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1958 Chevrolet Corvette - '58 Redux

Dave Semel's subtle C1 hides a wealth of custom touches

Scott Ross Apr 19, 2011
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re•dux |rē-dəks; 're-dəks|
adjective [postpositively]
brought back

Vemp 1106 01 1958 Chevrolet 2/10

ORIGIN Latin, returning, from reducere, to lead back. First known use: 1860.

(Definition courtesy Merriam-Webster online dictionary,

The word "redux" describes not only Dave Semel's restomodded '58 Corvette, it also describes the '58 Corvette itself.

For Corvette's sixth year, upgrades were in order. Outside, a longer front end now featured four headlights and a nine-tooth grille, while the hood gained a set of simulated louvers, the trunk lid gained a pair of longitudinal chrome spears, and all Vettes were now painted with acrylic lacquer paints. Inside, an all-new dash went in, as did restyled seat upholstery and door panels. Mechanically, the Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed was available from Day One, and the highest-output 283 fuelie saw its horsepower rating bumped up to 290.

Vemp 1106 02 1958 Chevrolet 3/10

In a year when steel-bodied Chevy production was down around 20 percent, Corvette sales jumped to 9,168—up nearly a third from 1957—making it the only one of The General's car lines to show a sales uptick for 1958. It probably helped that the Vette had no domestic sales competition, since Ford had ended two-seater Thunderbird production in December 1957.

The '58 that Dave Semel turned into the VetteRod you see here needed more than some simple upgrades. It needed "reduxing" in the biggest way. "It was just the body from the firewall back, and it had an old, rusted-out frame," says Semel of the C1 that had sat in an Alabama field for over two decades, and whose body—what there was of it—needed a lot of fiberglass work.

Vemp 1106 03 1958 Chevrolet 4/10

Many Corvette builders would have turned away from it, and some would have run away as fast as they could. Not Semel. He saw the potential in it. "I knew that I wanted to do a restomod, but something that was a little bit different than what other people had done." One that would have all the hardware from a fifth-generation Corvette underneath that vintage fiberglass.

Semel had been inspired by a first-gen Vette restomod that he saw at Corvettes at Carlisle, and he found a builder that was willing to work with him on it. Unfortunately, about five months in, Semel and that builder parted ways when Semel realized that the builder couldn't handle the project.

Eventually, Semel got in touch with Jerry Smith at Southern Street Rods and Corvettes in Ft. Pierce, Florida. "He got all the measurements, did all his own engineering, and built the frame so we could take most of the components from an '00 Corvette donor car and put them directly onto [it]," he recalls.

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That frame had one big difference from other C1 restomod frames: where the engine would sit in the engine bay. It was built so that an LS-series engine would sit low, a boon to weight distribution and handling, as was the rearward location of the C5's gearbox. "With the transmission in the back, we were able to get this car to have 50/50 weight distribution," Semel adds. Smith's frame design enabled the use of just about every chassis, steering, and suspension piece from the donor C5, though QA1 coilovers did go on at each corner.

The '00 Vette's rear-mounted six-speed presented some challenges when it came to fitting the '58 body over it. The trunk had to be cut out and refashioned, so that it would clear the new transmission, while looking every bit a '58 original. (Same with the transmission/driveshaft tunnel, enlarged to make room for the C5's torque tube.) In all, the 'glass work—by Johnny Cano and Norm Church in Ft. Pierce, and completed by Tony Stanz and Mike Hacker at Back-In-Time in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania—made the '58's body look like it came out of St. Louis configured this way.

Under the hood, the LS2 looks like it belonged there all along, though it wasn't Semel's first choice for an engine. "I had the LS1 from the donor '00 Vette, and I was looking at the LS2 crate engine at the time," he recalls. "So I sold off the LS1 and used the LS2." For the exhaust, he went with BBK ceramic-coated headers, while Smith built a mandrel-bent, MIG-welded stainless-steel exhaust system that also includes MagnaFlow mufflers.

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Inside, a pair of Wise Guys custom buckets is surrounded by Al Knoch door panels, and a small-diameter Al Knoch leather-wrapped steering wheel fronts a restored OEM gauge cluster. There's also a Vintage Air HVAC system and a '58 "Wonderbar" radio that's had a Pioneer 12-disc CD changer added to it. Al Knoch did the custom dashpad as well, while Phil Martin in Ft. Pierce did the custom trunk panels, the embossed leather C1 emblem and embroidered "58REDUX" trunk logo, and the C1 emblem in the hardtop's leather headliner. Southern Street Rods and Corvettes fabricated the pieces needed to give the power windows, locks, and other non-stock cabin items an OEM look.

By the way, the "58REDUX" name and logo design came from Semel's friend, Natalie Cake, after she heard what he was doing with his '58.

From discovery in that Alabama field to completion took about two years, and Semel's '58 has turned eyes every time he's driven and shown it since. "I wanted to have someone look at it and say, 'All that guy did was to put on the Z06 rims, and paint it a color that wasn't available,'" says Semel. And, by all accounts, he's succeeded. "When I go to shows and I don't have the hood up, people think this is an original car that we did just the wheels and paint on," he says.

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What's it like to drive? "It's just amazing," says Semel. "You have all the handling ability of a brand-new Corvette, and you have the looks of the '58. I describe it as having the best of both worlds."

If you're inspired to add new-tech power and handling to a vintage Vette, Semel says that your project should start with a car that isn't too far gone—but isn't too nice an original. "You don't want to take an all-original car and have to do things we did, like the fiberglass cuts," he says. "You don't want to start with a really good car and then rip it apart, if you're a purist.

"Also, you have to think about what you really want out of it. Are you looking for a show car, a driver, or something in-between?"



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