1963 Corvette specially built for Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen
Following the Mako Shark, and built on a production car chassis, was a roadster put together for the Chicago Auto Show by the Chevrolet Studio of General Motors Styling. Featuring many of the design elements from the predecessor Stingrays, the most obvious common look was a special set of side exhausts. This Corvette was serial number 352, put together by the styling department at Chevrolet. The general manager of Chevrolet at the time was Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, who apparently liked the show car so much that he engaged Chevrolet Engineering to build a copy for his personal use.
Interestingly, this '63 convertible was serial number 148, an even earlier VIN than the Chicago Auto Show car, so we suspect Knudsen's Corvette was already in service when it was modified by the Engineering garage. This is the car featured here, pulled from obscurity and restored to perfection by Werner Meier, who is one of those rare combinations of car enthusiast, collector, researcher, historian, restorer, and GM employee. We pick up the story in the early 1980s. The Knudsen convertible had passed through six owners in the Detroit area and had been used all its life as a daily driver until it reached a sad state of repair. Stored in a garage where it was used as a scaffold, the rear deck was broken from people standing on it. The frame was corroded, the paint was in poor condition, and the interior was worn out. Basically, the car was undriveable.
Luckily, enough was left of the special features to attract the attention of Corvette collector Wally Abella, who suspected it was more than a common modified. Wally asked Meier to share a look at the dilapidated car, to see for sure if it was something unique. Werner assured Wally the car was a one-off styling or show car, so Wally traded a 1971 Corvette, even up, for this quite mysterious but obviously historic '63 roadster. However, after taking the car apart and starting a rebuild on the chassis, Wally realized that his venture was not a typical restoration because of the roadster's unique features. Even the seats were special, and standard reproduction parts would not help reconstruct this 1963 Corvette. The decision to sell came slowly, but in 1984 when Wally decided to get out of the project, he let the '63 roadster go to his friend Werner, who spent three full years restoring the car. It was a large job due to the exhaust system, the unique body work, and the complex interior trim. Werner found out that his very special 1963 convertible started life as a red fuel-injected roadster, and the modifications, including the paint work and stripes, were done after it left the assembly line.
The most complicated part of the restoration was replacement of the side exhausts, reproduced in exact size and shape and constructed by the combined talents of eight different craftsmen, starting with Werner's father, who is a tool maker, and completed by Chuck Watson of Watson Engineering in Detroit. The muffler covers were fabricated from a flat sheet of aluminum, which was machined, trimmed to size, then placed over custom-built wooden mandrels and beat into shape with rawhide mallets.
Once the pipes and covers were complete, the last job was to fabricate the rocker moldings and the "close-out" that goes behind the pipes. This was quite a chore. The original ones were done in brass, but Werner really wanted to make the reconstruction last, so he chose stainless steel, which is durable but more difficult to roll into shape. For that reason, craftsmen ended up having to make the inserts that go behind the pipes out of cold, rolled steel, which is more malleable and easier to work with. The remainder of the metals had to be either chrome-plated or polished.
Werner also discovered that the interior was far from stock. The seats were re-shaped to reflect 1964-type, while the upholstery was white leather with maroon accent stripes. The interior also featured the floor grilles that were typical of styling cars built in that era. The door panels were naugahyde with stainless steel plates and cross flag emblems, while the steering wheel had unique dual spokes with two types of wood inlaid into the rim. The console was also a prototype part, kind of a forerunner to what came in 1964. The instrumentation was 1964, and Werner researched that the cluster, along with other features, was updated while it was driven by Knudsen. Seat belts were the ‘67 variety.
The engine remained stock except for cosmetic modifications of chrome and crinkle finish in place of cast aluminum surfaces. The engine bay had to be modified to make way for the special pipes, including trimming the heater box for clearance and relocating the battery to the trunk. The paint is a special metallic red, accented with white LeMans-type stripes. Knudsen also had a Nova, a Corvair, and an Impala, all convertibles, painted this same color for his personal use. His wife drove this 1963 Corvette most of the time. It wore "M" plates (manufacturer's plates), and the car was turned back in to GM about 1967.
Although not officially a styling car, it was built as a twin to a styling car and is part of the historical line of cars that emanated from the original Sting Ray racer, the Mako Shark, right down to the Chicago Auto Show styling car and another near look-alike that was built for Harley Earl. It's a piece of Corvette history that has been saved.
The car features:
- Side mounted exhaust system
- Knock-off wheels
- Firefrost red metallic paint