TEXT AND PHOTOS BYSTEVE TEMPLE
CHOOSING WHETHER TO RESTORE OR RESTO-MOD AN OLDER CORVETTE ISN’T ALWAYS EASY. WHILE WRESTLING WITH THE MERITS OF BRINGING BACK AN ORIGINAL VERSUS TAMPERING WITH A CLASSIC, THE FINAL DECISION MIGHT DEPEND ON SEVERAL FACTORS. OFTEN IT’S DICTATED BY THE CONDITION AND HISTORY OF THE VEHICLE. AFTER CONSIDERING HIS OPTIONS ON A DILAPIDATED ’63 SPLIT WINDOW, JOHN DANIELS’ DIRECTION WAS FAIRLY OBVIOUS. THROUGH HIS FRIEND JOHN VESTRI OF VESTRI’S VETTES, A FIRM SPECIALIZING IN RESURRECTING NON-ORIGINAL DONOR CORVETTES, HE’D FOUND A SUITABLE PROJECT CAR IN ARIZONA THAT HAD A GOOD BODY AND INTERIOR. BUT, THE ORIGINAL RUNNING GEAR WAS GONE, AND A NEWER CHEVY 350 CRATE ENGINE WAS IN THE ENGINE BAY.
LACKING ANY NUMBERS-MATCHING PARTS, OR ANY SIGNIFICANT PROVENANCE, DOING A RESTO-MOD ON THIS BELEAGUERED CORVETTE WAS BASICALLY A GIVEN.
Body: Smoothing the body of an early Corvette often requires taking it down to bare fiberglass, so Daniels’ split window was stripped clean by Media Resurfacing. After thorough prep work, Alex at Pro Design sprayed the Corvette with a custom mix of PPG silver for a spectacular sheen.
Since Vestri had a backlog of work, he introduced Daniels to Mike Filion of Pro Design Hot Rods in Santa Ana, California, who would eventually demonstrate emphatically how to transform a tired collectible into a contemporary classic. The frame-off project began with gusseting and reinforcing the frame and motor mounts to withstand far more power than ever conceived for the original, to wit, a 510 hp ’09 LS7 and 4L65 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 linked to a Flaming River column.
All told the goal was to get this ’63 to perform as well as— or even better—than Daniels’ ’91 ZR-1.
While all of those upgrades were in the works, the body went to Media Resurfacing for stripping to get rid of the original’s notorious orange-peel paint finish. The door gaps were also evened out to an exacting 3/16 inch, a level of precision rarely seen on early Corvettes.
While the silver paint looks similar to the hue from the factory in the early ’60s, it’s actually a custom PPG mix expertly applied by Alex at Pro Design. Steve Vandemon gave the coil covers a custom airbrush graphic, as well.
Pro Design installed a number of 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.
OWNER: JOHN DANIELS, NEWPORT COAST, CA
REASON FOR BUILDING THIS PARTICULAR CAR: TO FULFILL A LIFELONG DESIRE FOR A ’63 SPLIT-WINDOW COUPE, BUT WITH MODERN MECHANICALS.
IN MY OPINION, THE ’63 COUPE IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ’VETTE EVER BUILT. MY GOAL WAS TO CREATE A SPLIT WINDOW THAT IS VISUALLY INDISTINGUISHABLE FROM AN ORIGINAL ’63. MY COLOR CHOICE WAS A BRIGHT [SEBRING] SILVER WITH A RED INTERIOR, IDENTICAL TO THE ONE THAT HOOKED ME AT AGE 17. EXCEPT FOR SLIGHTLY BEEFIER RADIAL TIRES AND LARGER EXHAUST TIPS, NO ONE CAN TELL WHAT THIS CAR IS UNTIL THE HOOD GOES UP!”
Engine: Fitting a modern LS7 into a ’63 Corvette frame entailed a few modifications, such as a custom oil pan by Street and Performance, a Peterson oil sump, Sanderson headers and a custom 2/5-inch exhaust from Mesa Muffler. Steve Vandemon expertly airbrushed the ignition coil covers.
BUILDER: Pro Design Hot Rods, 2020 S. Susan ST., Unit B.Santa Ana, CA92704: 714.436.1158
FRAME: Original ’63 Corvette with custom mounts and reinforcements
SUSPENSION: Front: Vette Brakes & Products A-arms; rear; stock with Vette Brakes & Products off-set rear trailing arms and adjustable monospacing
BREAKS: Delco SS sleeve
WHEELS: 15 x 7 and 15 x 8 Wheelsmith and stock hubcaps
TIRES: Front: Diamond Back 1-inch white walls 225/70R15; rear: Diamond Back 1-inch white walls 225/70R15
ENGINE: GMLS72009510 hp8474 lb-ft
BODY AND PAINT COLOR: PPG custom silver mix, pin striping and airbrushing on coil covers by Steve Vandemon
INTERIOR: Leather by pro Design
AUDIO: Alpine head unit, six-disc CD changer, four-channel amp and component speakers