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Pro Design Hot Rods - Restomod Roundup The Sequel

We hit the trail again, to track down a second posse of powered-up classics

Steve Temple Jun 21, 2012
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We hit the trail again, to track down a second posse of powered-up classics

When we corralled several customized Corvettes for our initial roundup of restomods in our previous issue, they were on a comeback from a long, dusty trail. Even though these aging C1 gunslingers were well past their prime, they had found new life as classics with contemporary mechanicals.

This trend has become popular in recent years for a number of reasons. So it's no surprise that when we scouted the trail even further, we came across several other roadworthy examples to add to our outlaw gang of restomods.

The initial posse we formed contained only C1s, but these long riders are a mix of two eras, C1 and C2, with the latter focusing on '63 split-window coupes (which is fitting, considering this fall marks the 50th anniversary of that rare model's intro).

Of course, some purists contend that a collectible should be brought back to original, and we certainly appreciate that sentiment. But other factors can militate in favor of doing a restomod, including the condition of the car, its history (or lack thereof), and the availability of authentic restoration parts. And while some try to make a newer Corvette look like a classic, there's an enduring appeal in giving old iron a fresh life. After all, when the sun sets in the West, a grizzled gunfighter would surely rather be holding a Colt .45 in his hand than a flintlock. Ride 'em, cowboy!

Rodder's Restomod

A '59 that contradicts the company name--sort of

Mike Walker of Street Rods Only has been building Zoomies and the like for more than 20 years. So how does he reconcile his company name with the '59 Corvette shown here? Well, let's just call it a “Vetterod,” and leave it at that. Walker clearly knows how to customize a car, whether it started life as a Corvette or a '41 Willys. (He has a '33 steel model in the works as well.)

After all, the basic techniques of rod building apply to all sorts of makes and models: mondo power, trick chassis, and custom paint. Like so many rod projects, this '59 Corvette mixes ‘n' matches components. To wit, he stuffed a 505-horse LS7, fully dressed with chrome and polished pieces, into a custom chassis fitted with a C4 suspension, Aldan coilovers, and C5 brakes. The rest of the driveline comprises a 4L70E slushbox shifted by a Lokar unit, and linked with a custom driveshaft to a polished Dana 44 rearend.

Not one to leave anything untouched, Walker also enlarged the wheelwells for the EVOD rims, which are wrapped in Sumitomo performance rubber (245/35ZR19 front and 285/30ZR20 rear). Giving the car even more of a rodder's attitude, he also trimmed the interior with custom leather and billet pieces, plus a modern steering wheel and Classic Instruments gauges. Like so many other restomods we've covered, the plush driver seat was enlarged to accommodate a six-footer. And in case you didn't get the point from the dash panel, he repeated both the LS7 and horsepower metal insignias on the bumper, as an emphatic reminder of what's rumbling under the hood. Subtlety is no virtue when it comes to street rodding--or Vetterodding either.

Corvette Times Two

Proving that the second time around can be even better

Sometimes once just isn't enough. Just ask Roy French. After featuring his modernized '58 C1 in Part 1 of our Restomod Roundup, we tracked down his second one--a '63 Split Window.

Just as some classic movies are even better as a sequel, so too is French's Sting Ray. The story begins in 2007, when he found the dilapidated coupe back east in a barn. The car was barely driveable, and the cosmetics were in need of serious attention. About three years' worth in all, which included tracking down some talented craftsmen who could bring back this classic from the edge of destruction.

French started with Newman Car Creations, as he did with his C1, to install a C4 suspension that mates with the Sting Ray body and new LS drivetrain. Newman provided '85-'87 Corvette underpinnings and disc brakes, plus rack-and-pinion power steering and a Dana 44 differential.

Squeezing in the LS7 and 6L85E transmission dictated installing a dry-sump tank and Newman headers, along with fabricating exhaust pipes that would flow around the C4 suspension contours and exit with bigger tips. Speartech of Anderson, Indiana, supplied the ECM and harness for the LS7, as well as the programming for the trans.

Using a reproduction stock rim as a pattern, Larry Dove of EVOD Wheels expanded the widths to 7 inches for the front, and 9 inches out back. Even though the fins are slightly thicker than on an authentic piece, they look right with the bigger meats from Diamond Back Classic (215/70R15 front, 275/60R15 rear).

Interior upgrades include double-stitched leather upholstery, an ultrasuede headliner, and custom-fitted carpet over the speaker grilles. For easier ingress and egress, French also had a steering wheel made that matches the look of the original 17-incher, but features a 1-inch-smaller diameter.

