If it’s true that one’s basic nature eventually reveals itself no matter how well hidden, you need not look any further than Don Jackson’s ’50 Chevy as a perfect example. Initially, Don wanted a 1950 Chevrolet with a small-block V-8 for power and an updated suspension. Simple enough. There are many cars out there for sale to choose from and, if by chance he didn’t find one he liked, he could have one built by nearly any hot rod shop in the country. But when you start to modify and tweak the basic formula, you’re bound to get something else, and for Don that was a good thing.
Here’s what was shipped to...
Here’s what was shipped to Performance Vehicle Works in late 2008. Just 18 months later the car was winning awards and being studied as to how it was created.
Don, who lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (a town of 1,500 or so people), is friends with Gary Hostetler who, in turn, had some work done by Performance Vehicle Works (PVW) in Cornelius, North Carolina. The history of PVW is based in both racing and NASCAR, and owner Tim McKichan and general manager Ken Simonson spend most of their time with muscle cars, sports cars, or converting race cars for the street.
In an effort to help Don out, Hostetler suggested to Simonson he give Don a call to talk to him about his project. The two hit it off and Simonson says he was surprised how similar the two of them were in their likes and dislikes. Don decided he was going to ship the car to Simonson along with a set of ’10 Camaro wheels, a small-block motor, and a four-speed tranny, which he also wanted for the car. A few days later Don called back and asked about a new four-link rear suspension, to which Simonson told him if he was already going to do a front clip and then add a new rear suspension, why not just do a complete chassis and set the car up accordingly. Don agreed and, from that point on, the car started down a whole different path.
The exterior of the car demands...
The exterior of the car demands attention, but the engine compartment demands respect. You don’t see too many twin-turbo LS3s stuffed into a ’50 Chevy, and it’s backed to a Borg-Warner T56 six-speed transmission to boot! For driveability, the 376 was dialed in at 10 pounds of boost that yielded a conservative 600 rear-wheel horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque on the chassis dyno.
The new concept was to keep the car looking old but updating the underpinnings and powertrain to cutting-edge standards and, with Don being a fan of the Corvette, the two didn’t have to look far for inspiration. PVW built their own chassis for the project (with 2x4-inch main and center rails with 2x3-inch front and rear sections), setting the wheelbase up at 115 inches. The rear end uses a Ford 9-inch with Moser 31-spline axles and a 3.64:1 gear ratio, and PVW also fabbed a rear four-link suspension that fits within the trunk and back seat area using QA1 coilover shocks with Carrera springs. The front end uses smoothed-up Z06 upper and lower control arms and custom NASCAR-style upper control arm shafts. Corvette Z06 calipers and rotors were also used front and rear, with the rotors drilled to fit over the Camaro wheel studs. Brakes are controlled by a 90-degree underdash unit from Kugel Komponents and 3/16-inch stainless steel line throughout.
The ’10 Camaro SS 20x8 and...
The ’10 Camaro SS 20x8 and 20x9 wheels are wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero 245/45ZR20 and 275/40ZR20 rubber, and Corvette Z06 calipers and rotors are used as well.
As the project’s scope grew, so did the engine’s. Don had moved up from a small-block to an LS7, but wasn’t thrilled with the cost of a basic motor but, being a fan of the Corvette, came up with another solution: What about doing something different to an LS3? After the idea of a twin-turbo setup came up, the next logical step was to have a T56 six-speed box bolted in behind it. The 376-inch’s short block was assembled at Heintz Automotive in Statesville, North Carolina, using K1 forged H-beam rods with ARP bolts, Wiseco LS-series forged pistons (set up with 9.4:1 compression), a COMP Cams LSR camshaft, and a factory LS3 crankshaft. From there PVW continued the assembly with stock LS3 heads and rockers plus a Vintage Air Front Runner water pump and belt system. The intake is special in that it starts with an LS3 intake with an LS1 throttle body, and incorporates Aeromotive billet fuel rails and FAST injector nozzles running at a regulated 68 pounds of fuel pressure. Tanks Inc. made up an internally baffled tank that looks stock, and a custom PVW fuel pickup works with an Aeromotive electric fuel-injection pump to feed the beast. Forcing the induction are a pair of 67mm TiAL/Garrett T4 turbos with twin 44mm wastegates and two 38mm blow-off valves.
The front and rear seats in...
The front and rear seats in Don’s car came from an ’06 Pontiac GTO, and PVW removed the headrests before Pharr’s Custom Trim Shop covered everything with beige (Caprone 0908) leather. Even the door panels came from the GTO, but were heavily cut up to work with this interior. At first glance the dash looks like it was covered in the same leather used elsewhere, but it’s painted (Caprone 0971) to match. The gauges are original to the car, though reworked by Redline Gauge Works to function electronically, plus the faces have been rescreened to include Jackson’s name at the bottom of each. Though A/C is available to driver and front passenger, there is ducting in the fabbed center console that feeds A/C from the Vintage Air Gen IV system back to the passengers in the rear seating area.
