1959 Chevrolet Corvette - Chopped, Cut, And Re-Billed

An ultra-rare '59 morphs into an ultra-wild '70s racer.

Scott Lachenauer Jul 1, 2011 0 Comment(s)
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The Race Years

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Back in 1970, Jim Davy was a high school student in Westford, Massachusetts, who wanted a Corvette in the worst way. He eventually discovered an old, beaten-down '59 sitting behind a local Chevy dealership. The Vette was up for sale, at an asking price of $175 in engineless, stripped form. A deal was struck, and soon the badly bruised Chevy had made its way to Davy's backyard, much to the chagrin of his parents.

For $100 he secured another Corvette for parts, this one a '60 resting on its hubs at a nearby gas station. Davy and his buddies pushed the Vette into the family garage and started the arduous task of bringing it back to life.

Their first task was to build a 327 for the car, complete with a four-speed, to help get it moving under its own power again. That proved to be the easy part of this "restification," as the body was a different story altogether. It seems the last owner had attempted to remove all of the original paint from the fiberglass body with a grinder, leaving gouges and low spots all over the car. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Then someone told Davy that instead of filling the scars, he should just sand them out. So he spent hours and hours block-sanding the battered body the best he could, thinning out the fiberglass flanks. Once the work was completed, he added a few coats of burnt-orange paint (remember, it was the early '70s) and he was off and running. Well, sort of.

Davy never really got the car to be totally street legal, which turned out not to be a problem since he soon got the itch for something faster. His buddy had just scored a 426 Hemi in a local junkyard, with a Doug Nash four-speed attached. While his friend built that drivetrain for his Plymouth 'Cuda, Davy decided he needed to get to work building something that could compete.

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He went to Ted Wingate at Precision Balancing in Bedford, Massachusetts, and got him to build a dual-quad, tunnel-ram 427 for the Vette--a pretty hairy piece of equipment back in the day. He also talked his buddy out of the Hemi four-speed, mating that to his new Rat motor with a custom adapter plate.

With sufficient horsepower in place, Davy started to disassemble the '59 in preparation for making it into a full-blown race car. He vividly remembers taking off the original finned front brakes and tossing them aside, not knowing what they were. He installed a set of Moroso drag springs up front as well, a typical add-on at the time.

The original rear had broken during a burnout and was replaced with a narrowed 12-bolt out of a '69 Camaro. Davy added a Moroso posi unit, installed 5.57 gears (due to his tall rear tires), hooked up a set of ladder bars, inserted a pair of coilovers, and finally bolted up some chrome wheelie bars out back.

The trunk, meanwhile, was excised to make room for the new rear suspension and relocated battery. Up front, Davy cut 3 inches out of the valance and removed the front bumpers, giving the car a lowered, streamlined look. He then put at least 12 coats of lacquer on the car and buffed it to a nice shine. Finally, he had a local Hell's Angels member who went by the sobriquet "Stevie Wonder" come over and do the side graphics, complete with pearlescent paint and period-correct flakes.

Not only did the car look great, it really performed. Though a challenge to drive, the Vette ran consistent 9-second e.t.'s, making it one hell of a fast race car for the era. The '59 terrorized the New England scene for years under the "Midnight Express" moniker, winning match races and car shows alike, all while Davy was a member of the Spindle City Corvette Club.

Davy tired of racing the car in the early '80s. By that time he had relocated to New Jersey and didn't have the time to deal with the hot-rodded Chevy. One day a man came knocking, offered a reasonable sum, and a deal was struck. The car ended up in Sussex, New Jersey, where Mike Walsh would eventually find it, minus its racing engine.


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