From the Ground Up
Taking the Creativity Challenge
Mike Key - September 19, 2013 10:00 AM
We started with a chassis that had been modified by Tim Hammond. It has the C4 independent rear suspension, independent front suspension and power steering and engine mounts, all on its original clip taken from a ’94 Corvette.
This is the sum of all of the body parts that have arrived from Corvette Kingdom.
The two box-like parts in the cockpit were removed. This is where the new crossmember will go. Tim created a crossmember to hold the rear mount of the gearbox.
Here’s a view of the rollbar components that were used in making the front and rear tilt units.
Now, the floor can be flat in front of the seats. Things are starting to take shape. This is the first mock-up of the body components on the chassis with the tilting units in place.
Cardboard patterns were made for the seat and seatbacks. They would be created with heaters inside for a more comfortable ride in chilly weather.
Steve Jest puts a little tender loving care into the seat structures, gently folding over the edges all the way around.
The dash panel is mocked up before any cutting is done. This will be finished in stainless steel with a nice clean look as the goal.
There are six rear lights. A bezel was made on a lathe to hold the lenses. There will be four red lenses and two clear lenses, which will have amber turn indicator bulbs.
The serpentine belt is added to the engine, which will assist in running the alternator and power steering pump. The engine choice is an LT1.
Not all of the parts had to be polished. These are the parts of the C4 IRS and coilover shocks were used at every corner.
The car just had to have a Monza gas cap. It was a tricky operation to get the hole just right so that it would fit perfectly in the tilt-back body.
Most of the roll bar is not seen. The loop goes into the front of the head pod and the bar runs along the rear of the cockpit. It is basically hidden by the luggage tray.
The eight equal length header pipes were polished individually, along with the two flanges and the two collectors. All of these components were welded into two complete headers.
Getting a good ground can become a challenge with a fiberglass body. These bars were found and placed on the car to provide grounding. You’ll find them at the front, rear and under the dash.
The sidepipes hadn’t been polished yet, but you can see that things are starting to come along.
Glen Whetren went to work flaring the wheel arches when the project ran into a little snag, since the C4 suspension was wider than expected. Glen’s work kept this as just a small issue.
The body has come back and it is the brilliant Ford Focus RS Orange as requested. Getting attention will be no problem.
A good look at the stainless steel mounting brackets for the curved windshields and the side door screen brackets.
The stainless steel rollbar fits up into the head pod. An acute bend was executed by Nick Parravani. You can get a good look at the luggage compartment, which is small but functional.
The LT1 engine is all stock except for the serpentine belt which was installed earlier. The dual brake master cylinder is a Corvette item. The rocker box covers are stock, painted in chrome paint by Jason Baker.
The 15-gallon gas tank was built by Tim Hammond.
Remember the gauge template? How do you like them now?
The door panel has an auto-shut mechanism and behind it is a bar to open the door. It was done in silver/black flake by Steve Hudson.
A better view of the luggage compartment. The rollbar mounting point is well concealed.
American racing wheels are similar to those on competitive racecars. This car has Avon 225/55R16 tires on all four corners.
These grilles are made from 6 x 6mm stainless steel. Polishing took what seemed like forever. They vent the hot air out of the engine bay.
When some racers opt for a single bar grille, we elected to go with the toothed grille of the early Corvettes.
A look at the sidepipe exit and logos. This Stingray logo is sure to get plenty of conversation started
The rear lights are set up with the outside lights as side lights, the center lights as turn indicators and the inner lights as stop lights.
This "exploded" view is going to be one that will be very popular when show field duty is on the schedule. It will allow the craftsmanship to come to center stage on this racer replica.
Attending the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Revival meetings fired off the inspiration.
Over the years of attending these events, I became keen to attempt building a racecar that would be used for driving on the street, rather than racing.
While visiting Corvette Kingdom in 2004, we were introduced to the building of Tony Pitt’s Corvette Racer. We photographed it in various stages and the finished racer at Rockingham Oval. Scott Groves asked if we were interested in building one ourselves. Scott molded us a body and we purchased a chassis from him. We worked out some sort of vision on how we wanted ours to look and what sort of drivetrain we would install into the late ’70s Corvette chassis.
With Tim Hammond of Tim Hammond Engineering, we discussed the modifying of the chassis to take a C4 Corvette independent rear suspension and a complete front suspension clip. The LT1 engine with its computer and 700R4 auto box came from a ’94 Corvette. A new crossmember was made to hold the rear of the transmission. With the original crossmember removed, I could now remove fiberglass box pieces in the cockpit in front of the seats and make it a flat floor so the seats could be adjusted forward and back.
By using the LT1 engine, there would be more space. Tim modified the front of the chassis to take the front clip and the rear of the chassis to take the C4 IRS and leaving a space between the rear of the chassis and the IRS to take a stainless steel gas tank. At each corner, Tim made up the flexible brake lines and installed them.
With the chassis back home, I installed the inner cockpit. Graham Nash cut out the driver side firewall to take the brake pedal box and the crossmember boxes in front of the seating compartment. There were parts to cut and fit such as the panels behind the headlights and behind the rear lights. The panels to hold the threaded parts of the tilt mechanism were also bonded in to the front and rear body parts.
