Driven: new 525bhp restomod Corvette Stingray
Modena-based ARES Design is the latest to join the restomod party. We drive its Stingray on modern Corvette running gear
Restomods are big business. Corvette restomods are huge business. And though the home of the restomod is middle America, a new contender has entered the fray, bringing high-quality conversions to Europe and the Middle East in particular.
ARES Design is based in Modena, Italy, and best-known for its Project Panther (a modern take on the De Tomaso Pantera, though its core business since it formed in 2013 has been tuning and top-end body kits. Now it’s moving into modern-day coachbuilding with a useful sideline in squeezing modern running gear into classic cars, including the Porsche 964.
The first of its restomods, though, is this 1964 Corvette Stingray C2, stunningly finished in black with red leather interior, and looking at first glance like a very well-restored original. Though, wait, don’t the alloy wheels seem a touch bigger than the originals? And underneath there’s a whole other story.
All the running gear in this sleek Corvette is from the latest generation C7 Corvette, including the 525bhp LS3 6-litre V8, the five-speed quickshift manual gearbox and the Viper Hammerhead rear differential. Axles, brakes and suspension are all C7 too, every part grafted into a C2 chassis – though not the car’s original, for this has been kept aside for posterity.
The original glassfibre bodywork has been fitted with the bonnet from a big-block V8 Stingray, for that evovative (and necessary) bonnet bulge, and the original interior retrimmed in burgundy leather, sewn to the original patterns.
And when you sit in those seats and pull the simple lap belt around your waist, there’s little to give away the transformation that’s taken place under the skin. Only additional under-dash air vents for the modern aircon hint at any changes.
Key in, twist the starter switch, and the ‘Vette fires instantly and settles immediately into a smooth idle, the exhaust woofling away but with little in the way of mechanical noise from the V8 up front. The original Chevy V8 is a great thing, crude but fun, but it could never achieve this level of smoothness.
Into first gear, a satisfyingly short, precise movement, and off we go (the handbrake is electronic, and automatic). The car hesitates slightly, perhaps still needing a final tweak of the mapping, but it’s a split-second thing and from there there’s no stopping it. Actually, that’s an inappropriate phrase, because there’s very little effort needed to stop it almost dead, which I come close to doing on the first few applications of the brake pedal until I adjust myself to a lighter touch on the pedal.
Through town, it’s a pussycat, as easy to drive as any modern car. When the chance arrives, a quick boot of the accelerator gives a predictably exciting response; lots of noise, lots of acceleration, lots of fun. It’s seamless, except for a slight vibration from the transmission ('we’re going to re-balance the propshaft', says the accompanying ARES engineer, whose pre-ARES pedigree includes Ferrari and Pagani) and a predictable amount of wind noise from the side windows.
An original Corvette Stingray feels quick but not rapid, and its steering tends to be a touch vague in the dead ahead position. The brakes weren’t great from new and the engine relies on pouring bucketloads of fuel through the huge carburettor. But it has charm, oodles of big, brash American charm, and we’ll forgive it all its foibles for that.
The ARES Design restomod Corvette is much faster, much smoother, it corners well, it stops almost too well, and with completely new, redesigned electrics (including high-output projector headlights with LED halos) it should be utterly reliable.
It looks great too. Maybe we’d have gone for slightly smaller diameter wheels and higher profile tyres, but that would have had a detrimental effect on the handling and straight-line stability. It’s not like the ride is bad – in fact it’s uncannily good – and the Turbine style of the wheels is an excellent homage to the original wheels.
It doesn’t quite have the character of the original but it gives it a damned good go, and it will be easier to live with. The conversion is reassuringly expensive, shall we say, at €350-400,000 depending on spec, with a lead time of around 12 weeks.
More details on the ARES Design website.