The authentic '63 gauges had to be converted to read sensor inputs from the LS7 engine, and the plastic lenses were replaced with cut glass to prevent scratching and hazing. Also preserving the period look are the bezels and controls for the aftermarket HVAC and audio system. Turn on the power knob, though, and a touchscreen monitor for the Kenwood electronics emerges from the dash.

Lastly, French added a side mirror on the passenger side with an early-style long base. Of course, when he throttles up that LS7 drivetrain on those fat tires, he rarely has to think about what's behind him.

Crossbred Corvette

A hybrid C1--but certainly not in the Prius sense

Retired state trooper Danny Tackett knows a thing or two about an arresting presence--and it shows in his '59 Corvette. Actually it's far more than just that model year, as it incorporates design elements of the entire C1 span of models, and then some. What's remarkable is that he was able to do so in an integrated way, without resulting in a mishmash of disparate pieces.

How did he develop such an intriguing commingling? Mainly because he could, since he already had most of the parts on hand.

"It started as a challenge to see if I could build the '59 body and make the '54 front cap fit and look right," he reveals. Having built a lot of C1s, mostly customs, he had an idea of what might work. Even so, he ran into a few snags.

"The biggest challenge, after I got the '54 front glassed in and lined up, was cutting the fender coves to match the '59 door coves," he says. The tag area took some thought as well.

"I wanted to get rid of the '59 bumpers and use a '54 bumper," he says. Fortunately, the radius of the each trunk is the same, and he had an old '61 rear clip, so he removed the tag area, and the radius worked out nicely on the '59 body.

"I glassed in the exhaust holes, used a fiberglass sleeve to encase the pipe, and made it exit in the location of a '54," he explains. "But the hole was made larger to handle the 4-inch stainless tips."

Another almost unnoticed body mod is the fact that the '54s have a fender flare, and the '59s do not. "I fabbed up flares and molded them into the '59 body," he points out. The bumper holes were filled front and rear, and he lowered on a '56 hood that fit just right on the '54 cap.

Since Tackett only had a bare body to start with, he was free to add an assortment of chassis components as well, such as Fat Man fronts, Mustang II steering, Wilwood brakes, and a Ford 9-inch rear.

An LS1 sits snugly in the engine bay, and is finished with a chrome intake, custom covers (with original '55 V-script), and a Street and Performance accessory setup. One key to the LS1 swap was the McCleod flywheel, which allowed him to use a Centerforce 11-inch clutch in an old cast bellhousing.

In all, Tackett made more than 50 mods, drawing on skills taught by his father, a longtime body man. Obviously, Tackett and his crossbred Corvette didn't fall far from the tree.

Split Personality

A case in point for restomodding a '63 coupe

As noted in our intro, the decision to restore or restomod depends on several factors, including the condition of the Corvette. In the case of John Daniels, who has been permanently afflicted with a case of Corvette fever since first the split-window rolled out 50 years ago, the decision was fairly simple. His friend John Vestri of Vestris' Vettes, a firm that specializes in rescuing and resurrecting non-original donor Corvettes, found a '63 coupe in Arizona that had a good body and interior. But the original running gear was gone, and a Chevy 350 crate engine was in the engine bay, so the choice to restomod was basically a given.

Since Vestri had a backlog of work, he introduced Daniels to Mike Filion of Pro Design Hot Rods in Santa Ana, California (who built the "One Fine '59" C1 featured in our first installment). Both of these Pro Design Corvettes are primo examples of how to transform a tired collectible into a contemporary classic. The frame-off project began with gusseting and reinforcing the frame for far more power than the original had, and installing custom motor and transmission mounts for an '09 LS7 and 4L65E automatic with a Lokar shifter.

While the rearend is stock, both ends of the chassis were enhanced with control arms and monosprings from Vette Brakes & Products, plus Bilstein gas shocks at all four corners. Corvette America supplied a sport-ratio power-steering system, which is linked to a Flaming River column. All told, the goal was to get this '63 to perform as well as--or maybe even better than--Daniels' '91 ZR-1.

While all those upgrades were in the works, the body went to Media Resurfacing for stripping, getting rid of the original's notorious orange-peel paint. The door gaps, meanwhile, were evened out to an exacting 3?16-inch, a level of precision rarely seen on early Corvettes.

While the silver paint color looks similar to the hue from the factory in the early '60s, it's actually a custom PPG mix, expertly applied by Pro Design. Steve Vandemon gave the coil covers a custom airbrush graphic.

Pro Design installed a number of other trick treatments to give this split-window the latest and greatest in automotive technology. When all was said and done, Daniels had the Corvette he first lusted after as a teenager, and then some.


Newman Car Creations
N/A, AK _____
Pro Design Hot Rods
Street Rods Only



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