTP cars attained enough racing success to elevate them to lofty collector heights.

The GTP body came originally from Hendrick Motorsports, but several teams campaigned cars in the IMSA ranks, so there were likely several sets of molds for the car, if for no other reason than to make spare Kevlar body parts.

The shape of the car is aggressively styled for the track, but Mongoose wisely decided that it needed some street amenities as well to appeal to a broader market. That's not to suggest that the car is just a looker, as the 505hp LS7 in this particular example is more than capable of backing up the car's racy looks with track-ready performance.

Mongoose describes its GTP chassis as a semi-monocoque utilizing composite and chrome-moly steel-tube materials. The first chassis featured an aluminum boxed front-end section and a tubular rear, but subsequent cars have featured a carbon fiber front end. A full rollcage is also incorporated.


The chassis employs C5 suspension components with Bilstein shocks modified in-house to a coilover setup. Mongoose uses a Flaming River manual rack-and-pinion steering system (or an electric power system) and C5 disc brakes at all four corners. This prototype was outfitted with 18-inch CCW billet aluminum wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot rubber (295/30 fronts on 10-inch-wide rims and 335/30 rears on 12-inchers).

The LS7 engine is, of course, the same 427ci mill used in the Corvette Z06. The all-aluminum engine develops 470 lb-ft of torque-more than enough output for the 2,500-pound GTP, which is 600 to 700 pounds lighter than the production Z.

Mongoose built its own custom stainless headers for the small-block and routed them through turbo spiral mufflers before exiting through the back of the bodywork. About the only modification to the crate engine was to the cooling system, where a pair of Griffin aluminum radiators keep things cool. They're mounted inside the deep sidescoops, ahead of the rear wheels, and both are fitted with electric fans. The prototype also benefits from an aftermarket Vintage Air A/C system, with the condenser mounted on the rear bracket of the big carbon-fiber wing.


Mongoose called on RPM Transmission to develop a massaged 4L60E automatic coupled to a C5 transaxle, but minus the torque tube used in the Corvette. The engine is directly coupled to the transaxle assembly with a Camaro bellhousing sandwiched in between. Controlling the trans is a B&M ratchet-shifter cable system. Mongoose even provides the transaxle setup with the component version of the GTP (or offers a credit if some other system is to be used).

Though the GTP is essentially a race car, Mongoose had added some concessions to comfort in the cockpit, including the aforementioned A/C system, carpeting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a pair of upholstered bucket seats. The company also offers a carbon-fiber dash and glass windows instead of acrylic. And since the original Corvette GTP didn't have a rear window, Mongoose added one, so you can see all the competition you've left in the dust.

Mongoose Motorsports
(330) 920-1466

Ruth Engineering & Racing Cheetah
One ferocious feline
While Duntov's Grand Sport is generally thought of as the Cobra killer, there was another: the Cheetah. Developed by Corvette racer Bill Thomas and designed by Don Edmunds in the early '60s, it featured a modified Corvette 327 (377 ci) in a chassis that weighed less than 1,700 pounds. But it was handful on a road course, due to this extreme power-to-weight ratio, a lack of frame triangulation, and short wheelbase. So short, in fact, that the transmission output was bolted directly to the Corvette IRS with only a U-joint in between, and no driveshaft. Once the Cheetah settled into a straight, though, nothing could touch it.


Though plagued with a hot cockpit, due to the proximity of the exhaust, and covered with flimsy fiberglass bodywork (except for a couple aluminum bodies early on), the Cheetah broke all sorts of track records, and by the end of the 1964 season, it had won 11 races in C-Sport/Modified. Only 11 Cheetahs were built before a shop fire in September 1965 stopped production, and only eight survive today.

Since that time many replicas of the Cheetah have been built, with varying degrees of quality and accuracy. Corvette restorer Ruth Engineering & Racing drew on its extensive background to improve on the original design without "throwing the baby out with the bathwater."

The company wisely started with the '89-'96 C4 Corvette suspension, but with coilovers instead of transverse leaf springs. The frame jig follows the correct wheelbase and track, and is fitted with modified version of a Fiberglass Trends Cheetah body, using an A-pillar to house the DOT-laminated windshield. (The company gets a lot of orders for this particular item, since it's hard to find.) The round-tube frame is braced with shear panels along the cockpit, and front door pillars were added for greater stability, along with flares over the front wheels. The foot boxes are positioned behind the headers to minimize the heat issues of the original configuration.


The hand-laid dash is provided blank, allowing builders to craft a custom gauge layout, but the transmission tunnel is already cut out for a Tremec five-speed shifter. A bar located behind the driver for securing a racing harness is optional but highly recommended.

As on the authentic item, the hood tilts forward and features side skirts molded in behind the grille to channel all airflow through the radiator. An electric fan provides additional cooling, and the engine compartment can accommodate a range of Corvette engines.

The base frame-and-body package starts at $18,000, and for street use, the fiberglass body comes with a recessed area for the license plate, plus midyear taillights. That's just as well, since the latter item is the only thing most other drivers will ever see of this ferocious feline.

Ruth Engineering & Racing, Inc.
(440) 365-0061



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