One of the rarest sports cars in
South Africa is the first-generation Corvette. Only a handful
of the 1957 and 1958 models were imported here, and today only
about half-a-dozen known examples of these beautiful art deco
machines are in the country.
The first-generation cars were built between late 1953 and
1962, and at first the Corvette was seen as a failure.
It used wheezy six-cylinder engine and it wasnít until 1955,
with the introduction of the famed small-block Chevy V8
engine, that the Corvette was taken seriously as a sports car.
This 1961 example, owned by Anton de Lange of Pretoria, is the
only one known to be in the country, having arrived from
Zimbabwe a number of years ago.
Anton owns three Corvettes and all of them are in concours-winning
condition, thanks to his amazing mechanical abilities.
The last of the Corvettes to be imported here was the
so-called C5, or fifth-generation Corvette.
Our difficult-to-understand laws preventing the importation of
left-hand-drive cars means that no new C6 Corvettes are
allowed in the country.
The C5 however, such as this 1999 model, is rated as one of
the best Corvettes of all.
continual development of the small-block V8 into a
sophisticated fuel-injected engine has meant reliable
horsepower for the Corvette, to the tune of some 300
The C5 chassis is up to European levels in many respects,
and these cars are fetching very good prices as true
exotics, especially as they are so rare in South Africa.
But for sheer charisma, youíd have to go a long way to
beat the 1957 fuel-injected Corvette, the first American car
to be so equipped.
This was one quick machine, with a 0-100 time in under 7
seconds and a top speed of over 200 km/h. Back in í57 that
was Ferrari-league performance.
The styling was inspired by jet aircraft and even rocket
ships in those days of the space race to the moon.
The exhausts exited through the rear bumpers, and as for the
scoops, faired-in taillights and chrome detailing, this was
comic-book fantasy come-to-life.
Anton discovered his í57 Vette in a barn on the East Rand
and, as he recalls, it was in a sorry state when he found
The transformation of a badly-modified wreck into a concours-winning
beauty has taken two years and many thousands of Rands.
Virtually every single trim item has been replaced by
reproduction or New Old Stock parts
You can identify a 1957 model by its single headlight
clusters. From 1958 onwards all American cars switched to
But in case you were wondering about the non-standard
wheels, a peek beneath the bonnet reveals an even bigger
Yes thatís a 2004 Corvette LS1 engine and further
examination reveals that all the running gear is from a 1996
model, including the wheels.
The blue 1957 model was still a few weeks away from
completion when Car Torque visited Antonís workshop.
The idea behind these
hybrid cars is that the bodywork is not changed in any way.
But the car should drive and perform like a modern Corvette.
The hybrid movement is a new branch of hot-rodding, and
importantly the car remains a pure Corvette.
Only a few changes to the instrument cluster and fitment of
minor accessories is endorsed by the strict hybrid school of
The end result is a brand new Corvette, and in this case,
with a 1961 body.
Clues to its 1961 identity are the slatted grille in place
of the original sharks-tooth design, and a more pointy tail
The 1961 model was also the last to include the trademark
side scallops or clam shells on the flanks.
As for the body, it was completely re-built to its original
Corvette specification after a botched conversion attempt by
a previous owner.
When it was found, it was barely recognizable. The first
thing Anton did was chop the front off the car.
At the heart of a hybrid conversion is an American-built
tubular chassis, designed to accept the original body, but
to also include the latest Corvette running gear in its
entirety. What a brilliant idea!
Itís pain-staking attention to detail like this that makes
the hybrid Corvette such a unique sports car.
This includes all the under-bonnet ancillaries like the
master cylinder, the radiator, the hosing and wiring.
Inside, Antonís approach was again to replace every single
worn trim item such as seats, carpeting and panels with
brand new parts. So this is a brand new car in every
The gauges are a nod to modern technology with a racing
feel, and so is the smaller steering wheel.
But these could all be considered period accessories true to
the hybrid theme.
On the road, the car starts, accelerates, turns, brakes and
corners like a modern thoroughbred. Remarkable!
On the highway, the car is happy at speeds that were
unthinkable in a 1961 Corvette. For this reason, hybrids are
deemed more valuable than the restored originals.
And so we get to the heart of the matter.
This chassis is based on NASCAR racing technology. Not only
is it about twenty times stiffer than a 1961 Corvette
chassis, itís more sophisticated, in terms of torsion
rigidity, than anything the Corvette factory has produced to
Anton fitted stock Corvette suspension but with adjustable
coil-over springs and dampers at each wheel.
So the ride height and the handling characteristics are
fully adjustable, just like a racecar.
And as with the rest of the car, the attention to detail is
Since receiving the De Lange touch, the suspension looks
better than anything to come out of the Corvette factory in
Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Every wishbone and control arm is polished, every nut and
bolt has been re-plated.