Joe Bongiorno’s ’63 Split Window ZR1 Tribute Car is Pure Perfection

As a writer, there are certain words I try to avoid over-using. At the top of my list is “perfect,” a word that can really only be used to describe a select few things in this largely imperfect world we inhabit. It is a word that carries immense meaning, and should be used by all sparingly. So I don’t say this lightly. It’s perfect.

Built by Anthony Luca, and owned by Joe Bongiorno, this flawless combination of modern technology and a classic, timeless body is easily one of the best retro-mods we’ve ever seen. Again, we do not use the word perfect often, except to desribe Heidi Klum and the ‘72 Miami Dolphins. But the attention to detail in this immaculate automobile would leave even a veteran of the Pro-Touring scene breathless in awe.

A Story of 2000 Hours

This ‘63 split window tribute to the new Corvette ZR1… is…. Perfect.

And it damn well better be perfect after two years and over 2,000 hours of Anthony’s time went into this project. “Joe told me what he wanted, a ZR1 drivetrain in a ‘63 split window body, and told me to make it happen however I saw fit,” says Anthony Luca, owner of Anthony’s Rod & Custom. A long time car builder, Luca was actually a landscaper by trade until about eight years ago, when he dove headlong into the custom car world. Since then he has put together some great custom cars…but none as perfect as this ‘63 ZR1.

Among Corvette enthusiasts, few cars match the elegant sportiness of the 1963 split window model, and both Joe and Anthony knew it. So they picked up an original, “bastardized” ‘63 to use as the body. “It wasn’t numbers matching, and even though it drove it was pretty much a basket case,” says Luca. But dropping the drivetrain of a modern Corvette into a classic ‘63 wasn’t going to be easy, as time would prove.

Attempting to mash together two Corvettes from two different automotive eras presented a unique set of problems from the start.

Would it be better to try and modify and modernize the existing Corvette frame, or start from scratch with something more modern? It was Luca’s call, and he opted for an SRIII Supertub frame, which features a round-tube space frame design that adds strength and rigidity far superior to what the stock Corvette chassis could handle. An additional bonus of going with the SRIII frame meant it could easily accept a C5 suspension setup both front and back, allowing for a modern coil-over setup better suited to a ZR1 tribute car.

You might be asking “Why not use the modern ZR1’s frame?”

Because it’s too big for the ‘63’s body, that’s why. The ‘63 Corvette body is well-proportioned, and it would not do well to stretch and widen that frame to fit a ZR1 chassis. The SRIII chassis also offered a bigger engine compartment, so fitting the beefy LS9 under the hood wouldn’t be a problem.

Major Hacking Required

Except it sort of was. See, in the original ‘63 Corvette the engine was off-center in the engine bay, which wasn’t a problem in and of itself. But as a tribute car, Anthony wanted to include a see-through hood like the modern ZR1 sports, and the offset engine meant it did not align properly with the custom aluminum engine cover that Anthony put together for this project. So he went back to the drawing board and created from a single piece of aluminum a new, offset engine cover that aligns perfect with the see-through hood. It’s just one of the many little details that make this car above and beyond beautiful.

Behind the super-shiny supercharged LS9 motor sits a six-speed T-56 transmission, which is not native to the ZR1 Corvette (“More trouble than it’s worth,” says Anthony.) Neither is the Dana 44 rear end that came with the SRIII chassis. But the massive carbon ceramic brakes and rotors are straight off of the ZR1, and they are so good at stopping the featherweight ‘63 that at low speeds the brake lights don’t even have a chance to trigger (Anthony is working on that.)

One of the cooler features of this ‘63 ZR1 is the Ridetech air bag suspension, which can raise or lower the car over a range of four inches via a controller in the glove box. And while we’re on the subject of the interior, Anthony went for a worn baseball-glove look by utilizing some ultra-soft bison leather for the seats and dashboard.

And while the ‘63 exterior has been left stock (save for the see-through hood) the interior is a custom affair where simplicity trumps all else. Its design was a collaborative effort between Anthony and John from Miller Place Upholstery. The center console, sculpted by Anthony, rides up the middle of the car right into the intergrated checkered flag in the leatherwork by John. From the impeccable stitching right to the stainless inserts, John manages to make the interior look exotic yet subtle. Anthony has also done an exceptional job of hiding the ZR1’s complicated electronics suite (along with the battery) in a box behind the custom center pod and seats. This gives the already-cramped engine bay some breathing room, rather than attempting to stuff everything under the hood.

Yet for all the glitz and glamor, it was Anthony’s decision to leave the outside of this ‘63 ZR1 stock that really adds to the presence of this car. Outside of the big ZR1 wheels and brakes, and the see-through hood, this could almost pass for an otherwise stock split window. But once the suspension is lowered, and the hood is popped, it doesn’t take long to figure out that this is anything but. Its custom color is not distant from the ZR1’s Jetstream Blue but has substantially more depth and highlights to accentuate the amazing lines of the 63’s body.

This ‘63 ZR1 commands attention, and even in the midst of our photoshoot, people were walking up from off the street asking to take pictures of this perfect ride.

There’s that word again. Perfect.

We can’t think of a better way to describe Anthony’s work. It is nothing short of astounding what can be done with a lot of know how and the right attitude. The true reward isn’t even in the fit and finish, or seeing your own reflection in the meticulously polished hood, or fawning over the frenched exhaust tips.

No, it is about getting behind the wheel, settling into those supple seats, turning the key to the most powerful production car engine GM has ever built. Hearing this car come to life, and watching  ‘63 split window scream down the road with the roar of a modern ZR1…that is true, undeniable perfection.

About the author

Chris Demorro

Christopher DeMorro is a freelance writer and journalist from Connecticut with two passions in life; writing and anything with an engine. This has led him to pursue a full time career as a freelancer with a focus on motor vehicles of all kinds.
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