When the first Corvette rolled off the assembly line in Flint, Michigan, it was unbeknownst to anyone, how much of an American icon the Vette would eventually become. It was nearly 67 years ago when the first hand-build two-seater made its debut. If you’re confused about the comment announcing the Corvette coming from Michigan, apparently, you didn’t know Corvette assembly didn’t always call Kentucky home. Introduced as a “dream car” at the 1953 Motorama show at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, it’s almost every Chevrolet enthusiast’s dream to one day own one of these fiberglass sports cars.
During the early years, Corvette received a few subtle changes, and in 1959, the car featured styling that is still considered beautiful by today’s standards. It was overall, mechanically unchanged from the 1958 models, but did use what was touted as the new Magic-Mirror acrylic-lacquer finish to keep it looking brilliant for years to come. Chevrolet even described the interior as a luxurious cockpit that was designed for navigator comfort.
These early-year Corvettes are highly sought-after by many collectors, and most of those enthusiasts desire pristine examples of restored perfection. However, when this one rolled into Stewart’s Restorations in Ocala, Florida, the car’s rough condition gave way to more modernistic updates. That’s why the plan was to rebuild the car to look factory fresh, but have a few hidden upgrades underneath.
“I found the car in Cape Coral, Florida,” says Kevin Stewart. “The previous owner had it at a shop that took the time to disassemble the car, do some shoddy bodywork, sell a lot of the car’s parts, and then close the shop doors.” It’s a heart-wrenching story we’ve heard all too often.
As soon as Kevin got the car to his shop, one thing he soon learned about this generation Corvette, is that a lot of the parts are not available through the aftermarket. “Since some of the parts had been sold, I needed replacements, says Kevin. “I couldn’t find a lot of reproduction pieces I needed to put the car back together. For starters, the car needed a new windshield support/surround, and no one makes a reproduction unit. That was a hard piece to find by itself, in usable condition.” How ironic would it be if the one he found and purchased was actually the one removed and sold from this car in the first place?
One of the pieces he needed that he could locate within the aftermarket was a complete frontend for the car. “The previous shop did a lot of “bad” fiberglass work to the front of the car,” affirms Kevin. “I had to get a complete frontend (fenders, nose, inner structure, and hood) from Eckler’s Corvette.” With the new body parts merged to the originals, Kevin then covered the car with an in-house mix, adding a modern interpretation to the original Frost Blue Metallic. With the body ready for underpinnings, things veered heavily away from stock.
Made To Handle
“Underneath is an Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) chassis with power rack-and-pinion steering, a 9-inch rearend filled with a set of 3.50 gears, and Wilwood disc brakes,” states Kevin. The original frame under the early Corvettes is nowhere near as well-built as the AME chassis when building a car designed to handle better than anyone ever realized in 1959.
Kevin’s business is a one-stop-shop, so the interior was handled in-house. “The interior is put together with blue and white leather, accented by the light-blue carpet,” affirms Kevin. “To add a few modern touches, we also employed a Grant steering wheel. Kicker Bluetooth-capable sound system, and Dakota Digital gauges. While it looks factory fresh, the factory never envisioned anything like this.
When it came to power for 1959 Corvette buyers had several choices. While they all delivered 283 cubic inches, one offered 230hp and came with four-barrel carburetion, a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and hydraulic lifters. The next offering delivered 245hp with twin four-barrel carburetion, a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and again, hydraulic lifters. Stepping up to 250hp got you a Ramjet Fuel Injection, 9.5:1 compression ratio, and hydraulic lifters. All 270hp Corvettes enjoyed twin four-barrel carburetion, a 9.5:1 compression ratio, a special-grind camshaft, and mechanical lifters. Finally, the 290hp version included Ramjet Fuel Injection, a 10.5:1 compression ratio, a special camshaft, and mechanical lifters. Nowhere on that list will you find an LS engine. However, looking under the hood of this cruiser…
When this rebuild got underway, the car’s owner told Kevin he wanted a car that was as reliable as any new car found on the road today. What better way to accomplish that goal than to add a modern drivetrain? You guessed it, there is a modern engine and transmission under that fiberglass shell. Kevin started by acquiring a salvage-yard-sourced LS1 from a Corvette that had met an early demise. The LS is backed by a 4L60E transmission. With slightly more than 40,000 miles on the odometer, the engine and transmission needed nothing before going into the car. Buying a complete package made installation an easy proposition.
While many Corvette purists might take issue with the non-traditional upgrades Kevin incorporated into this classic C1, we’re confident in feeling that the initial condition of the project will ease the minds of many that wish it was a stock restoration. If not, we’re certain the modern chassis and drivetrain used to create this gorgeous cruiser will most assuredly make going for long drives in this modern interpretation of a classic a definite way to sway their opinions.