If you're into Corvette history, you know how much influence Zora Arkus-Duntov exerted over the first three generations of America's Only True Sports Car. Indirectly, Duntov also had an influence on this particular midyear-and the man who hid a fourth-generation ZR-1 inside it.
When Dren Adams was in high school in the late '50s, he attended a vocational-technical facility where he not only studied auto shop, but built what he called a "Poor Man's Corvette." That was when mechanically minded men across the country built hot rods using the bodies, frames, and powerplants they could find. Back then, those tended to be Blue Oval products, given the ready availability of used B.O. hardware, especially flathead V-8 engines.
Adams' creation was a flathead-powered '39 Mercury drop-top, but its naming (other than the formal name he gave it, "The Wild Hare") could be tied to an intra-Chevrolet memo that Duntov wrote in December 1953 titled "Thoughts Pertaining To Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet." In it, he proposed, "...development of a range of special parts...[that] should be made available to the public," to modify the all-new V-8 that was in the works for 1955. You know the rest of that story: Not only did Chevrolet begin developing high-performance parts for that V-8, but so did the automotive aftermarket (especially after Chevrolet shipped Vic Edelbrock one of the first production engines). By the end of the decade, Chevy's reputation for high performance had been established, and it gave young men of the time something to dream about-and aim for. Thus, Adams' "Poor Man's Corvette," which appeared on a few magazine covers in the early '60s.
Fast-forward nearly four decades. Adams had developed such a fondness for the fourth-generation factory super-Vette-the four-cam, 32-valve, LT5-powered ZR-1-that he ended up with five of them. His familiarity with the C4 and other Chevys led him to put the powertrain and chassis hardware from a ZR-1 in a '57 Chevy Bel Air Sport Coupe, which he showed at Corvettes at Carlisle back in 1996, at the invitation of the ZR-1 Registry. "Chip Miller said, 'If you bring another car here, it's got to be all Corvette,'" he says. "So, I decided to do a '63 split-window."
Not just any '63, but one with the fourth-gen ZR-1 suspension, steering, brake, and powertrain parts inside it. As Adams puts it, "The idea was to keep the old styling, but to incorporate all new components."
He started with a majorly messed-up midyear. "After searching for over two years for a split-window car, my friend Dave Eckert, from Eckert's Rod & Custom, called me one afternoon to tell me of a totaled '63 in Pendleton, Oregon, that was for sale," Adams recalls. When he called to check on it, he found it was already sold-but not for long.
"To our surprise, when the new owner arrived to pick it up, he decided it was too much of a project for him, since it had been in a fire that had burned part of the firewall, dash, and roof," says Adams. Before long, the car was his-and on its way to Eckert's shop.
What needed help the most was the body, especially the engine bay, dash, roof, and driver's door areas, where the fire had done its worst. (See how it was brought back from the dead, as well as other project photos, at www.eckertsrodandcustom.com.) As for the ZR-1 parts that would go on, the chassis hardware came from a totaled ZR-1 Adams located in Portland.
But the engine was another story. "I actually found the engine up in Fairbanks, Alaska," Adams says. "It was a new crate engine that I'd bought as a spare for my other ZR-1s, just to have." To it, he added a new-in-the-crate ZR-1 six-speed manual transmission he'd located in Florida, and with that, he (and Eckert's) had all they needed to restore and update the midyear.
In all, it took about three years to transform the split-window from "carbecue" to the coolness seen here.
What's it like to drive? Need we ask? "It's a dream! It's really nice to drive," Adams says enthusiastically. "But it's nothing like the new 2010 ZR-1 I've got."
Is there another ZR-1 project in Adams' future? Maybe. "I've got a '54 Corvette right now, and I'm contemplating whether to put a ZR-1 engine in it or not," he says. "I'd hate to, because it's all there and all original, but the front end's got to be replaced on it."
If he does it, that "'54 ZR-1" would be in good company, though. Not only does Adams have this and the five other ZR-1s among the 13 Corvettes in his collection, but he's also got the "Poor Man's Corvette" that he built in high school, which he bought from his former shop teacher and restored.
But, as times have changed, building a Corvette of any kind has become a more-dollar-intensive proposition than in the past. The big piece of advice that Adams has for anyone considering any sort of Vette project? "Have a nice bank account!"