You have to love a story that starts out with the car owner saying, “the Corvette was sitting in a tiny shed in a tiny town of about 300 people for about 10 years…” That’s exactly how this tale begins.
Derek Eisenbeisz is a wheat and soybean farmer in South Dakota and had a buddy who was sitting on a Corvette project. It was stashed in his little shed, partially disassembled. It was a plain-Jane ’60, red and white, with a four-barrel 283 and a Powerglide. A previous owner had a restoration started with a shop, but the project had stalled out. His buddy had bought the car from that owner with good intentions and collected a pile of new and replacement parts, but as the years slipped away the funds and time to “do it up right” never fully materialized.
Derek liked the car, though the owner wasn’t interested in selling at the moment, so he put his name at the top of the “call me if you ever decide to sell it” list. After three more years of little-to-no progress, the owner finally made the call. Excited, Derek and his wife Eileen pulled the car from its slumber and did an inventory on the parts. They eventually got it running in their home shop and drove it around for a bit. As anyone who has driven an early Corvette knows, they look much better than they go, stop, or turn.
The couple decided to revamp the car to enhance its drivability and contacted a local hot rod shop to develop their ideas. Now, building a car with a shop is a bit like a marriage; both people have to be on the same page and want the same things. Derek is a farmer and usually knows to give people with experience in their field freedom to operate. This generally works well if everyone is working toward the same goals.
The shop’s owner had some ideas and led Derek along in the build, pushing for a smoothie resto-mod with shaved chrome, big wheels, and a modern engine. This is a fine build plan, but the wheels ended up a little too big, and resulted in a change of plans for the chassis after trying to make them work, eventually ending in a set of unwanted air bags.
Modifications were done to the body, such as reworking the headlights and grille, and shaving the door handles. Progress on the Corvette was eventually halted when their visions just didn’t mesh on things like color and parts selection. This isn’t uncommon in hot rodding, and like fishing, if you aren’t having any luck in one spot, you can always try another.
Derek’s buddy recommended the guy who had built his ’55 Chevy, Paul Atkins. Paul was briefed on the experience Derek was having and took an interest in the car. He also happened to have a narrow slot open in his shop schedule, so the Corvette was quickly loaded up and shipped to Hanceville, Alabama. It would emerge complete after a remarkable nine-month thrash.
Paul and the Eisenbeiszes developed a great friendship as the build progressed and the couple made several 1,300-mile trips during the process. In addition to building cars, Paul is a world-class upholsterer and is adamant on fitting the car to the owner. “If somebody isn’t comfortable in their car,” he says, “no matter what they’ve spent, or how it looks, they will hate it and never drive it. You have to fit the car to the driver.”
Paul is a master of finding a few inches of leg or headroom and after moving the footwells in the firewall a few inches forward and working his magic in the cushions, the Corvette fits 6’2″ Derek like a glove and he has plenty of headroom with the top up.
They worked closely together with renderings and openly debated suggestions and proceeded only after everyone was in agreement on the next steps. The steps were explained and the crew was eager and excited to do the work.
Since the car was started prior to today’s bolt-and-go chassis options, the frame was replaced with an SR3 tube chassis. Paul and his crew pulled the air suspension and set it up on coil-over shocks from JRi. Wilwood brakes and 19- and 20-inch Schott Velocity wheels were selected and added to the corners. The tube chassis uses C4 Corvette suspension with a 3.42:1-geared rearend. The car now performs like a modern vehicle, especially with the LT4 and six-speed Tremec under the hood. The 2015 Z06 running gear was plucked from the GM Performance line and tucked under a custom engine cover made by the Atkins crew.
The outside of the Corvette was spruced back up and, in the interest of not doing a full rebuild, most of the body modifications were left intact, though Derek is quick to say though it looks smooth, he does miss his door handles. The halo-style LED headlights up front stayed in place, but the bumpers were trimmed and tucked tight to the body. The grille surrounds are now painted and molded into one-piece items instead of the two top and bottom halves. Custom side trim was made for the coves and the Eisenbeiszes got their Victory Red paint in PPG products.
The red was carried into the interior with yards of Lipstick Red leather on most surfaces. A D-shaped Formula 14 steering wheel from Billet Specialties allows a little more legroom during entry and exit and Dakota Digital built the custom VHX gauges to Paul’s requested specs. There’s also a full audio system and a touch screen with a backup camera and navigation, and Vintage Air keeps the South Dakota summer heat at bay.
Derek says waiting on the car’s completion was like waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and an emotional event when they finally saw it. Building cars is also about building relationships. Paul and the Eisenbeiszes have since become good friends, and as of this writing Paul was dropping off a completed ’67 Chevelle Super Sport and taking back a ’58 Chevy Yeoman wagon to throw the beans at.
The Corvette has been driven and enjoyed, also racking up a laundry list of awards and trophies from various shows. Thanks to the modern drivetrain and interior amenities, the car meets their objective of looking like an old Corvette with modern performance and comfort, and then some.
Photos by John Jackson