Lots of guys building hot rods came into the hobby through an interest in drag racing. Happens all the time. Similarly, a lot of guys spend years messing around with Corvettes or musclecars or sports cars before devoting their attention to prewar iron. There's really nothing unusual about that, either. What's not so typical is a street rodder whose drag-racing credentials include NHRA Wally trophies from divisional and national events, and whose '63 Corvette could cover a quarter-mile in six seconds. In fact, we only know one person who fits that description.
National Dragster readers know Bob Phelps as the owner and racer of a long line of Corvettes. Probably the most successful and best-known-not to mention the quickest and fastest Vette of its type in the history of drag racing-was the AA/Altered blown '63 that won the Comp Eliminator class at the U.S. Nationals in Indy back in 2001.
So, what does that have to do with the innocent-looking '33 Chevy cabriolet in these photos?
Within weeks of his prestigious win in Indy, Bob parked the '63 and turned his time and attention to his other passion-building resto rods. The '33 cabrio came, ordinarily enough, out of the Auto Trader paper. The previous owner was an auto shop teacher on the West Coast, which means the car had been well-built and maintained-or that it had been a lab rat for a million school projects. In either case, it was original, driveable, and desirable.
The drive that compelled Bob to build all those drag Corvettes didn't disappear. The all-the-way performance standards he applied to his race cars were injected-in a different form-into this mild-on-the-outside, modern-on-the-inside '33.
Those standards called for an up-to-date drivetrain, and for a hardcore Corvette guy, an '05 LS6 was a natural choice. Of course, the engine that fit so well under the hood of a C5 was way too big for a '33, so Bob stretched the framerails 9 inches to make it fit. That meant stretching the hood, front fenders, and running boards, as well. The rest of the original-steel body was left uncut, and rides on the longer, but otherwise original, frame. Heidt's Hot Rod Shop independent suspension parts were added in front, along with a Mustang II steering rack. A lot of the chassis modification was done at Green's Rod Shop in Callahan, Florida, where Brian Green also performed much of the exterior work and shot the paint.
When we met Bob, the Chevy had been finished for two months, not long enough to have accumulated many miles. By now, we assume the car has covered a few more. Then again, we don't know how much time Bob has for driving. Since 1992, he's built more than 20 cars-not counting those unbeatable Corvettes. In fact, the '33 is part of an early Chevy collection that includes a roadster or a cabriolet from every available year from 1930 through 1939. That's pretty unusual, but not so surprising, considering the level of intensity Bob brings to this hobby.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1933 Chevy Cabriolet
ChassisStretching the original '33 Chevy frame 9 inches was just the beginning of the work done to the cabriolet. Bob Callahan from Green's Rod Shop, in Callahan, Florida, boxed the 'rails and welded in a tubular K-member for additional strength. The front Mustang II independent suspension system is from Heidt's, along with the antiroll bars in the front and rear. Handling and stopping was improved with QA1 springs and adjustable shocks, and Wilwood 11-inch brakes, installed at all corners. The rear suspension also includes a triangulated four-bar system.
DrivetrainA high-tech heart beats inside the Chevy. The 5.7 LS6 EFI engine didn't need any internal modifications to make the '33 run like a late-model Corvette, just a little machining by the owner. It has been equipped with a Lingenfelter intake. The air cleaner, valve covers, and pulley system came from Street & Performance. Stainless steel Camaro headers run into a 2-1/2-inch stainless exhaust system treated with HP Coating. The column-shifted GM 4L60E transmission backs up the LS6. At the other end of an aluminum driveshaft, 3.70:1 gears turn inside a Ford 9-inch rear with a limited-slip differential.
Wheels & TiresFrom the outside, only the 17- and 20-inch rims and low-profile rubber hint at something more contemporary than a resto rod. Bob chose Z-rated Dunlop radial tires and mounted them on Muroc rims from Budnik Wheels.
Body & PaintThe '33 body may look mild enough to make you think it's unmodified-and perfect enough to fool you into thinking its an aftermarket repop. Bob made as many body mods as he had to but kept them as low-key as he could. The major metalwork change was necessitated by the elongated frame. The Rootlieb stainless hood had to be extended 9 inches to match the longer 'rails; a fifth side vent and door were fabricated into each hood side to keep the proper appearance. In addition, 7 inches had to be added to the front fenders, plus 2 to the running boards to make them fit the longer chassis. The headlights are period-appropriate Guide Lamps; the stock taillights have been brightened up with LED lights for much better visibility. The swan-neck-style mirrors are a great choice. Rock Valley provided the stainless fuel tank (accessed by a hidden filler built into the jamb of the decklid), as well as front and rear bumpers. The Chrome Shop did the plating. Finally, Brian Green gets credit for the bodywork and for shooting the beautiful PPG red finish.
InteriorWith the rest of the cabriolet finished so well, the interior had to receive an equally remarkable treatment. Bob kept the original steel dash but loaded it with a line-up of gauges from Classic Instruments. The banjo-style steering wheel from Budnik, an ididit polished tilt column with shifter, and Lokar Products pedals are all popular aftermarket components chosen to complete the theme of the project. A lower dash panel houses the controls and vents for the climate-control system from Vintage Air. Mike Carr from Litchfield, Michigan, took over when it was time for upholstery, covering the late-model import seats in leather and carrying the look to the doors and trunk.