THE FIRST American car to win Street Machine of the Year was Frank Rejtano’s insane ’64 Corvette Stingray. Here’s what we wrote about it back in the July/August 1993 edition of Street Machine.
Smooth. Frank Rejtano uses this word a lot when he’s talking about this gleaming Corvette. It began with a $25K basket of bits; a real “suit enthusiast” proposition – and finished with this slick ’64 Chevy Corvette that might just be the very best streeter Down Under. Certainly, blokes like Owen Webb and Ron Barclay have been heard saying it’s one of the best cars they’ve seen. Ever.
And Frank? He’s not saying too much about that. But the effort is there to see. Every night and every weekend for 20 months, never missing one, they toiled, Frank and a few good mates. Flat chat, aiming for Summernats 6. And they missed – by a piddling two weeks. “I woke up one night, still under the car, with Robyn, my missus, shaking me awake. That’s when I decided we wouldn’t make it.”
Yellow is another word that pops up frequently. Frank’s custom colour mix – Malibu Chrome Yellow, to be exact – is a colour based on a yellow Mazda MX-5 Frank had spotted at the lights one day. “The ’Vetter had to be yellow,” Frank says. “There are far too many red, black and blue Corvettes around, so I played with the colour until I got it right. I even spent some time experimenting with pearls, but they all went dirty.”
Frank left spraying the body – six coats of Spartan two-pack and five of clear – to Curly and Mick at Nathan Automotives. They shut down their works on the weekend to let Frank use their spray booth to blow yellow over all the other bits – engine, gearbox, chassis, wheels…
Frank’s been accused of going crazy over US muscle. But apart from his ’72 model big-block ’Vette – winner of a Summernats Top 10 award in 1990, his ’69 350-powered ’Vette, an ’88 IROC Camaro and, of course, this car, there’s absolutely no sound basis for such a claim. “Unless you really know ’Vettes,” he says, “you wouldn’t be able to pick hundreds of the things we’ve done here. But park a stock Corvette next door and the differences sure stand out.”
A FEW CUBES SHORT
No project ever comes off without a hitch, and this one was no exception. Frank ordered an ’89 model 350-cube bent-eight from a contact in the US. That’s the first year model with revised internals: roller cam, bigger journals and injection. It came across on a slow boat and Frank spent two weeks deburring the block before sending it off to the machinist. There was a phone call from the machinist telling them they were 45 cubes short – they’d been sent a 305 by mistake. “They were really good about it in the US,” Frank says. “They sent a 350 out at no charge – but we still had to deburr another block.” It’s not hard to see where the time went.
The second engine retained the factory Rochester injection, but an INJEC black box does the thinking. “We didn’t know if the INJEC computer would work the factory injection,” Frank explains. “I thought it would, and there were plenty of hassles trying to get it right, but it runs perfect now.”
A 2000rpm stall converter mates the small-block to an internally smoothed and detailed Turbo 700R auto. The trans tunnel had to be carefully modified to fit the four-speed auto. “The T700’s so damn wide,” Frank says. “I never thought it would go in neatly. Special scallops were even cut into the floor to run the custom turbo exhaust next to the tranny without sacrificing ground clearance or neatness. And speaking of neatness, all fuel lines, brake lines and wiring are, as you’d expect, hidden from view. Diff is a stock housing (“the rear’s independent, and I wanted to keep it all GM”) running 4.11 gears.
LIKE A BABY’S BACKSIDE
“I wanted the ’Vette to look smooth, like steel,” Frank says, rubbing sore hands. “Most fibreglass is full of ripples up close.” With the body off the chassis, Frank chopped off the aftermarket flares and built a jig to tip over the body. “That’s when Robyn knew I’d be a bit preoccupied for the foreseeable future,” he says. “And then I started itching. I spent months itching from the glass fibres; they go everywhere when you start sanding. You run out of clothes after a while and you can’t wash out the fibres. But it’s the end result that counts – underneath, inside, under the bonnet. Everywhere. Dead smooth.”
Even the firewall, which everyone says is false but isn’t, took three weeks to perfect. The wiper motor is now removable from inside, but sits in its original location. And the heater’s off – permanently. Frank reckons the last thing his Corvette needs is a heater: “What do you reckon this filthy great engine does to an interior this small besides make it go?”
The chassis is, umm, smooth. And yellow. All the seams are fully welded, ground back and painstakingly polished. The factory transverse fibreglass leaf spring holds up the rear end, while offset trailing arms allow the fitment of oversized 255/45 Pirelli P700 rubber on a massive set of 17x9.5 Boyds billet wheels. Up front, VB Commodore coil springs soak up the bumps and 235/45 P700s on 17x8 Boyds get a grip. Frank says those rims, ordered over the phone to Boyds in the US, “took about a week to mask and paint.” Koni adjustable dampers tie each corner down and the factory drums got the flick in favour of ’68 model ’Vette discs with four-spot calipers.
The twin instrument pods made left to right conversion, which Frank re-did, easier. He managed to retain the stock Corvette steering box, fitting VN Commodore steering knuckles and a VN uni joint. Drag link, Pitman arm and idler arm are, of all things, XY original! “I know, I wanted it all GM,” Frank says.” But you have to use whatever bits you can find to do the job.”
Modifications inside are minimal. There’s been some smoothing and some yellowing but apart from retrimmed Recaro seats, a Momo wheel and B&M Megashifter with custom console, the interior is basically stock Corvette, redone to perfection.
Rego was no problem; the blokes at the registry had nothing but praise for the professional standard of engineering and construction. “It’s the first time I’ve ever managed to empty a registry,” Frank recalls. “When I pulled up, blokes piled out from everywhere.”
Frank’s done most of the work himself but he owes a sincere thank you to Curly and Mick at Nathan’s, John Abbott for help nutting out, “all the crazy, impossible ideas and doing the glass work”, Steve for help with the trimming, Michael, who did the electrics, and most of all his wife Robyn, without whom: “We’d still be looking at an ideal enthusiast’s project car!”
Smooth? Undoubtedly. Yellow? Sure. Best streeter in Oz? Well, what do you think?
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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