Building a car that falls within a certain set of rules is how some racers go about a project to make sure they have plenty of opportunities to race. Pete Johnson wasn’t worried about any rules when he built his immaculate and unique 1963 Corvette. The final product is an ultra-clean street car that was designed to crack into the six-second zone via a healthy amount of boosted LSX power.
Building a car of this caliber isn’t something you can do yourself without a lifetime’s worth of experience. Pete was introduced to the automotive world by his father like most in the automotive world and it began to consume him right away. Spending time with cars and what goes with them probably has helped keep Pete out of trouble during his adult life.
“My father raised me with a car habit so I couldn’t afford to do anything else that would be considered bad. There are a lot worse things we could be out there doing. It can be overwhelming at times to be so deep into a hobby like this, but it’s such an enjoyable hobby to have. We are almost on the edge of it going from a hobby to making a living at it with our business. Now, we don’t pay our bills racing, but we dot it a lot and do it as a family so it’s fun,” Pete says.
Growing up as a part of a family that was heavily invested in cars and racing Pete spent a good amount of time at the track. Before he was even old enough to drive, Pete had the urge to get behind the wheel and start making passes of his own just like his father was doing.
“My dad raced when I was growing up. He started out racing an extended cab pickup truck while he was having a car built. I was always at the track with him when he raced. When he got the car finished up we were always doing stuff with it. Over time, we got more and more into racing at a higher level. My dad’s first race car was a 1966 Corvette that he raced Super Gas and Super Comp with it,” Pete says.
I like getting it out and driving it on the street when I can.
When Pete finally was old enough to get his license he was more than ready to get a car and head to the track. Jumping behind the wheel of some pedestrian front wheel drive vehicle wasn’t in the cards, Pete needed something that would quench his thirst for speed. The logical choice was a second generation F-body, this was a platform that Pete could grow into at the track quickly.
“I had a 1980 Camaro in high school that I started racing on Tuesday nights at the track. I wanted to start going faster and the Camaro started to transform. It went from being a stock small block car to a big block monster. My senior year of high school I would drive the car to school each day and it was running 9.90s. This was back in the early 2000s when something like that was just insanely fast for a street car,” Pete explains.
After high school, Pete went on to work at his family’s business, a hot rod shop in their town. Unfortunately, that didn’t last forever for Pete since the decision was made to walk away from the business when the economy began to sputter in 2008. When that door closed, Pete shifted into a higher gear and jumped into the professional ranks of the NHRA to spin wrenches for the best in the business.
“After the hot rod shop closed I had an opportunity to go work for John Force Racing. I was on both John and Robert Hight’s teams while I was there. My main jobs on the team were to service the bottom end of the engine, build the racks of pistons and rods, plus drive the rig too from event to event. Back at the shop, I was also a jack of all trades that did a little bit of everything,” Pete says.
When Pete was done working in the world of nitro Funny Cars he came home to help run his father’s machine shop. That transition didn’t stop him from wanting to play around with fast cars on his own time. Pete’s father was still building cars and things came full circle when he stumbled upon some interesting Corvette bodies that would make the great base for a project car.
“My dad had found two of these Corvette bodies in a North Dakota Garage. My father’s not a shy person at all so, he asked around until he found out who owned them and arranged the purchase of the first one. This was in the mid-90s when he purchased the one I have now, then he purchased the second one. The second one was much nicer than the one I have. We had two of them sitting side by side for a long time and I decided I wanted to do something with one of them that was a bit different. Since his first race car was a 1966 Corvette I’ve always liked that body style. He said I could build the worst of the two so that’s what I started with,” Pete explains.
Now, before the Corvette purest in the world have a nuclear meltdown over Pete chopping up an original 1963 model, they need to understand this car didn’t begin life on a GM assembly line. When Pete and his father took a closer look at the bodies they realized something was different. The shells might have looked like they were produced by GM, but when you really pay attention to the details it becomes obvious the bodies were something else.
“I don’t know who actually made the body originally. It’s a fiberglass body but, there’s a lot of steel in these cars. There’s steel around the front windows, rear windows, around the door openings, and it’s called the birdcage. What’s weird about these bodies, they have all the steel in place like an OEM body along with all of the bonding strips that an OEM body would have too. They even have GM part numbers on the fiberglass. We don’t know who built them, where they came from, or anything about them. They don’t have a VIN tag, but it’s really hard to tell it’s not an original body,” Pete says.
