We all love classic cars for different reasons, and while some like to walk on the wild side with massive tubs, skyscraping blowers and reflector-shaving ride height, others prefer a more subtle approach.
First published in the October 2022 issue of Street Machine
Wendy Stevenson’s ’58 Corvette appears at a quick glance like a beautifully restored stocker, but when you dive deeper, you see the huge amount of work that Sydney’s FUEL Bespoke Design (FBD) has put into hiding the many clever modifications made to America’s Sports Car.
John Ward, the man behind FBD, has serious form in taking super-sad C1 Corvettes and turning them into cleverly disguised restomods. “I try to keep the essence of the design but just tweak around the edges,” he says.
For this particular project, John was given an incomplete base ’58 that Wendy and her husband Robert had bought out of Orange, following a chance discovery on Facebook Marketplace. It wasn’t ready for a scuff and squirt, though; John had to redo the sills, dash, transmission tunnel and all the hanging panels before he got to the fun stuff like shaving the fuel filler and widening the rear quarters to squeeze in fatter rubber.
“Bodywork was the biggest challenge, being a 60-year-old fibreglass body that’d had a tough life,” sighs John. “We had the choice of getting a better car, but Wendy and Robert had already bought this car, even though it was in terrible shape with damage and poor repairs. The complete front clip was replaced with new press-moulded pieces from Corvette Image in the USA.”
While the body took a stack of work to get up to scratch, John was more fortunate with the condition of the chassis. However, he wanted the C1 to ride and handle far better than the soft boulevard cruiser Chevy originally delivered.
“Structurally, [the original chassis] is pretty strong with that X-frame design; all it really needs is some decent suspension with the correct geometry for the wheelbase, and that is exactly what the C4 Corvette had,” John explains. “[C4 Corvette suspension is] fully independent, lightweight aluminium and readily available, as are all the bearings, bushes and brake components, so I went about modifying the original chassis, which is a considerable amount of work. Working within the rules of VSB 14, I removed the front chassis rails and fabricated new frames to accept the C4 K-frame.”
John also put in plenty of work upgrading the rear end to suit, with a bolt-in Dana 44 third-member upgrade, while the C4’s transverse composite springs were relocated to the bin in favour of adjustable QA1 coil-overs. He also modified the transmission crossmember to make fitting or removing the trans easier.
They may not be common upgrades for classic muscle cars Down Under, but Dana diffs have been used in some of the most famous muscle cars ever to have prowled the streets and strips of the USA. The Dana 44 in this ’Vette is an IRS-layout unit, and has been used in all manner of performance cars, from the 1961 Jaguar E-Type through to C3 and C4 Corvettes, Dodge Vipers and even the late-model Pontiac GTO!
With Wendy’s brief calling for as much new-age tech as possible, John made the choice to grab a Gen V small-block for power. These current-generation LT V8s share very little with the previous Gen III and Gen IV LS mills, and there are limited aftermarket parts available locally.
The new LT376/535 crate motor was imported from GM Performance in the US. Running CNC-ported heads and an upgraded camshaft, the aftermarket donk is rated to 535hp, which is a handy 75hp bump over stock.
It has been paired with a high-stall converter and 6L80E six-speed auto for improved cruising manners. John tossed up fitting an eight- or 10-speed auto from a latest-generation Chevy Camaro, but worried about the higher-gear transmissions hunting when fitted to the much lighter ’58 ’Vette.
“Because of the increased power, the car is fitted with inertia-reel seatbelts, and to facilitate this, a hidden rollcage-like structure was installed where the original fuel tank was behind the seats,” John explains. “The tank was moved to the trunk with a hidden actuated fuel filler.”
Fitting aftermarket wheels to a Corvette is more controversial than the placement of onions on Bunnings sausage sambos, but John has found a happy middle ground with a set of custom 18×8 and 18×9-inch EVOD rims.
Designed to replicate the look of the original hubcaps, they’re shod in high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport rubber and help drag the Corvette’s handling out of the 1950s and into the 21st century.
“I like to squeeze more rubber under these cars, but if you move the tyres inwards you lose the soft-top, so I pump them out 1.5 inches to get more rubber on the road,” John says. “The original Corvettes of this era drive like a 50s truck, but I’ve driven this car over 700km on freeways and around town, and it is a beautiful-handling car.”
Yep, this Corvette is now much more than just a pretty face.
Building a top-tier car like Wendy’s Corvette takes the support of a tribe of people, including her husband Robert.
“When I met Wendy, one of the first places we went was the Summernats back in 1988,” Robert recalls. “We both love the ’58 ’Vette’s body lines and we thought we’d like to do one up. Then we found this one in Orange, which was pretty lucky. Once we bought it, we had a look around at how to build it, and it was on a trip to the USA for SEMA in 2018 that we built up some ideas on how to do it properly, as they’re a special car.”
While she’d owned had a G-Pak Torana back when Robert met her, Wendy had had plenty of time to think up her dream Corvette during her years raising a family. So when the time came to get into the ’58, she was all over it.
“Wendy picked everything on the car, and I suggested some of the mechanical parts like the engine and gearbox,” Robert says. “It’s her car; it’s registered in her name, so she’s been in charge. She enjoyed the journey of building the car – she was ecstatic when she saw it done.
“We’ll take it to the Corvette Nationals when that show is on, and we’ll go on a run with some friends of mine with ’58 Corvettes too. We’ve been invited into the Meguiar’s Superstars at next year’s MotorEx, and we’ll do Red CentreNATS and maybe Rockynats, too.”
Don’t think Robert will be left on the sidelines, though. He’s got a blown 540ci ’57 Chev coupe on 12in-wide Convos, which he’s owned for nearly 30 years!
1958 CHEVROLET CORVETTE
|PPG Diamond Black Metallic
|GM Gen V LT376/535
|Custom fuel tank, sixth-generation Camaro fuel pump
|Third Strike Fabrications custom radiator, thermo fans
|Custom stainless system, custom cats, XForce mufflers
|GM 6L80E six-speed auto
|Dana 44, Eaton Truetrac, 3.15:1 gears
|C4 Corvette IFS, Eibach springs, QA1 adjustable shocks, Flaming River
|C4 IRS, Banksi Motorsports arms and camber rods, Eibach springs, QA1
|Corvette C6 Z06 discs (f & r)
|Master Power Brakes
|EVOD custom, 18×8 (f), 18×9 (r)
|Michelin Pilot Sport; 245/45R18 (f), 255/45R18 (r)
Shalin at Hassarati Smash Repairs for body and paint; Paul at Evolution Custom Industries for the exhaust, fuel tank, steering and suspension set-up; Ben at Third Strike Fabrications for the radiator and air intake; Shaun at EVOD for helping design the one-off wheels; Ross at European Prestige for the LT tuning; Eduardo at Fonseca Auto Trimming for his attention to detail.