From a car styling standpoint, Harley Earl is a tough act to follow. He was the original pimp daddy, dub-meister, “baller” designer of the 1920’s and he essentially invented car styling. When GM hired him in 1927, they wasted no time creating the first automobile design studio, “Art and Color” and named Earl as it’s first director. From there, Earl created the “concept” car and the blueprint for automotive design that’s still used today.
Although you could safely say he was the premier industrial designer of the 20th century, he was also an artist who’s work wasn’t sequestered away in museums or galleries. Instead, millions of copies rolled on highways across the country for all to see.
All C1 Corvettes were the result of Harley Earl’s design direction. Every curve and flourish was thoughtfully executed by GM Design under his tutelage and Chevy’s sports cars from this era are now coveted by collectors the world over.
Improving a ’50s Corvette–and the brush of Harley Earl–is a tough task. You better have the talent and the skills to make it better, not worse. Customizing early Corvettes is controversial to some old car fans, but if done with a deft hand, the brilliance of the golden era of General Motors styling can be enhanced and rejuventated for a new audience.
While we’re on the topic of eras and audiences, most folks know Dave Kindig, notably from the TV show, Bitchin’ Rides. He’s also known for incredible custom cars that come out of his shop, Kindig-It Design, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He had the cojones to take on Earl and the hallowed ’57 Corvette with stellar results.
We first saw his Corvette build at the 2017 SEMA show holding court at the Borla booth. We were knocked out and continued to see it at most every major show in the first quarter of 2018.
We think Kindig’s take on a 1957 Corvette sets a new bar for custom C1 Corvettes. What started out as a seldom used old ‘Vette belonging to his father-in-law, now is the gold standard of restorations, putting the plastic sports car world on notice with a new high water mark for a restomod 1957 Corvette.
A timeless custom is an even tougher act to pull off. One look at most custom cars from 15-20 years ago and many haven’t stood the test of time. This ’57 Corvette will beat that rap by combining custom touches that add up to more than the sum of the parts.
Rod Authority recently sat down with Dave Kindig and he recounted the story of how he came to know this Corvette, “My father-in-law Richard Cox, bought this ’57 Corvette in 1965, lightly restored it in 1977 and then tore it down for a full restoration in 1982. He showed it around the Salt Lake City area, winning trophies in a couple of shows.” Dave continues by saying the car “Had settled into semi-retirement. For special events like a Fourth of July party, we would dust it off, give the kids a ride around the block, and then back it went into the garage.”
They started by making sure the 61 year old fiberglass body was brought up to snuff. They grafted on a new front clip, passenger rear quarter and lower valance, then tucked in the bumpers, and added Kindig’s signature custom door handles. A keen eye will notice laser straight bodywork and tight cut lines of tonneau compartment, doors, hood and trunk as well.
Dave said “We used Corvette Image out of Gresham, Oregon for the new fiberglass and flew the guys down to lend their expertise to the build.” The final, flawless body speaks for itself.
Again it’s the little things that add up. Like three inch exhaust cutouts, shaved emblems and badges and sparkling triple-plated body jewelry by Ogden Chrome. The headlight bezels, courtesy Greening Auto Company, screw into the bulb housing without any hardware catching your eye. Kindig used his new “Modern Classikk Kindig” paint line from AzkoNobel in “Blackhole Black” for the body, silver for the coves and cut and buffed it to perfection.
After it’s beauty parlor session, the body was dropped on an Art Morrison chassis specifically designed for C1 Corvettes with a modern, all-independent suspension. Kindig added Wilwood brakes, Borla Exhaust, and a Ron Davis radiator to keep things running cool.
The ‘Vette rolls on custom Billet Specialties Wheels–19s” up front, 20s” in rear–that pay homage to old school Corvette hubcaps with two-bar spinners. Mounted on Michelin Pilot rubber with redline stripes added by Diamond Back Classic tires, the big shoes fit nicely under the old curvy fiberglass with some help from the Art Morrison chassis and 3″ tubbed rear wheels wells.
For the interior, Kindig combined longtime collaborator Justin Stephens at JS Custom Interiors and in-house talent Jason Pringle to bring the leather, oxblood cockpit together. They added Vintage Air, an Ididit steering column, Dakota Digital gauges, and a killer Koch steering wheel breathed on heavily via 3-D printing.
According to Dave, “We took Koch’s shrunken ’55 Bel Air wheel apart, flattened the bottom portion and 3-D printed two halves that snapped together over the ring. Then we did some bodywork on it and got the look we were after, i.e. a modern, thick rim wheel married with old school cool.”
Then there’s the monster engine.
Dave says, “I called my good friend Ken Lingenfelter and told him I was looking for a mill with 400-425hp. The car weighs maybe 2400 lbs, so I thought that was more than enough. I get the engine and with the cool, eight-stack Borla induction system, and the thing dyno’d at 670hp. Probably not a bad idea to have a diaper handy when you stand on it…”
Lingenfelter is well known for mega-motor builds, but this LS7 with LS3 heads is not only a whopper power-wise, but is dressed to kill with oxblood Lingenfelter coil covers, Billet Specialties serpentine drive, American Power electric brakes, and killer hardware from top to bottom. Backed up by an automatic transmission, check out the cool Lokar shifter that looks like old “T-bar” manual Corvette lever.
For Bitchin’ Ride Fans, when Kindig and his family reveal the Corvette to his father-in-law, Richard Cox, it was a very special episode. Dave says “We wanted to give something back to Richard. We are so lucky to have him in our family and I’ve called him Dad for almost 30 years. The car is going to stay in the (Cox and Kindig) family forever.”
Not only did the car bring tears to father-in-law Richard Cox’s eyes, the car has cleaned house in most any show it’s been entered in.
To date the car has won Outstanding Overall – Sports/Sports Compact at Grand National Roadster Show, The Dick Bertolucci Award at the Sacramento Autorama, Best Sports/Sports Compact at the Portland Roadster Show and a big win at the Salt Lake City Autorama as well.
Dave was kind enough to take some time to speak with Rod Authority, and not only is he currently the hottest custom car maker on the planet, but one of the nicest and most approachable. Kindig It Design is on a roll with a seemingly endless empire of custom cars, apparel, TV shows, hardware and paint lines. Maybe nice guys finish first?
Kudos to Dave, Charity and the Kindig It Team for killin’ it so far this year.