1953 ‘cutaway’ Corvette offers a unique look inside the historic sports car

Perhaps you built one of the Visible V-8 model kits that became popular in the 1960s and are still sold today. Or maybe you’ve been fascinated by the stunningly detailed “cutaway” drawings by David Kimble, which show the inner workings of an automobile.

Now, Corvette buffs have been given a look inside the workings of 1953 ’Vette. Commissioned by collector Ed Foss of Roanoke, Ind., noted Corvette restorer Kevin Mackay and his staff at Corvette Repair in Valley Stream, N.Y., spent more than two years building a cutaway version of a first-year Corvette. It is fully functional and can be driven on and off trailers and show fields. The car is not street-legal, however, and Mackay installed a plaque inside the cabin conveying explicit instructions that the car was built only for educational and display purposes.

The unique vehicle will be on display at the annual Bloomington Gold event June 22-24 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Rest assured, Mackay did not slice an original ’53 Corvette down the middle. Mackay and his crew built the cutaway car on the earliest Corvette chassis known, #003. The chassis was discovered in the mid-1970s when Phil Havens found it under the body of a 1955 Corvette he was restoring. The frame had holes and brackets that didn’t seem to fit or belong.

Sam Folz, president of the National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS), identified the chassis as 003 and confirmed it as the oldest Corvette chassis known to exist. (The #1 and #2 cars were presumed destroyed.) Its provenance has not been questioned. At the same time, another Corvette collector, Ed Thiebaud, had a Corvette identified as #003. Havens tried to sell the chassis, but Thiebaud showed no interest.

Were body and chassis switched at birth? The first three Corvettes were built on June 30, 1953. The #003 car was used for durability testing, including a punishing 5,000-mile test over Belgium Blocks. Research by Mackay and attorney Bryan Shook’s Vintage Car Law firm unearthed the Chevrolet Engineering Department Work Order, #19013-27, issued on Aug. 20, 1953, instructing that the frame be changed. How it ended up under a 1955 body is not known, but Mackay is digging into that, as well.

Havens restored the ’53 frame as a display model decades ago, and in 2012 put it on eBay. At Mackay’s suggestion, Foss bought it, and it was Foss who came up with the idea to build the cutaway display car, with the driver’s side exposed. Mackay had done a number of restoration and display Corvettes for Foss over the years, including a “see-through” 1965 with the first heavy-duty 427-cid Mk. IV big block; the Rebel L88 racecar that sold for $2.8 million; a one-of-25 1972 ZR1 option car; and the “sideways Corvette,” a one-of-12 1971 ZR2 that was initially displayed as a complete chassis on its side.

For the ’53 cutaway, Mackay used the body of a 1954 Corvette parts car. He summed up the work that came next: “It took a tremendous amount of designing, researching, documenting, hunting, measuring, cutting, bending, splicing, and engineering.”

Mackay left the windshield and grille intact, and then he made “floating” elements: the left-side headlight, taillight, fender emblem, body side molding, horn, armrest, and ashtray. “It looks really cool displayed at dusk, with one headlight and taillight floating in air,” he said.

As with the exterior, the passenger-side cabin remains intact. Plexiglas used for the driver’s side floor gives a view of the transmission, exhaust system, and driveshaft.

In all other respects, Mackay’s shop gave the cutaway ’Vette a full, correct restoration, including details that were seen only on the earliest-production ’53 models, such as Chevy Bel Air hubcaps (original in-the-box NOS that Mackay found on eBay). There’s no side mirror, because the first 5-6 cars didn’t have one.

“Everything in the car works,” Mackay said.

The ’53 made quite an impact at its Amelia Island debut earlier this year. “About half the people who saw it thought it might have been a GM display car, possibly hidden away for many years,” Mackay said. “This was one of the most difficult restorations we’ve done in our 30 years. I’m very proud of my team.”

[Acknowledgements: Mackay relied on early Corvette experts for parts and advice, including Grossmueller Corvette Parts; Brett Henderson, for a correct 1953 engine and other parts; Jay’s Corvette Parts; Steve Newsom; Greg Picconi; Phil Castaldo; David Sokolowski; Cory Peterson; and Steve Sokoloff, who owns Corvette #006.]