SALINA — Jon Flickinger has gone and done it again: created an automobile that has become an instant icon.
His 1962 Corvette, bathed in flawless Sunburst Orange paint, its 50-year-old body snugged down over a heavily modified current-model Corvette chassis and drivetrain, is already a standard-setter for this type of "resto-mod" American sports car.
He has a stunning red 1939 Ford convertible that’s tucked away in his garage. But the Corvette urge, stirred by memories of one he let get away years ago, had begun to churn in his mind.
"What I was after was new running gear with the old-style body," Flickinger said. He had always been partial to the transitional 1961-62 Corvette body style, so when he located a Pennsylvania "barn find" ’62 Vette listed on eBay about 4 1/2 years ago, a new project was launched.
"It was a `no-hit’ body, but the frame was totally eaten up by East Coast rust," he said. "That’s what prompted the whole new chassis deal."
He found a wrecked, low-mileage 2005 Corvette and shipped it to SRIII Motorsports in New Lenox, Ill.
"They primarily build tube chassis for (early model) Corvettes using C4 and C5 chassis," he said. "This is the first C6 chassis they built.”
Not surprisingly, today’s Corvettes have bulked up a bit from the version spruced in the early 1960s. So the SRIII chassis had to be shortened and narrowed to fit the old bodywork; the resulting frame is a marvel of double-tubed, reinforced trusses and braces from front to rear.
"It does not flex," Flickinger said. "The old Corvettes flexed so bad, the doors would rub and they would squeak all the time."
The car was also outfitted with coil-over-springs at all four corners, retaining the stock 18-inch Corvette wheels and big disc brakes.
"This is a sports car suspension. It’s built to road race, actually," the owner said, noting it corners like a go-kart on steroids.
He was disappointed when he fired up the 8,000-mile engine, though, and it sounded as if someone had dumped a coffee can full of nuts and bolts inside it. He tore the engine down and discovered the engine had "ingested" pieces of broken plastic from the intake manifold during the crash, along with a healthy swig of coolant, which had rusted the cylinder walls.
He had the block bored out .01 of an inch and, while he was at it, stroked it by installing longer connecting rods, bringing total displacement up to 404 cubic inches. He built his own mid-length headers and installed a Comp Cams street camshaft.
The rebuilt engine produced right at 500 horsepower on the dyno, which proved a bit disappointing to Flickinger.
"As it sits, it runs alright, plenty good for this old guy. The grab bar gets used by my wife sometimes," he said. Still, he plans to upgrade to a dual throttle body injection system and a hotter cam to get the output closer to 600 horsepower.
The engine breathes through a set of 2-1/2 inch stainless steel pipes feeding a set of MagnaFlow mufflers, which terminate in hand-built contoured stainless exhaust tips crafted by Flickinger.
When it came time to prep the body for the new chassis, Flickinger enlisted the talents of Brad Umscheid of Paints Unlimited in Salina. He smoothed out the fiberglass panels and then shot the reassembled car with R-M paint by BASF in one marathon session.
"He started at 6:30 in the morning and didn’t finish until 8:30 at night. He told me his arm was about to fall off by the time he got done," Flickinger said. The paint was customized with an intermediate layer of clear and ghost gold.
Umscheid’s paint went on so smoothly that no color sanding was required between coats, just a light buffing after the final clearcoat, Flickinger said.
"This paint is `as shot,’ " he marveled.
Flickinger, a self-taught electrical engineer, took on the daunting task of building an interior to equal the stunning exterior of his Corvette. He had to narrow each seat by a full inch, starting at the frame and working up, using all-new, modern materials.
He used carbon fiber to craft the passenger side grab bar and created a sweeping design for the door panels and armrests. Everything, including the rebuilt dashboard, was wrapped in two-tone tan Euro Leather imported from Europe and specially treated to resist the sun’s UV rays.
A flat 3-spoke steering wheel was modified and installed, with a modern electric speedometer and accessory gauges by Classic Instruments fitted to the original Corvette bezels. A Pioneer sound/navigation system is fitted just below the dash, which also houses the Vintage Air air conditioning system.
"It has all the creature comforts," Flickinger said. “You really don’t need a sound system because the sound you want to hear is the car going down the road."
The golden Corvette has been well received since it was completed earlier this year, picking up a "Cool Corvette Pick" at the Des Moines Goodguys show within 10 minutes after arriving at the event.
There are drawbacks to having such a beautiful machine at your command — worries about paint chips and scratches. But Flickinger has that covered, too. He already has a 2007 Corvette-based SRIII tube chassis in his shop, preparing it to be slipped under a red-and-white 1961 Corvette he bought even before the show car.
"It’ll all be done underneath, but no new chrome, no new glass, so we can travel down the road with it and not worry," he said.