Now that Pete had a starting point for his project it was time to come up with a plan. Pete had been playing around with an LSX-powered Fox body Mustang that was rocking a pair of turbos, and stock style suspension before the build began. With the experience he gained from the Mustang Pete knew he wanted to go faster, keep the car street driven, but didn’t want to build something that was limited by the rules of a specific class.
People have told me this car couldn’t be driven on the street, my response has always been watch me
“In my mind, I knew I wanted the car to have a Gear Vendor overdrive and an exhaust that exits towards outside of the car or behind me. Going with those rules and trying to fit into a couple of local classes is what led to the factory frame rails on the front of the car. It’s mostly considered a back half style car at that point so, I built the car where I could run slicks, 10.5ws, or radials. I built this car to fit what I wanted and not really worry about anything else,” Pete explains.
The final product was a Corvette that was exactly what Pete wanted it to be. What helped make all of this possible was what he learned over a lifetime of turning wrenches at home and working professionally with nitro teams and Pro Mod teams.
“I built everything myself with the chassis including the rollcage. When I left Force and came to work for dad there was a lot of stuff I had learned and that helped with this build. I worked with a lot of the Proline teams now and again so, I had learned a lot of the Pro Mod stuff. This is all knowledge gained from working on Bickle Cars, Haas Cars, and R2B2 cars, so I wanted to incorporate all of that stuff into my own build with this Corvette,” Pete says.
Having a car with so much raw power that still can be driven on the street regularly can be tricky to build. The balancing act of keeping everything manageable isn’t easy, but with the Corvette, Pete has found a way to make it happen.
“I like getting it out and driving it on the street when I can. It boggles people’s minds that a car that runs in the 7.80s and can be driven on the street. We’ve tried to do Drag Week and that was the main goal of the build. We’ve had bad timing with everything and I’ve only made it to one, but we had problems so I wasn’t able to finish it. We’ve done the Car Cart Summer Nationals, local heads-up stuff, Outlaw Street Car Reunion, and Street Car Takeover with it. When I have time I even take it to car shows and local cruise-ins,” Pete explains.
To push the Corvette into the seven-second range at almost 190 MPH, Pete selected a 380 cubic-inch LSX-based engine for the task. Inside the mill is a Callies Dragon Slayer crankshaft, Callies billet I-beam connecting rods, and Diamond pistons. For cylinder heads, Pete added a set of aluminum units from Mast Motorsports. A solid roller camshaft from Cam Motion actuates the valvetrain that features Crower shaft rockers and solid lifters. On top of the engine is a sheet metal intake that Pete fabricated himself. The engine was assembled by Mike Duke Racing.
Providing the methanol for the engine is an Aeromotive 12-gallon per-minute fuel pump and a set of 700 pound Billet Atomizer injectors. Boost for the engine is added by a pair of BorgWarner S480 turbos that are kept in check by Precision Turbo & Engine wastegates and Turbosmart blow-off valves. The entire turbo system was built at home by Pete. Controlling everything is a Holley EFI system that Pete tunes himself.
With the power potential, this combination has one would think the Corvette would be very unruly to drive on the street or strip. However, according to Pete, the Corvette is a dream to drive and will be going faster in the future if everything works out.
“It actually rides relatively nice down the street. You can carry on a conversation with a passenger no problem and it’s not blistering hot inside the car. It drives super easy down the track, it’s almost boring with how easy it’s been. We’ve been 7.80 at 182 and 4.90 to the eighth mile. When I started building this car I wanted to go 6.90 at over 200. It has the ability to do all of this we just need to figure it out a bit more,” Pete says.
Getting this car done took some help and Pete appreciates those who have stepped up to make the Corvette what it is. “I would like to thank my dad for everything he has done with this project. I would also like to thank Travis who helps me out and Matt Bell at Redline Motorsports too,” Pete says.
Pete Johnson has taken a lifetime of motorsports experience and channeled it into one car with his 1963 Corvette. The car itself might not be original, but the approach that Pete has taken sure is and the quality of the build is proof of this. It won’t be long for Pete before he adds his name to the list of people who have a true six-second streetcar behind the wheel of his Corvette, that’s for sure.