Corvette Customization: Is There Life After The Chop Saw?

We’re no stranger to Corvette modifications, and of course, Corvettes are often customized to achieve a certain look or style. But we’ve had to ask ourselves on occasion if a Corvette could possibly be overly-customized to the point where you almost couldn’t tell it was originally a Corvette? Perhaps due to the times and their relatively common status during the wild 70’s, many C2 and C3 Corvettes succumbed to the customizer’s chop saw and endured being stripped of their factory styling in search of “a better way”.

There are instances where Hollywood has taken a chop saw to some fairly nice Corvettes to get a certain cinematic persona. Until recently, you didn’t have to go further than Mike Yager’s MY Garage to see several examples of those cars, such as the Corvette Summer car and the once-Corvette Death Race 2000 green machine. Mike has since sold both cars to other collectors and movie buffs.

This Barris/Jeffries creation was driven by David Carradine in the film “Death Race 2000”. At least pieces of the Corvair-powered ride DID start out as a Corvette. Carradine also drove in the Corvette Challenge series of C4 Corvettes, meaning that his history likely retains “more Corvette” than this car!

Other Corvettes were destined back onto the highways as actual cars and were being engineered and built to bring a luxury feel to Corvette’s power and performance. One such attempt was for the Cooper Markette, a creation from the hands of Byron Cooper of Knoxville, Tennessee. If that name rings a bell, you may recall that Byron is the show promoter for the Corvette Expo, one of the Southeast’s largest Corvette events that have been going on for over 40 years. He is also the founder of Cooper’s Corvette Center in Knoxville, where he sold, repaired, and eventually customized Corvettes for customers.

This Cooper Markette showed up on the Corvette Forum for sale a while back. It has obviously been neglected for a while but you can see the remnants of Corvette styling in the overall body style and the cut-down front fenders. The interior of the car appeared to be all Corvette.

With so much depth into the Corvette lifestyle, it’s easy to see how Byron, as the creator of the Markette, would have a never-ending supply of cars and parts to assemble during a customization. Reports state that there were upwards of 18 Cooper Markettes built, and as far as we can tell, each one is slightly different from the others. Perhaps due to customer desire or parts availability?

The rear of the car hearkens to more of a Lincoln Continental than Corvette. We have seen Markettes with one-piece, while this car uses two separate panes of glass for a rear view.

Unlike the prop-only attempts like those made by Barris and the like, the Cooper Markette was designed as a car, and many were driven as such. While you may take exception to the almost fin-like, peaked fenders (even more so than the original Shark version!) and the additional grille-work, the craftsmanship appears to be held to a much higher standard than for a car destined only for the big screen.

One of the more famous customized Corvettes, the Corvette Summer movie car was heavily influenced by the 70s and was created as a movie prop and not so much as a driveable car. The steering was cobbled together using motorcycle chain and gears to move the column to the right side.

We’ve seen Markettes with chrome grilles as well as this one’s apparently glass-formed front nose. One thing that appears to carry over is the Continental-ish rear treatment, in an attempt to bring the car from a sports car to a luxury tourer. A formula that designers are struggling to figure out still today.

This Cooper Markette features highly-finned fenders as well as a one-piece front end and rear glass.

If a Cooper Markette is not necessarily your preference, perhaps one of the other handful of customizers that were making their own marque out of the Shark Corvettes would be more to your liking. There are several to choose from, and each one has its own personal twist on how far and how deep to cut into that classic Corvette shape. The question is, how far is too far, and do they still carry the Corvette heartbeat? Let us know your thoughts below!

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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