The American Racing wheels had arrived with the maximum of backspacing. We had found that the C4 suspension was wider than the spec we had been given. Glen Whetren flared all four wheel arches, which gave the racer a more “hourglass” look.
I used a patented piece of stainless steel that Julian Secker gave me to make a panel for the dash. This holds a full complement of Stewart Warner Wings gauges. With the help of another friend, Steve Jest, I built a pair of aluminum seats. Steve riveted them together and rolled the edge. They are mounted on a pair of runners and the base can tilt to three different positions.
I spent several hours making the door hinges from flat steel and cutting slots so it could be shaped to a half round, getting the doors in the closed position with a nice gap and then making sure they would clear the A-pillar was real tricky. I made a roll bar out of stainless tube, using two pre-made bends. The hoop that goes on top of the roll bar was heated and bent by Nick Parravani. There is also a lower stainless tube bar and mounted to this are the three-point harness for the driver and the passenger. This roll bar also strengthens the rear part of the cockpit.
As we were getting further into this project, Tim Hammond built the stainless steel gas tank. I ran the two fuel lines to the LT1 along the inside of the chassis and also the brake lines.
The hand brake was a nightmare. It is an early IRS and the hand brake shoes are in a small drum in the disc. None of the stock hand brake cables would work, as we had lengthened the wheelbase by two inches to get the rear wheels in the center of the wheel arches. I used a set of two American hand brake cables, which had different fittings to the C4 ones. I then made a block with three holes drilled through it. The outside ones held the cables to the drums and the center held the adjuster cable to the hand brake. To couple the two into one, I used a wheel pulley mounted onto a curved bracket to get the cable up front of the hand brake that fits into the center console. Once adjusted, it works well.
The stainless headers were built by Tim Hammond, Tim made up the equal length primary pipes and the collectors. After polishing them, Tim welded the pipes to the inside of the exhaust manifold and into the collectors. Tim also made the stainless sidepipes.
Everything was stripped off of the chassis and all the bodywork was stacked up in the corner of the garage. The parts taken off were labeled. The chassis left for shot blasting and powdercoating at Colorcote. While it was away, I cleaned and painted the engine, transmission, and several more important parts. When the chassis came back, we assembled it back into a rolling chassis again.
Once back onto the American Racing wheels, there was still work to be done on the chassis. I dropped the engine and auto box back in. Next came the installation of the stainless steel 15-gallon gas tank and the two fuel lines, (since it is fuel injected it has a flow and return). I also ran the transmission cooler lines and brake lines. The sidepipes were polished after the body was re-installed. With all the parts now in place, I turned my attention to the engine.
Fitting the Street and Performance serpentine belt that runs the alternator and the power steering pump was the first step. The radiator was installed and the top and bottom stainless steel radiator hoses were put into place. It is amazing how much time it takes to get all the parts painted and polished and back into the right places.
Jason of Luster Finishes had finished painting all the parts and was ready to bring it all back. The cockpit section was installed on the chassis and then the front and rear tilting bodywork. The doors were left off, as Jason had to come back some time later and polish all the outside paintwork as well as parts of the cockpit. With the front inner fenders in place, I could now fit up the recovery tank for the cooling system. I had Stanley Steel fold the stainless for the door windows and fitting these was a time consuming job. I found that every time I made an adjustment of the door that if I did not tighten the bolts in the same order each time, it was out in a different place. I set up a torque sequence and found this worked.
The body color had been decided at the beginning of the project. We had chosen Ford Focus RS Orange and given Jason the directive to use the color wherever possible.
With all the body in place, it was time to set about the wiring. All of the Stewart Warner gauges and switches were installed in the dash. Wiring them was a problem since you had to lie in the footwell on your back and work the wires along to each component. The computer and Ron Francis wiring panel was on a dropdown panel under the passenger side of the dash. Getting the entire computer wired to the engine was not easy with the restricted access, but the simple Ron Francis kit worked well. I had mounted three grounding bars around the chassis, two at the front and one at the rear, which proved very useful as everything is grounded properly. Finishing the wiring off with lacing cord and then covering all with lacquer came after it had all been tested.
Firing the engine was done under Tim Hammond’s supervision. It all went well and fired first time. On his recommendations, I bought a set of new injectors, new spark plugs, replaced the distributor, making sure it had adequate breathing to keep down the condensation, new air filter and water pump.
Steve Hudson paid a visit for a couple of days and made patterns for the carpets that he cut and trimmed in his workshop. These are inside the cockpit and up the firewall. He also made the plywood panels for the doors and a ply trim for around the door and up to the firewall. The seats have a base cushion and a back cushion, both with heating elements in them, so there is some heat to enjoy when it is a bit chilly out. Under the rear tilt body piece, there is a luggage space, which should just about hold the essentials for a weekend out! This also has been carpeted.
A pair of three-point harnesses made by Sabelt were installed onto the chassis points. We choose these because they are in silver, as is the leather trimmed three-spoke steering wheel from Flaming River, keeping it all in a tone of silver-gray.
After years of work, the job is finished. With it all ready to go, it is time to get out and enjoy driving it.