Sarsaparilla Speedster: 1958 Restomod Corvette Is A Killer

The Corvette may have had a few teething issues when the first examples started rolling out of a makeshift truck assembly plant in 1953, but it didn’t take long for Chevrolet to get the kinks worked out.

In just a few short years GM’s low-slung two-seater was transformed into a world-class sports car, thanks in no small part to the introduction of the new “Fuelie” 283ci small-block V8 for the 1957 model year, as well as an optional four-speed manual gearbox.  The substantial revisions that Chevrolet designers applied to the bodywork in the prior year, which had given the Corvette a noticeably more athletic appearance, certainly didn’t hurt either.

After a lengthy internal debate about what shade to paint the C1, Beatty says that a chance sunny day spotting of a late-model Toyota Tundra on the freeway inspired him to give the Corvette this striking root beer shade. Beatty thought the tough decisions about paintwork were over after that, but it turned out that wasn’t the case. “I had no idea there were so many different shades of silver,” he explains. “But I eventually found this shade of a BMW color called Moonstone Metallic that has some gold pearl in it, which made it the perfect complement to the root beer brown color.”

It was this combination that would help propel the Corvette into mainstream success, with each year of the first generation Corvette seeing significant sales increases over the prior. For Mark Beatty of Graham, Washington, it was merely a starting point for a project that merges the old school aesthetic with thoroughly modern underpinnings.

“I watched my father and uncles wrench on cars when I was growing up, and over the years I never gave up the hobby,” he tells us. “The 1958-62 Corvette has always been on my bucket list of cars to own before I leave this world, and eventually I got to a point in my life where I could make that dream happen, so that’s when I started looking online.”

In September of 2017, he hit pay dirt. “I had planned on doing a restomod, and this 1958 model seemed to fit the bill perfectly,” he says. “It was lacking the original motor, so I didn’t feel bad about restomodding it, but it was also 99% complete and came with both tops, which is a plus here in the Pacific Northwest. It was turquoise and white with about 88K miles on it, and it was in surprisingly good shape, especially considering the fact that it had been sitting in storage since the 1980s in a garage that was falling down all around it. It was an original fuel injection car, but that motor was long gone, and also missing were the two trunk spears that I later found out cost a small fortune to replace. But what is a ‘58 Corvette without the trunk spears?”

Aside from the modern wheels and tires, which are wholly necessary for a car with this much performance potential, there’s little to tip-off onlookers to the modern underpinnings beneath. The Schott Tomahawk wheels measure 17 inches up front and 18 in the rear and are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, while power-assisted Wilwood disc brakes are outfitted at all four corners to provide stopping power that’s on par with today’s high-performance machines.

Beatty wasted little time getting the project underway, and by November the car was already under the knife. “The body was in good shape, and I figured you only live once, so I thought I would build the car the way that I had always wanted to,” he explains. “Once we stripped it the body showed a few war wounds from sixty years of life, but nothing major. It’s still mostly stock, but we did remove the cowl vent and spare tire well so we could run the exhaust out through the lower valance below the license plate, sort of like a Porsche Boxster.”

But when it came to the chassis, he decided to take more of a clean-sheet approach. “With Art Morrison’s shop only a few miles away from my own business, it was really a no-brainer to go there and order the chassis set up that I would need.”

Art Morrison’s GT Sport chassis for the C1 Corvette brings the vintage sports car’s dynamics into the modern age with an AME Sport IFS front suspension, a massive increase in structural rigidity, and the ability to bolt-on modern hardware, like the 480hp LS3 crate motor and Tremec T-56 six-speed gearbox that Beatty selected for the project. To keep parity with the newfound horsepower, the chassis was outfitted with Strange coil overs at all four corners, along with a Wilwood big brake setup that consists of 12.9-inch rotors all around with six-piston calipers up front and four-piston units at the rear. A Ford 9-inch rear end with a 3.70 final drive ratio sends the power to the ground.

For builders with the willingness and means, switching to an aftermarket chassis like the Art Morrison GT Sport that Beatty used with his C1 project offers a multitude of benefits. Not only does this modernized platform offer much more structural rigidity than the original chassis (which equates to far better handling), they’re also designed to support modern components, like the LS3 crate motor and Tremec six-speed gearbox selected for this build, along with the big brakes and adjustable coilover suspension.

The paintwork is another aspect of the build where Beatty wasn’t shy about deviating from factory-stock. “While the car was in the shop being prepped for paint, I went back and forth for months trying to figure out what color to paint it,” he recalls. “Although I love red and white Corvettes, I wanted something different.

While the body was in paint, Beatty turned his attention to powder coating the chassis, engine, and transmission in a matching color, and once he had all the parts back in his possession, it took about a year to assemble the car and get it into road-worthy shape. He didn’t skimp comfort and convenience features along the way either, adding air conditioning, power windows, a touchscreen infotainment system, and other goodies. “Hiding all the wires was a bit of a challenge because there’s just not much dash to work with, and since it’s a fiberglass car, you have to be able to ground everything with an extra wire.”

While most of the bodywork is unchanged from its original design, some minor surgery was performed in order to run the exhaust system out through the lower valance. The voids left in the bumper now accommodate additional brake lights.

Although I love red and white Corvettes, I wanted something different. Then one day while I was driving down the freeway, I saw a Toyota Tundra painted this root beer brown color, and in the sunlight it was really striking, so I decided right then and there that I would paint the Corvette that color with silver coves.

Once that aspect of the build was taken care of, Beatty turned to Jamie Mcfarland at Mcfarland Custom Upholstery in Puyallup, Washington to get the interior up to snuff. “We sat down and discussed what I was looking for in the upholstery work, and from the first meeting it was clear that we were on the same page,” he says. “I told him I was looking for something original, something that looked like what a luxury trim C1 Corvette would have had. He absolutely nailed it – I could not be happier.”

The interior turned out so well, in fact, that Mcfarland suggested an addition that would complement the car both aesthetically and conceptually. “He brought up the idea of making a suitcase that was a custom-fit for the trunk, and I said ‘let’s do it.’ I’ve got to tell you, that suitcase got a ton of attention at the Goodguys show – especially from women!”

Beatty says the car was finished just in time for that show this past summer, and he’s only been able to put a few hundred miles on the car since then, but he has plans to correct that in 2020. “I’m looking forward to being able to put in some serious wheel time this year. It’s like driving a slot car – a way over-powered one!”

A Note from Editor Dave Cruikshank – This thing was incredible in person at the Goodguys Show at Puyallup last year. The attention to detail was breathtaking and quite a testament to Mark’s skill as a craftsman.  The stance and rake were perfect and the car sat low and mean. The interior was a work of art with the killer two-tone CON2R steering wheel. Be sure and take a very close look at the paint and detail on the LS3 motor.  The mill sparkles will highly refined details and touches, its almost a shame to close the hood. We say thank you Mark for giving this old C1 a new lease on life and allowing the world to savor this twin-speared ‘Vette once again.

About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
Read My Articles

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