Other engine goodies include a 140-amp alternator, a dual-core crossflow radiator from Be Cool (cooled by twin 11-inch Be Cool fans), custom PVW stainless steel headers that feed the turbos, and a 3-inch stainless steel exhaust that runs to a pair of polished Kooks stainless mufflers and then to the back of the car. To complement the Borg-Warner T56 six-speed transmission, a heavy-duty Camaro SS clutch disc and pressure plate were also installed.
With the chassis and drivetrain done, attention turned to the body. Though the original idea was not to tamper with the classic lines some changes had to be done to make everything work together, such as raising the front wheel opening 3-1/2 inches and reshaping the radius. The same work was done to the rear, too, though only by 1-3/4 inches. Whatever connected to the old chassis (floorpans, transmission tunnel, rocker panels, rear wheel tubs, trunk pan, and the lower rockers) were all replaced, and the firewall moved forward 1 inch (to accommodate some interior gear) though recessed 4 inches around the motor. Custom rock guards were fabbed for inside the wheelwells and the original two-piece hood was widened 1 inch and converted to a single, one-piece hood. The stock two-piece windshield was also replaced with single (Oldsmobile) one-piece glass, the bumpers were converted from three-piece to one-piece, and even the grille was minimized. As simple as the car appears, Simonson says PVW has 350 hours in bodywork and prep, and that’s before a drop of the extensive paintjob was applied. For that, they started with PPG DCC 9300 Black paint, adding two coats of base and then three coats of a 50/50 mix of black and clear, which was then followed by three coats of DCU Integrated Clear. Then, after endless wet sanding and buffings, the exterior was finished.
Last on the list was the interior, though it didn’t suffer from a lack of attention. The interior’s look was lifted directly from an ’06 Pontiac GTO—right down to the seats and door panels, though neither in stock form.
Headrests were cut off the GTO seats to create lowbacks and were recovered in leather by Pharr’s Custom Trim Shop in Iron Station, North Carolina. The GTO’s door panels were cut apart, refit to the ’50 Chevy door, covered in leather, and with allowances for the Nu-Relics power windows, GTO interior door handles, ’50 Chevy exterior handles (and door lock mechanism), power door locks, and updated bearclaw latches. See? Easy!
All exterior trim was shaved...
All exterior trim was shaved save for the grille, bumpers, headlight rings, and the door handles. Front wheel openings were raised and reshaped with a new radius as were the rear openings, though to a lesser degree. Starting with PPG’s DCC 9300 black paint, PVW applied two coats of black base, three coats of 50/50 black and clear mix, followed by three coats of DCU 2002 Integrated Clear, then lots of wet sanding and buffing to get the black so deep you wouldn’t want to swim in it.
Hushmat was used everywhere it could stick inside the car before the tan cut pile carpet was laid down. Air conditioning ducts run from the Vintage Air Gen IV system under the dash to not only the driver and passenger, but through the custom center console to the rear seating area, too. The appearance of the dash is stock, but everything related to it has been updated, including the gauges from Redline Gauge Works, who screened the owner’s name to the bottom of each gauge face. A Flaming River Waterfall steering wheel fits to an ididit column, and a Secret Audio System (with a Pioneer-based 10-disc CD changer) allows the music to flow through Pioneer speakers in the doors and rear package tray, though Don might prefer the motor’s music to anything else. And with all of the car’s electrical requirements (from the infamous reworking of a GM wiring harness, seemingly incompatible fuel management systems, construction, and concept changes, all while trying to keep everything out of sight) somebody ought to give Vic Maguire, the guy from Nine 81 who did all the wiring in the car, a medal of some sort for getting it all figured out. Once feeling everything was in place, Simonson took the car to Alvin Anderson at PCM For Less in Mooresville, North Carolina. PCM For Less are the go-to guys when special tuning is needed and they also have a chassis dyno available for accurate rear-wheel horsepower readings. Initial dyno pulls with this car were so impressive, they had to dial back the boost to a moderate 10 pounds, which generated 600 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel—a respectable amount in anyone’s book. But if they were to increase the boost to 22 pounds, the math says this configuration would develop 1,000 hp!
The car debuted last year at the NSRA’s Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, and it was also at the Goodguys Charlotte event a month later where it won a STREET RODDER Top 100 award, as well as a Builder’s Choice award. But, amazing as the car is, what is probably the most amazing thing about the build is the relationship between the owner and builder. During the entire build process, from when the car was dropped off to when it was finished, Simonson and Don never met face to face. Simonson would send photos of the process every week, but the first time Don saw his car done is when PVW’s McKichan and Simonson delivered it to him and backed it out of the trailer. Now that’s trust in your builder! And though a picture may be worth a thousand words, Don Jackson was just speechless when he saw his new ride for the first time, and we can bet it’s the same feeling most folks get when they see it.