Vette-Rod Building Basics: Getting Started

What you need to know when considering a Vette rod

Rich Lagasse Jan 5, 2006 0 Comment(s)
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There are many ways to enjoy the Corvette hobby today. It would be hardto miss the fast growing trend of modifying earlier-model Corvettes toimprove handling, braking, comfort, and performance, as well as toreflect your own ideas and style. The examples in this issue give anidea of the variety of approaches.

What follows is a basic idea of what is involved and the decisions youwill make when undertaking a similar project. It would take a small bookto detail everything involved, but we can give you some key factors toconsider.

Types of Vette Rods

Although there are many labels, such as resto rod, retro rod, Vette rod,pro classic, hybrid, pro touring, and more, they all have the commontheme of building a car to reflect the owners vision of an idealCorvette. At the risk of adding confusion as well as a little more meatto these terms, we'll take a stab at defining these terms.

Vette rod/retro rod: These are along thelines of a traditional street rod. It usually entails changing the maincomponents, including the installation of a performance engine, customwheels and tires, possibly a conversion to a stronger differential, abrake conversion, upgrading the interior, changing the paint,accessories, and more, and often includes body modifications. It'sanalogous to the traditional approach of building a street rod, but witha Corvette as a base rather than a '30s-'60s vintage car, for example.

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Pro classic: This type uses the modernCorvette drivetrain, suspension, and brake components to improve ride,handling, braking, and comfort while retaining the integrity of theoriginal design. These often use late-model Corvette EFI engines andcomputer systems but seldom include major body modifications. Theobjective is to combine the best elements of the classic styling withthe latest mechanical and electronic components.

Replica cars: These cars are in thecategory of kit, replica, or composite cars. Similar in most respects tothe many replica builders, the term Vette rod is broad enough toencompass these cars. Some feel these are not Corvettes except instyling, however, consider the difficulty in finding an original carthat is a good candidate for a Vette-rod project. Builders may offereither a turnkey car or a kit for you to use. These cars face the sameissues as any composite car when it comes to registration, inspection,and insurance. Each state has different laws defining the specificrequirements. Research each company offering Corvette replica cars sincethere can be differences when compared to starting with an original car.

It really doesn't matter what you call it. Regardless of the label, thecommon objective is building a car that is fun to drive.

What's Involved: Decisions, Decisions!

There are many considerations and up-front decisions to make whenconsidering a Vette-rod project. The first step is to decide on yourprimary use for the car, i.e., street, show, or a combination, and layout a basic project plan. Next, determine the type of components youplan to use, then choose who is going to do the work, and find thesources for the necessary components. Finally, evaluate how much youwant to invest in terms of dollars as well as time.

Primary Use: Research and Project Plan

It might seem obvious that determining the primary use of the car shouldbe the first step. All too often this issue doesn't get enoughattention. As a crucial early decision, it will heavily influence whatcomponents are used, the level of finish, and ultimately, the totalcosts.

Researching component suppliers is also best done early in the project.The resource list in this issue of Corvette Fever is a good place tostart, but check with the many chassis builders out there, as well aspeople who've already built their own cars. With the popularity of thesecars expanding exponentially, there are many Web forums, such as theCorvette Forum at, the Corvette Action Center at, and LS1 Tech at There'sno sense in reinventing the wheel and most of the people on these siteswill be more than willing to share lessons from their own experience.

Remember, planning (covered in the Dec. '04 issue) is crucial tobuilding the car you want.

Major Components

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The many choices in regard to major components such as suspension,chassis, and engine/drivetrain, will heavily influence your costs. Thesedays many are opting for the current generation of Corvette engines suchas the LS1, LS2, or LS6. While these engines involve more work toinstall, e.g., ECU, wiring harness, instrumentation, fuel and coolingsystems, there are also after-market suppliers for these components. Theresource list in this issue has many of them.

The major cost components include:

* Project car itself -- Prices vary considerably for decent C1, C2,or C3 cars with a good body and frame, and it can take some time tolocate a good one. Ideally you want to look for a non-matching-numberscar, without an engine or transmission. Be very wary of a "basket case"since you often won't know which components you have.

* Chassis conversion -- The main choices are converting a stockchassis, having a custom tube frame built for a modern Corvette, orinstalling after-market suspension components to a stock chassis.

* Suspension components -- Front and rear suspension, brakes, shocks,springs, tires, and wheels.

* Body and paint work -- The cost for this work usually runs muchmore than a steel-bodied car and depends on the condition of the body.

* Engine, transmission, differential -- The cost depends on what youselect and whether it's new or used.

* Interior -- Reproduction or custom interior.

* Instruments -- Most EFI engines require adaption to the electronicoutputs/sending units or converting to electronic gauges.

* Chrome/Polishing -- Replating bumpers, polishing stainless trim,and so on.

* Engine Accessories -- Headers/manifolds, exhaust system, intakesystem, alternator, P/S and A/C systems.

* Engine Wiring and ECU -- Custom engine-wiring harness and ECUprogramming.

* Body Wiring -- Replacing the original wiring is a good idea.

* Cooling System -- A new radiator built with the right inlets andoutlets and new hoses.

* Fuel System -- EFI engines require high-output fuel pumps, pressureregulators, and usually a main and return line.

* Miscellaneous and Custom Components -- It would take a long list tocover all the odds and ends that could be required, such as switches,body mounts, brake and fuel lines, miscellaneous body and interior trimpieces, glass, weather stripping, wheels and tires, and so on. Giventhat these cars are 40-plus years old, count on having to replace orrestore most of these components to have a reliable car. As with anycustom car, you will run into various components which have to bemodified or adapted, and you may also have to do some customfabrication. But, coming up with your own solution can be a fun part ofa project.




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