If you love restomod ‘Vettes, you’re probably aware of a Karl Kustom Corvette — a C6 with a C2 body gently grafted on top of its drivable chassis. We’re huge fans here at Corvette Online,and we wanted to get you the backstory on how these super-restomod ‘Vettes came to be.
We talked with Jim Hidy of Karl Chevrolet in Des Moines, Iowa who relayed the story of how the first Karl Kustom Corvette (KKC) was brought to life, and where they are today.
Back in the day, C2 Corvettes used to be cheap and plentiful. They’re simple and easy to work on, and Chevrolet produced more than 100,000 of them — and, a guy could buy one and not go broke.
Jared Johnson, from the Des Moines area, was old enough to remember those days. He used to buy, sell, and fix up old Corvettes when they were just used cars.
As often happens, “life got in the way,” and Jared married and started a family. The years ticked away and when the kids were raised, he decided to pick up where he left off and bought a completely restored ’63 Corvette.
Here’s the kicker.
He loved the look of the car but hated the way it drove. He thought he just had a “bad” car, so he sold the ’63 and bought a restored ’67 hoping the first car was an anomaly.
He hated the ’67, too.
Yup, just as phones, electronics, and computers have improved every year, cars have evolved exponentially over the last 50 years as well. If you’re used to driving late model cars, getting into an old ‘Vette can be an eye (and ear) opening experience.
Jared loved the look of the mid-year but didn’t want to put up with the seat-of-the-pants, 1960s automotive experience. We love the feel of an old Corvette with no filters and its direct connection to the road. Before any detractors chime in, all sports cars can be persnickety, and the Corvette certainly isn’t alone here.
According to Jim, Jared’s son stepped up and said, “Why don’t you borrow my C6 for the day?” He did, and reveled in the ride, handling, quality, and comfort of the new-age car. Ultimately, though, the C6 brought him back to a similar, yet opposite, impasse. He loved the way it drove but hated the way it looked. Then a lightbulb went off in his head: what if you could graft the C2 body onto the C6’s drivable chassis?
Not being from the internet generation, Jared got to work and cut pictures out of magazines and cobbled together his idea for the perfect new school ‘Vette. Then, he set his sights on finding a builder to put his dream together. Here is where Karl Chevrolet enters the picture.
Karl Chevrolet, with its signature reverse “K” has been in business since 1978. A huge dealership that sells tons of new Corvettes, it has been the No. 1 seller of Certified GM cars in the country for the last 10 years. It’s namesake and owner, Carl Moyer, is a seasoned drag and dirt oval racer.
Karl Performance is a sister business with a 66,000 square-foot facility specializing in frame-off car restoration, performance builds, and Chevrolet mods. The collusion of Jared and Karl Performance was the genesis of the first Karl Kustom Corvette.
“When Johnson brought us his idea of a C2 body on a C6 chassis, we told him, ‘if you have the imagination and enough money, we can build anything,” Jim said.
Challenge accepted. The maestros at Karl Performance went to work to get Jared’s prototype car built. From there, it was such a big hit that Jared and Carl joined forces, giving birth to KKC. Since its start of production in late 2008, KKC has built roughly 70 cars. Today, the facility builds 10 cars per year.
“Karl Kustom Corvettes is about making the best even better,” the company said. “Our masterful techniques combine the old with the new through quality work and craftsmanship, creating the most exclusive Corvette ever offered. Building the highest quality cars from the finest products, with your specific tastes in mind, is what makes KKC unique.”
As production evolved, KKC began producing not only a convertible C2 but a coupe body as well. A wide body version was also developed so a high performance Z06 could make the transition too.
Most customers leave it to KKC to pick the donor car and build from there, however approximately 10 percent of its customers bring their own car to the shop as a starting point.
The C6 is such a bad mother right out of the box, that aside from re-bodying the car, they leave the rest of the C6 mostly stock. Reskinning a Corvette isn’t a walk in the park, but the ‘Vettes innovative drivable chassis really lends itself to modification.
The body panels of a Corvette are mostly non-structural, as all of the fenders and front and rear fascias are mechanically fastened with Torx screws and are easily removed and replaced. The B-pillar hoop and theglass greenhouse are all that were retained from the C6.
The hardest panels to swap out are the doors and hatch lid because both have metal substructures that have to be separated and new panels bonded to them. In fact, the huge hatch is classified as a “non-serviceable” part, so the donor car has to donate its guts for the new panel.
“The body panels for your mid-year look are carefully handcrafted,” KKC said. “Each Kustom Corvette includes the advanced factory GM-engineered C6 hinges, latches, and weather seals. Every inch of the body panels are carefully inspected to our exacting standards to make sure they’re ready for paint. Hood inlays are custom pieces, handcrafted and made to fit. From initial design work to final assembly, all of the work for your KKC is completed in-house during the transformation process. Countless hours are dedicated to design every car prior to mold creation.”
Now comes the fun part. Putting the finishing touches on the car is almost limitless. Any color combination, trim, or wheel choice is up for grabs … and you can go crazy, here. What’s really cool is the quality interior upgrades KKC performs. Over the years, the Corvette color palate has been whittled down to obligatory red, black, white, and silver hues.
With KKC, any color is possible with a matching — or contrasting — interior. Custom touches like embroidery and Alcantara can be incorporated as well. Tires, wheels, exhaust, and superchargers can be tailored to fit a buyer’s taste, too.
A partnership with Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE) allows owners to consider engine options like never before. Supercharged, twin turbo or naturally aspirated engines can give your Kustom Corvette up to 1,038 horsepower. Along with engine upgrades, LPE offers brake kits, sway bars, a specially tuned exhaust, and much more to maximize your super C2.
In fact, KKC says “Karl Kustom Corvettes truly gives you the opportunity to create your classic dream car. Our ability to Kustom-build on any C6 platform, and implement any feature desired, literally makes the Corvette combinations endless. With the technological advancements of our master craftsmen, we’ve been able to vastly expand our offerings, ultimately providing the most exclusive mid-year look in the industry.
“The fit and finish of today’s C6 platform has elevated the standards found in performance cars. With a Karl Kustom, only the skin gets left behind. Each Kustom classic is assembled on the factory-built, advanced GM engineered platform of the C6 with its powerful standard LS3 engine, or the Z06 with its aluminum frame and LS7 engine. They also include the brilliantly designed standard features of the C6, providing you with modern safety attributes, conveniences, and options that you desire.”
The first car Jared ordered took 364 days to complete. These days, the timeframe is about 90 to 120 days at a cost of roughly $125,000 to $175,000 to build. We can attest, having seen a KKC in the flesh, that the quality, fit, and finish of the conversion is top notch.
The end result is having a bespoke, mid-year Corvette custom-built to your specs — exactly the way you want it, minus all the headaches and buckboard ride. That’s having your cake, and eating it, too.