For many people, the C2 Corvette is the holy grail of star-spangled sports cars. Compared to C1 or C3 Corvettes, they consistently sell for bigger bucks with original cars leading the value curve. From the fall of 1962 to late 1967, Chevrolet made 117,964 Corvettes. Roughly 22,000 cars per year over its five-year model run. To be honest, mid-year Corvettes aren’t exactly “rare.”
Yes, C2 Corvettes are timeless works of art and should be cherished til the end of time, but the reality is, they utilized late-fifties technology that’s charming today but hardly state-of-the-art. In fact, compared to a modern minivan, the ride and handling are about on par with an apple cart.
Less Is More
To mod a C2 Corvette correctly (in our opinion) is to gently update it with a healthy dose of horsepower, a modern suspension upgrade, and leave the fiberglass body alone. The Larry Shinoda penned C2 ‘Vette styling, based on the 1959 Sting Ray race car, is absolute perfection. Custom cars come and go and most eventually fall out of style, but a mid-year Corvette is timeless and forever cool.
Tom Basso hails from Murrieta, California, and is an aircraft hardware business owner. He LS-swapped his 1967 C2 ‘Vette and the result could be a blueprint on how to update a mid-year Corvette. Tom has been tinkering and building cars since 1975 and has owned and built multiple Chevys and the odd Mopar in his life. This Corvette is thirty years in the making and went through a couple of iterations before it morphed into the restomod you see before you today.
In The Beginning
In 1993, Tom bought the old roadster with a 327 cubic inch V8 and a Saginaw three-speed transmission. Other than that, this particular C2 Corvette was a “stripper,” with no power steering or brakes delivered from the factory, F.O.B from St. Louis.
The car was originally Marlboro Maroon with a black interior, but someone did a cosmetic restoration on the car and changed the color to Torch Red before Tom bought it. Fast forward to 2013, and Tom yanked the original 327 V8 and old three-speed and swapped in a 385 horsepower, ZZ4 350 cubic inch crate motor, and a Tremec five-speed manual transmission.
Tom and his wife Michele were just driving and enjoying the car when COVID-19 hit in 2020. Like the rest of us, Tom now had some time on his hands so he decided he wanted to modernize the red sled again. He did his homework and researched all the parts and gear he’d need to complete the metamorphosis.
In roughly eighteen months, the ‘Vette rolled out of his home garage with an LS heart transplant and complete suspension replacement. Tom told us, “A key factor to the short build time was I had all the parts ordered and delivered before I even started.”
Aside from some welding and wiring, Tom and his brother did almost all the work on the ‘Vette in his garage, with no lift. Tom is what I refer to as a “Driveway DiVinci,” and guys like him have brought us countless killer builds, minus big builder egos and million-dollar budgets.
First, Tom wanted to upgrade the ancient suspension on the Vette, in addition to modern LS power. The car retains its factory frame but Tom swapped out the factory suspension and installed a state-of-the-art RideTech Coilover suspension that bolts right in. The system utilizes factory mounting points and improves the ride and handling of the old Corvette immeasurably.
That burly new suspension rolls on a set of 17-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich rubber. Wilwood brakes (six-piston up front, four-piston in the rear) bring this fiberglass roadster to a halt with no fuss or drama. Keeping with the no-nonsense vibe, Tom went with a Flaming River rack and pinion steering system which brought the Corvette’s tiller into the 21st century.
Now, about that LS swap. Here’s a 30,000-foot view of what it takes to swap the LS V8 into a C2 Corvette. You’ll need an LS or LT GM V8, an Electronic Control Module (ECM), a wiring harness, and a fuel tank with an internal fuel pump.
Swapping in the LS
Tom set his sights on a “hot cam” LS3 with 495 horsepower but wanted to retain the existing Tremec five-speed already in the car. So he called Ohio Speed Shops and bought an engine and GM ECM kit. It was essentially a “connect and cruise” type setup without the transmission.
The first thing was to remove the stinger hood – the sole body mod to the car – to gain easy access to the engine bay. Tom bolted a Vintage Air compressor, and a Holley accessory drive, oil pan, and exhaust manifolds to the engine while it was out of the car.
