Homegrown: The Split-Personality CORBENZ

John Augelli

Welcome to Homegrown—a limited series about homebuilt cars and the ingenuity of their visionary creators. Do you know a car and builder that might fit the bill? Send us an email to tips@hagerty.com with the subject line HOMEGROWN. Read about more Homegrown creations here. —Ed.

The beauty of constructing a ride at home is that the builder can master his destiny from the tire patches to the roof. That’s how Hagerty member John Augelli, of Watertown, Connecticut, viewed the CORBENZ he created with his buddy Eric Strachan.

By day these two worked as police officers. In their off hours, they toiled over their homegrown ride, investing four years and $80,000 in the effort.

Augelli explains, “When this project started 25 years ago, Eric and I admired the look and feel of the Benz 280SL ‘pagoda’ but longed for the extra guts of a V-8. Simply swapping the German six for an American eight was unimaginative so we connived a more elaborate approach we christened CORBENZ.”

At age 16, Augelli began working on cars, starting with a rust-eradication effort on a ‘59 Ford Country Squire station wagon. “I needed $100 to fund a trip to the Cape so I pitched the repair job and earned the assignment,” he says. “After purchasing a bodywork reference book, a grinder, plastic filler, and steel wool, I went to work. Fortunately, the wagon was white so that my less-than-perfect finished surfaces looked fine.  My persistence yielded a great time at the Cape.”

Thirty-five years later, Augelli had all the skills needed to collaborate with his buddy, who owned the Mercedes SL. “Our donor car was a 1987 Corvette coupe we bought at a salvage auction,” Augelli says. “Most of the Vette’s bodywork was trashed but the parts we were interested in—powertrain, frame, and chassis—were all salvageable. I focused on the labor while Eric covered out-of-pocket expenses—for upholstery, an engine overhaul, chrome plating, and the outside labor that was required.

“Picking the Corvette for running gear made sense because the C4’s wheelbase and track dimensions were close to the 1969 Mercedes we started with. Once I had whacked the lower part of the SL’s unibody structure, there was no turning back. The Corvette also had an aluminum radiator, plastic leaf springs, and aluminum brake calipers, which suited our needs. Its 5.7-liter V-8 with 240 horsepower was mated to a 700R4 automatic transmission. Our goal was tuning this custom’s personality to mimic my loud and obnoxious charm!

“Several of the tasks we faced were challenging.  One was moving the V-8 engine five inches forward in the Corvette chassis. That in turn required relocating the steering linkage for clearance and adding five inches to the long aluminum beam that ties the rear of the transmission to the front of the differential. In addition, the rear wheelhouse openings had to be moved two inches to clear the 17-inch wheels and tires we added. And the original factory headlamps had to be reworked to clear our much wider engine.

“The first test drives occurred in 2004. Practically everything worked as expected with the major exception being GM’s tuned-port electronically controlled fuel injection. After struggling with it for some time, we stripped that off, replacing it with a new more readily tunable Edelbrock four-barrel carburetor and intake manifold.

John Augelli

“Eric enjoyed driving our creation for several years before deciding he’d rather own the 1966 Ford Mustang GT K-code in my garage. After negotiating a swap, my wife and I drove the CORBENZ for thousands of miles. It never ceases to impress enthusiasts we encounter in traffic or at the gas station.

“Entertainment celebrity Howie Mandel once noticed this sports car in Mystic, Connecticut, inquiring if it was for sale! That Cosmos Red finish never hurts.

“Some critic once asked why I messed up such a valuable classic. My answer to him was, ‘Because I could!’”

John Augelli


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    I’m guessing that after destroying a valuable M-B classic forevermore and wasting a C4’s sought after chassis to create a mongrel, that the builder will reap the reward of possibly 25% of parts and labor invested. Enjoy the drive!

    It’s a weird combo. I would have said just do a motor swap if you want the V8. A complicated way to get there for sure.

    Because they could, and nobody else would! They deserve recognition for sticktoitiveness too.

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