With the new generation of American muscle taking a crack at the “modern retro” look, there has been over these last few years a resurgence of throw-back styling that has been accompanied by the kind of modern powertrain performance that can only be the result of such inventions as electronic injection and variable valve timing.
There’s no doubt that the Millennium has brought us a balance of backyard engine building and digital know-how, but the late ’90s was the era that introduced the LS motor family to the Bowtie community, changing the way that we view small-block construction forever.
The late ’90s was also when the 5th generation of Vette became the marquee’s predominant bodystyle, though some enthusiasts still would have rather held to the Mitchell era of GM design when cars were treated more like artpieces than mere transportation. One of these enthusiasts was famed custom rod builder, Dean “Dino” Arnold, who saw the potential for Sting Ray styling in the C5 platform.
During the last part of the decade, Arnold contacted noted automotive designer Don Johnson, who had also served time as a member of GM’s design team. Johnson showed Arnold some sketches that he’d drawn of a custom Vette, and fascinated by the idea, Arnold suggested that they pair together to design and build the car for public sale.
Johnson’s designs were based on his passion for the ’63-67 Sting Ray, and it was from those initial sketches that the 2002 Avelate C5 was born. A Vette that was highly modded at Arnold’s 5,000 square-foot facility in Tacoma, Washington, the Avelate conversion consisted of a newly-purchased C5 being delivered to the shop where nearly all of its stock paneling was replaced with custom molds that carried a more European feel.
The only stock exterior parts that were left on the Avelate were the door handles, mirrors and lower valance. The Vette’s front fenders that were once rounded were now decidedly sharpened, and a fiberglass cap fit over the stock rear window gave the illusion of a split-window coupe.
Only 27 of the Avelate C5s were ever built, with production beginning in early 2001. Though a great design concept that borrowed from some of GM’s most beloved styling cues, Avelate Automotive’s custom C5 operation proved to be a shaky business plan at best, as there was no national marketing in place and only two Chevy dealers were signed-up with Avelate to deliver the cars.
Hoping to boost company revenue, Avelate Automotive teamed-up with John Rothman in 2003. Rothman asked Dean Arnold to produce another custom, Vette-based sports car, but the partnership eventually dissolved and resulted in a lawsuit that caused Avelate to close its doors in July of 2004.
The lawsuit was a blow to what was once Avelate Automotive, but it didn’t stop Arnold and Johnson from pursuing their custom auto designs and in 2009 Arnold was inducted into Daryl Starbird’s National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame. Arnold was also named the ’09 Builder of the Year.
The Avelate Vette was a short-lived C5 custom that never really took off in the world of all things Corvette, but as Don Johnson and Dean Arnold continue to toy with aftermarket designs even today, one can’t help but wonder what custom sports car creation will become the successor to the Avelate Vette that was born from a now legendary late-’90s, throwback Sting Ray design!