Thirty-six weekends. That's how long it took Chris Lehman to turn a very-good-condition '63 Sting Ray convertible into the big-block-powered VetteRod you see here. But Lehman had plenty of help along the way, along with plenty of prior Corvette experience.
He's owned at least a half-dozen other Vettes (plus lots of other steel-bodied muscle, Chevrolet and otherwise), and he's got a '65 Sting Ray 'vert in his garage right now.
But the story on this '63 goes back to June 2005, when he bought it. "I'd just sold my '00 C5 convertible, and I was determined to go old-school again," he says from his Fort Washington, Maryland, home. "I located a dealer in San Luis Obispo, California, with the right ad, but the owner and the car were in Scottsdale, Arizona."
Not dissuaded by his inability to take his prospective purchase for a testdrive on the Pacific Coast Highway, Lehman flew to Arizona to check out the '63. "There was one catch," he recalls. "The owner insisted that his driver would pick me up from my hotel." Lehman thought maybe something was up, but he went along anyway.
The next day, the owner's driver picked up Lehman and proceeded to tell him stories about some of his well-heeled clients, one of whom was a "Mr. Walton," whom he'd taken to the Phoenix airport many a time. Turns out that "Mr. Walton" was Robert Walton, descendant of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. The Corvette that Lehman was going to see belonged to Dean Haupt, a successful businessman who owned the aforementioned dealership.
It also turned out that this '63 didn't have the 327 that it was built with, but that didn't stop Lehman from buying it and shipping it home. There, he turned his new purchase into a project car-much to the dismay of his wife, who started making faces when he began taking apart a perfectly good, driveable midyear. "Since the motor didn't match, I didn't feel compelled to restore [the car] to numbers-matching, or keep the small-block," he says.
Once the non-original small-block was out, Lehman set his sights on a 502-inch GM Performance Parts ZZ502 crate engine, which he believed "...would be worth all the trouble" once he got it in the car. With a background in auto mechanics-learned at his home-town vo-tech institute while growing up in Jennings, Louisiana-plus his later Navy experience as a diesel engineman and a submarine machinist's mate, he had the mechanical background he needed. That, and his years living in southern California, opened his world up to custom rods-which this C2 was going to become.
Also going in over the eight-plus-month-long, weekends-only build were front and rear lowering springs with QA1 adjustable shocks, disc brakes on each corner (Wilwoods in front), Hedman "tight tuck" Hedders and a Flowmaster-based exhaust system, a Keisler TKO-600 five-speed manual gearbox, plus a cabin that looks stock yet conceals a Custom Autosound stereo system.
While keeping the looks on the outside as OEM as possible, Lehman says that his '63 is all rod inside-and it was all done by him in his garage as a one-man job. "My next-door neighbor even did the paint in my makeshift booth," he adds. The only changes to the body were the addition of a '67 big-block-style hood from Eckler's, along with a rear filler panel whose tailpipe outlets were enlarged to fit a pair of 31/2-inch pipes.
The result of all that weekend work is seen here, a VetteRod that won "Chip's Choice" at Corvettes at Carlisle a couple of years back.
Lehman now works in a civilian capacity at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, D.C., and he looks forward to a future of building one-off custom VetteRods as the ultimate retirement hobby.
He says that while this Vette was built for fun, his '65 will be built for "serious fun." No doubt he'll use the same set of skills on it that he used on his '63-a car he says "[was] made possible thanks to many prayers, many hot California hot-rodding nights, a loving wife, and Navy training, including numerous hours on a nuclear submarine developing skills, patience, and discipline that have not failed me yet."
That's how you get a VetteRod like this done in just 36 weekends!