By Edward Peghin
We record the restoration of classic American muscle on our show Chop Cut Rebuild, now in its seventh season. Dan Woods, host of the series, told me a while back that we would be profiling a near-new Corvette on the show this year. The basic plan, he explained to me, was to tear the vehicle apart and completely redesign it. I replied sarcastically, "Great idea! Let's destroy a brand-new 'Vette and rename the show Chop Cut Ruin."
What I didn't know was that the brothers who own Corvette Specialty of California, Mike and Laurent Bensaid, had secretly been dreaming of creating a line of modern Corvettes inspired by the classic 1963 split-window Stingray. They envisioned taking the modern vehicle--with its superior performance and technology and uninspired design--and completely revamping it.
The result would be an aggressive, modern machine that follows some of those classic lines and incorporates the rear split window, which hasn't been seen on a Corvette since 1963. This could be the perfect time to undertake such a project.
The idea had appeal. We'd be able to document the modification of an iconic American car into something truly special. It would be unveiled at the 2010 SEMA Show, and a limited run of perhaps 150 cars would be available to the public.
CSOC has a history of more than 25 years of restoring, modifying, and upgrading Corvettes. The Bensaids are smart, accomplished, and reliable, with a perfect track record. They are passionate about cars, and particularly Corvettes. The brothers have been on Chop Cut Rebuild before as a service provider for other vehicle builds. They can do pretty much everything within their 40,000-square-foot facility. It all sounded terrific. This was something I could really get excited about.
We faced one major challenge from the production standpoint, however... time.
CSOC would have to come up with the rendering for their new vehicle--to be named the Grand Sport, or GS for short. They would have to acquire the base vehicle upon which the body modifications would occur. And then, of course, we had to account for the practical design considerations involved in translating the rendering to a working vehicle: creating the split window; sculpting the rear and front ends; upgrading the seats, door panels, dash, and headliner.
As for the engine, they planned to supercharge it. For Mike and Laurent, a 436-horsepower engine would simply be un embarrassement (the Bensaids are French).
Yet an increase in power would require an upgrade to the drivetrain, the suspension, and so many other things to ensure the chassis would be up to the task.
It was already late February 2010 when we decided to embark on this adventure. The SEMA Show takes place in November. The CSOC team would have to design and build the GS in less than nine months. Such an extensive project would ordinarily require 18 to 24 months.
Dan and I were already hooked though. We really wanted to profile this build. Less than nine months would have to be enough! Besides, the Bensaid brothers and their team were the ones who'd have to start pulling all-nighters if time started running out.
Failure to complete would not be an option. Our television schedule required that CSOC deliver the vehicle in time for the SEMA Show since Dan would be playing this aspect up throughout the series. A no-show would be embarrassing for everyone involved.
Dan and I had our first production meeting with Mike and Laurent in early March to discuss the build schedule for the GS. Chop Cut Rebuild is structured as 13 half-hour episodes. Within each episode are four segments profiling two vehicle builds, for a total of 26 segments per build (the other build would be a 1969 Dodge Hemi Charger).
Ideally, each segment covers a separate step in the restoration or modification of the vehicle. In other words, we break down a vehicle build into 25 steps, with the final segment being reserved for the season finale.
This season, the finale would be a special SEMA segment featuring the unveiling of the resto-modified vehicles, as well as a head-to-head race between the GS and the Charger on the set of the television show Pinks All Out.
We quickly realized that documenting the GS would likely pose a second challenge: How much entertainment can we extract from the build of a fiberglass vehicle?
Designing a vehicle out of fiberglass is a laborious and painstaking process that does not make for exciting television once the viewer understands the process. How much filler, sanding, gluing, and more sanding, sanding, sanding can we show beyond one episode?
As it happened, however, the problem was not with the content, but with the schedule itself. The design and fabrication of the body seemed to go on interminably, encroaching on the time allotted to the rest of the build. It turned out that Mike and Laurent are perfectionists, which is great for everyone--but a little stressful for the show's director.
Dan and I were immediately impressed by the rendering of the CSOC GS. Clearly inspired by the lines of the 1963 Corvette C2 body style, the design represented more of an homage to that style than an attempt to reproduce it.
For the opening episode, CSOC's artist Gaston Gardeazabal, who specializes in vehicle design, came in to perform a re-creation of the design process for our cameras.
We then looked forward to seeing how Mike and Laurent would begin to attack the build of the 2008 Corvette. And attack turned out to be the right word.
On the morning of 18 March, Laurent arrived with my crew. Relaxed, cigarette in hand, he casually directed his team of technicians as they worked on the many Corvettes throughout the garage. (The CSOC team always has so many projects going on simultaneously, it's a wonder they had any time for the GS.)
Laurent was our "co-host" for the day since his specialties are auto body and paint. After we set up the lights and prepped the cameras and audio gear, I corralled Dan and Laurent, gave them some direction, and then yelled the director's favorite word... "Action!"
Immediately, Laurent's casual demeanor vanished. He was a man on a mission--and if you didn't know better, you'd think he had some sort of 'Vette vendetta.
Front bumper, rear bumper, rear fenders... gone! Rear window... gone! Seats, door panels, stock sound system... gone! If it could be replaced with a unit of higher quality or covered in leather or suede... it was wrenched out and cast aside.
Once the day's whirlwind of activity subsided, Laurent returned to his calm, jovial self, sparked up a cigarette, and told us he was looking forward to our return to record the fabrication of the back end of the vehicle. Our first shoot day was a success.
We returned a month later to capture the progress of the GS. Laurent's main body technician, Rudy Castro, had spent the previous several weeks applying fiberglass and filler to the rear end of the GS, building it up and shaping it. It became evident to me this was going to be a very long process.
It was looking good, though, and the GS was truly coming along. Laurent had already made molds for the upper and lower rear end, collapsed the tub to allow for the creation of a lower profile rear end, and fastened it all together. The day was a crash course in applying fiberglass. Dan received a very good education... and can now probably make his own minor fiberglass repairs to his Bricklin, the vehicle built on season four of Chop Cut Rebuild.
As for me, I think I'll stick to making television shows.
In the next installment of this series, producer/director Edward Peghin will cover the joys of upgrading the mechanics of the Corvette Specialty of California GS, including a trip taken to the Edelbrock factory for a new supercharger.