Way back when, The General built "dream cars" not only to test public reaction to new styling concepts and engineering ideas, but also to inspire those who saw them. Witness the success of the ultimate Motorama dream car-the Corvette itself. Those lucky to see GM's traveling spectacular got a chance to see variations on the original '53 Corvette design when the '54 Motorama opened up wide. Among them was the first Nomad wagon (or "Waldorf Nomad," as it's now known, thanks to the legendary New York venue the Motorama packed when it played The Big Apple), and "Corvair"-a fastback that took its name from Corvette and Chevy's top-line steel-bodied car, Bel Air.
Chevrolet's promotional army was in full stride when it cranked out this description of the Corvair for the '54 Motorama souvenir program: "Here in this experimental two-passenger model with its glass fiber reinforced plastic body, Chevrolet brings new aerodynamic design to the closed sports car. The ultra streamlined top sweeps back to a jet exhaust type rear opening." Unfortunately, the show-stopper of '54 was a scrap-yard casualty in '55, when no one at what was then the world's largest corporation saw any need to preserve dream cars after their moment in the spotlight.
But images of that fastback hardtop survived, and in later years would inspire others. Particularly, one Central Illinois Vette Rod builder, who fashioned a removable C1 top using that design-and built a stunning '59 Vette Rod to show it off. "I just wanted to do something different," says builder, owner, and Street Rods Only proprietor Mike Walker from his Macon, Illinois shop. "Building Corvettes is what I do. We drew a picture of it, and A-1 Fiberglass-that's my sister company-built the top for me." As you see in Jerry Heasley's photos, the top isn't a permanent part of the body. "The top does come off, then you can put on the original trunk lid and it's a roadster," says Mike.
Here's a rare GM publicity...
Here's a rare GM publicity photo showing the '54 Motorama "dream car" Corvair's fastback roof. Courtesy of General Motors
A class win at the Grand National...
A class win at the Grand National Roadster Show and an invitation to the Fresno Autorama are just two of the honors Mike's Vette Rods earned on the show scene.
Customized stock seats and...
Customized stock seats and dash are complemented by a billet Flaming River steering wheel, a Street Rods Only custom-fabricated shifter, and AutoMeter gauges. House of Kolor's Tangelo paint on dash and console matches the rest of the car.
But there's a lot more to this Vette Rod than its body. "It has a custom chassis with a frame that we built here at Street Rods Only," says Mike."It has a C4 front end, and a C4 rear suspension with a Dana 44 independent rearend. The suspension pieces are all chromed." Big Baer brakes, a Flaming River steering system, and one-off Evod wheels are also highlights of this C1's chassis.
How about power to spin that Dana 44? "It has an LS2 engine with a Magnuson blower, that's good for about 550 horsepower, and a Tremec six-speed," Mike says about the engine/transmission combo, which-like the chassis-is loaded with polished aluminum and chrome.
Inside, the seats are restored '59 Corvette buckets, but there's one big surprise if you look up while you're inside-a '67 Stinger-style scoop like the one on the '59's hood. "We flipped that scoop up underneath the roof of the car, too," Mike says. Among the other interior surprises: Snakeskin accents on the leather buckets, steering wheel, console, and door panels; AutoMeter gauges in the factory dash openings; and a top-end Cadence sound system.
Mike took about a year to build the Vette Rod seen here, debuting it at the SEMA Show in 2007. The following January, it made its first public show appearance at the world-famous Grand National Roadster Show at the L.A. Fairplex in Pomona, California, where it won First Place in the very-competitive Semi Custom Sports-Pre-'63 class. One show-goer who was impressed by Mike's '59 was legendary rodder/showman/character Blackie Gejeian, who picked it to be in his all-invitational Fresno Autorama a couple months after the GNRS, and it was also a trophy winner in Fresno.
Thanks to the building skills at Mike's shop, you can have a Vette Rod just like it-or one built to your specifications. Take a look online at www.streetrodsonly.com.
Data File ::: '59 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible w/removable Fastback Hardtop
Owned by Mike Walker, Macon, Illinois
Built by Street Rods Only, Macon, Illinois
Leather and snakeskin trim...
Leather and snakeskin trim cover the original '59 seats and the steering wheel rim.
The leather-and-snakeskin interior trim extends to the '59's door panels.
Magnuson-supercharged LS2 engine puts out around twice the horsepower of 1959's highest-HP fuelie. Specially-crafted valve covers are just some of the one-off parts underhood and on the chassis. Smoothed-out engine bay is a full-custom touch in a car that won its "Semi Custom Sports" class at the Grand National Roadster Show.
A removable fastback top like...
A removable fastback top like the one on Mike's '59 would've been a neat addition to the Corvette option list, right after RPO 419 (the "regular" removable hard top).
A-1 Fiberglass added the '67-style...
A-1 Fiberglass added the '67-style Stinger scoop to the '59's hood.