Then, the LS3 and the accessories were installed as one assembly. Holley makes three different oil pans for the LS and Tom found Part #302-3 cleared the crossmember and rack and pinion assembly nicely. Holley’s mid-mount accessory drive came with an alternator, power steering pump, and air compressor.
Tom used Detroit Speed LS motor mounts made specifically for a C2 Corvette to bolt the engine into its new home. He marveled at the simplicity of the installation. He told us, “It bolted right in and fit perfectly with all the critical measuring and fabrication already handled by Detroit Speed. The kit also offers adjustability options to tailor an exact fit.”
Silversport Transmissions made the bell housing that married the new LS with the existing Tremec transmission, Tom threw in a hydraulic clutch while he was in there and connected all that power to a stock rear end with a custom driveshaft. He went with a bolt-in DeWitt aluminum radiator with dual fans to keep things chilled when the motor runs wild.
Mounting the ECM
The ECM (Engine Control Module) is the electric brain of a modern V8. The ECM monitors and regulates various aspects of the vehicle’s engine performance and drivability systems, such as air-fuel ratio, idle speed, variable valve timing, and ignition timing. The ECM is also called the Engine Control Unit (ECU) or the Powertrain Control Module (PCM.)
Tom pulled the LS3 with an ECM out of its crate and he got to work integrating the new setup to be as stock-appearing and unobtrusive as possible. Tom mounted the ECM on the firewall behind the battery so he could keep the engine compartment clean and locate it centrally thereby easing the wiring of the car.
Installing A Modern Gas Tank With Integrated Fuel Pump
An LS motor needs a pressurized fuel line to the engine. Tom went with Tanks Inc.’s “1967 Corvette Fuel Injection Tank” (aptly named,) which is an exact replica of a C2 OEM tank modernized to accept a Holley electric fuel pump. Tom also added a billet fuel pressure regulator and filter. It just needed to be wired for power, and the fuel sender hooked up to the Dakota Digital gauges.
Wiring Harness – Connecting The Dots
Lastly, the wiring harness allows all the components to communicate. Tom went with a GM harness and said the installation was fairly straightforward. He had to drill a hole in the firewall and snake the harness on the inside of the car.
He told us, “The system is 80 percent connectors and other 20 percent is wiring including, hotwire, power to the alternator, gas tank and most importantly, establishing ground. Tom said the harness was a big sprawling octopus but everything was clearly labeled and each connector was unique and would only fit in the correct receptacle. Tom connected the drive-by-wire throttle to the ECM as well. The kit comes with the following:
- Two oxygen sensors
- Two oxygen sensor mounting bosses (for installation in the exhaust system)
- A mass airflow meter
- A mass airflow meter mounting boss (for installation in the air intake system)
- A throttle pedal assembly (for use with the electronically operated throttle)
- A specific oil pressure sensor that is compatible with the harness (when needed)
- A complete wiring harness with fuse box and necessary cam sensor and MAP sensor jumpers
- Programmed controllers
- An instruction sheet
When he was done connecting everything up, Tom told us, “The computer is already programmed. All she needs is fuel to the motor, power to the computer, cycle the fuel pump, and turn the key and it starts right up. Unbelievable! Not like the old days when you gotta mess with the distributor. I’m happy with the factory tune…for now.”
Secretary of the Interior
Inside the cockpit, Tom retained a mostly stock look. He added Dakota Digital gauges, Vintage Air, and Custom Auto Sound. All critical updates to make the interior a nicer place to spend time. Amazingly, the interior was the way looked in 1993 with added leather seats and new carpet. The dash and door panels are original and almost 60 years old.
Tom is currently running the GM factory tune and aside from a touchy gas pedal, he says the current setup with 495 horsepower is plenty fast. At around 3200 lbs, Tom says “The car is quick, trust me…” As we all know, a classic car is never really done but for now, the ‘Vette is cruising the interstates and twisty backroads. If you’re in Riverside County in Southern California, look for Tom and his red ‘Vette at local car shows like the Murrieta and Temecula Rod Runs.