Everyone loves a classic first generation (1955 – 1962) Corvette. They have an iconic design, attract lots of waves and thumbs up on the road, and some with the right options and low mileage are becoming increasingly valuable collectibles.
And they’re fun to drive right? Well, maybe for short trips to the local cruise-in, car club outings or parades, but any longer trip can be a chore. Remember, these cars are now well over fifty years old and were built to standards that are much different than those of any modern car. Driving a fifty year old car without power steering, power brakes, A/C, 4-wheel disc brakes, stereo, navigation system and comfortable adjustable seats demands more commitment and devotion than even most hard-core Corvette drivers can muster.
The term restomod has been applied to older cars that have been restored and modified. We realize that the term “restored” implies putting something back exactly as it was when new, but the car hobby isn’t always so precise. While restoration purists look down their collective noses at restomods, they have achieved a following that is significant in the car hobby. Typically restomods will have older bodies combined with modern suspensions and drivetrains. As with any custom vehicle, the quality of the end result depends on the design and fabricating skills of the creator.
Restomod Enters the Computer Age
Classic Reflection Coachworks (CRC) of Lakewood, Wash. has brought restomods into the computer age. Doug and Carolyn Graf, founders of CRC, have designed bodies that strongly resemble either a ’62 or a ’59 Corvette, and will fit onto the chassis of a C5 or a C6 Corvette. What sets CRC apart from the run-of-the-mill restomod fabricators is their use computer designed vacuum forming molds to accurately produce all of the new body panels.
Doug designed and hand formed the first ’62 body panels on a C5 Corvette. When it was to his liking, CRC worked with REALADI, a spinoff of Boeing, to scan the body and convert it into a 3D CAD (three dimensional computer assisted design) program. Once the program was in place, the design was refined to create body panels with preciseness far beyond the naked eye. The moving body panels, such as the doors, hood and trunk lid were all checked on the computer screen to insure that all would work and fit properly.
Unique Composite Material
When Doug was happy with the design in the CAD program, the real test began – using the program and working with a tooling company to make a full size body. The first step was to confirm the design aesthetics by creating a real, ½ scale model of the car. Once the design was to Doug’s satisfaction, the tooling company was authorized to create the final high temperature vacuum molds for all of the body panels.
The panels are formed from Sprint CBS, a composite material made by Gurit in Europe with unique properties that, in combination with a DuPont paint system, eliminates any of the composite pattern bleed through to the outer surface for a remarkable finish.
The CRC conversion is more than just bolting a few panels to a stock C5 or C6 Corvette. Every panel on the stock Corvette is replaced with a computer engineered, vacuum formed composite material panel that is specifically engineered to fit on the C5 or C6 chassis. Each individual body panel is made without seams. The rear section of the car is permanently attached to the stock frame and all other parts are attached using removable fasteners. The car was designed to use stock factory parts (hinges, wiring, and interior appointments). The bumpers and most of the chrome trim are manufactured specifically for Classic Reflection Coachworks.
Each CRC conversion includes the following steps;
* All panels are removed from a standard C5 or C6.
* Understructure and frame are computer checked to be within factory specifications.
* New panels are fabricated using a vacuum bag forming method.
* Backing and attaching structures are mounted on formed panels.
* New panels are hand fitted and attached.
* Surfaces are primed, blocked, hand sanded, color primed, hand sanded again, finish color is applied and each car is hand sanded again and buffed.
* Interior and new soft top are installed.
Why a ’62?
The 1962 Corvette played a pivotal role in Doug’s life that eventually led him to form CRC. He had a ’62 when he met Carolyn in 1963. That car served them well and as life progressed it was never quite forgotten.
One of Doug’s later car projects was fitting a ’62 body on a C4 chassis. After 6 years and 5,000 hours, Doug and Carolyn had a show car they could be proud of. As they made the rounds of car shows, they received many awards and inquiries from people wanting a similar car. Doug gave it some thought, but realized that it just wasn’t financially viable to modify existing bodies and chassis. The seed for the restomod ’62 had been planted.
In 2001 Doug bought a C5 Corvette, drove it home and took off the body panels in his garage. He designed and fabricated a new body resembling a ’62, but specifically engineered to fit on the C5 chassis. He and his family took the car to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show in 2004 thinking that they may get two or three orders. They came home with 43 orders! The only thing they had to do now was come up with a way to accurately reproduce the body panels, hire some craftsmen and find a place to build the cars. CRC was on its way.
CRC has now built about 100 cars and has expanded their lineup to include a ’59 model. They now make the ’62 and the ’59 on a coupe, Z06 or roadster chassis. The coupe and the Z06 retain the hardtops and are not converted into roadsters. The latest addition to the CRC family is the ’62 or ’59 on a C6 roadster chassis.
Are any more on the way? Possibly. CRC purchased a C6 in 2009 and started the design process for a stingray model. The project was put on indefinite hold when Carolyn unexpectedly passed away later that year. The Grafs are a close knit family and Carolyn’s death took the wind out of everyone’s sails. Doug and his daughter Julie now run the business and, despite the family tragedy and the trembling economy, have managed to keep things headed in the right direction.
If you’re interested in the stingray project or one of their current models, contact CRC through their web site and let them know. Even if you’re not a big restomod fan, you have to admire the Graf’s creativity and perseverance in designing a product, making and refining the prototype and successfully bringing it to production.
Oh, and the restoration purists should also be happy since CRC does not destroy any of the old C1 bodies or chassis. CRC has succeeded in a building a car that keeps the purists and the restomod fans happy.
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