Solar Flare: This 1963 Corvette Was Built From The Ground Up To Be Ran Hard


Solar Flare: This 1963 Corvette Was Built From The Ground Up To Be Ran Hard


How do you follow up two previous G-machine builds that many would consider to be once-in-a-lifetime level creations? Bob Bertelsen is the lucky one who has faced such a question. His "Orange Rush" 1969 Chevrolet C10 and his "Green Mamba" 1968 Corvette are two peas from the same pod: they are brightly colored, they rock built engines by Kurt Urban Performance, they are built with autocrossing and road racing in mind, and they are tricked out to the nines, featuring custom body work and touches that leave nobody wondering whose vehicle it is. Either one of those machines, on their own, would be enough for many. But shortly after "Green Mamba" was completed, that pesky itch came back. The new car would have to perform at the top of its game just to be on-par with the Mamba, had to look right and had to be comfortable. A C2 Corvette build had been in the back of Bertelsen's mind for a bit, but until his house and shop were built, a new car was going to have to wait. Utilizing that time to plan out this new vehicle, designer Gary Ragle was brought into the fold and plans were made. The car would sport flared fenders in a similar vein to the Mamba, but contoured properly for the C2's body lines. Carbon fiber was going to be everywhere, including the roof. Bertelsen wanted a roofline that would fit his helmeted head and Ragle suggested a Targa roof. It took some time, but ultimately a design was created and by the summer of 2019, the search was on for a suitable car to build.

Solar Flare Corvette Render

The rendering for the Solar Flare Corvette, done by Gary Ragle.

The suitable car for the build was a 1963 Corvette that was not numbers-matching, ideal, as Bertelsen didn't want to earn the ire of the restoration crowd. After enjoying the car as it was throughout the rest of the summer of 2019, the Corvette was sent off to Zach Ingram at Fiber Forged Composites in Knox, Indiana. There, the car was scanned completely and modeled in CAD. After a test-print for the carbon-fiber top, Ingram made the flares, headlight bucket molds, and the wicker bill-style rear spoiler. By July 2020 the Corvette was back in Bertelsen's hands and the fiberglass work began. As Bertelsen slung resin, Aaron Oberle at Michigan Machine Worx designed and built the aluminum headlight housings that would hold ten Rigid Ignite LED lights, two of which were converted to amber coloration at Digi-tails to be used as marker/turn signal lights.

Over the next few months, Bertelsen was busy turning the Corvette into the image of what he wanted. Any stock fiberglass that would interfere with his vision was chopped out of the way, and a 1/2-inch thick piece of aluminum was placed at the height where the splitter would be located. After designing bracketry in CAD, Bob Pyatt at RC Fab plasma-cut them out. Using the aluminum sheet and the brackets as a guide, foam sheets hot-glued to the splitter were sanded down until the shape was ready before the fiberglass sheets and Vinylester resin started to build the nose out. Once everything was taking shape, the foam was removed and the fiberglass was smoothed.

The nose was only just the starting point for body modifications on the Corvette. The factory side vents, which were not functional prior to, became functional with one large vent on each side. The cowl in front of the windshield was eliminated and the round hump in the cowl was smoothed. The trunk was built up with hinges created by Aaron at Michigan Machine Worx and was built to be able to haul tools, chairs, a cooler and whatever else would fit, as well as a boat hatch in the floor that allows access to the fuel pump and the Vapor Worx controller. The billet fuel fill port is another Michigan Machine Worx piece and is molded into the left-rear quarter panel.

You will notice that there are vents from the "trunk" area through the tail panel. The plan, according to Bertelsen, was to vacate air out of the car when racing. The three mesh pockets were molded into the panel using the foam mold method. The valance consists of the seam moved up to underneath where the bumpers are mounted and the license plate is molded a little lower than original. Ingram provided a 3D-printed mock-up, and once the fit and look were to Bertelsen's liking, the mock-ups were sent back to Fiber Forged to be created in carbon fiber. The final part of the car to be built would be the cowl induction-style hood. The shape was drawn in CAD as metal cross-sections, then it was a matter of hot-gluing a strip of foam, then a metal strip, then more foam. Once that was complete, the foam was sanded down until he hit metal and wound up with a uniform cowl shape. Add resin and fiberglass, and bracing underneath, and the hood was good to go.

Before final bodywork and painting began, the Corvette was placed into an oven at A Plus Powder Coaters for curing. A few good heat cycles were run before Rick DeSalvo was brought in to assist with the body prep. After a few months, the car was ready for paint. Phil Palmer helped in spraying the car down and after a few weeks of cure time, and assisted with the sanding, cutting and buffing aspects of paint once the paint had cured.

While Palmer was working his magic on the outside, Bertelsen was deep into the frame and suspension. The frame went to A Plus Powder Coaters for a gray sand texture before the Detroit Speed Speedray and Decalink suspensions went underneath. Baer Brakes XTR calipers and rotors were installed underneath the Forgeline DS3P wheels and BFG rubber. Once the body was ready, the frame went underneath and the Kurt Urban-built engine and the Mark Bowler-built T56 six-speed transmission went in. The engine is based on an RHS Aluminum 6-bolt block that displaces 427 cubic inches that is built-to-kill, including an MSD Atomic Air Force intake manifold, Detroit Speed stainless steel headers and Hooker sidepipes that have been coated in Cerakot Ceramic. We're talking 660 horsepower and 596 lb-ft. of torque going out the back to a Hammerhead rear center section built by GearFX with a TrueTrac limited-slip unit and 3.55 rear gears.

Finishing up the car were the points that nobody thinks about until they are actually building. Bertelsen bent his lines and had them powder-coated. Jeremy Athey TIG-welded the custom stainless-steel fuel tank that is fitted with a Vapor Worx fuel system controller and a Camaro ZL1 fuel pump with twin fuel pickups that feeds the an aluminum fuel line heading towards the engine that Bertelsen fabricated up. The American Autowire universal wiring harness and fuse block links up to the Holley Dominator ECU on a custom-created drawer mounted behind the glovebox. The headlights, tail lights, Dominator ECU, Vintage Air, sound system, even the Holley 12.3-inch Pro Dash are all wired up properly. Trick Labs Interiors stitched up the cabin, including the Recaro seats.

Since its completion, the Solar Flare Corvette (which was named by Bertelsen's daughter) has seen track time already and to say that it works is an understatement. According to Bertelsen, "The car handles incredibly well. The motor pulls hard, the clutch is easy to engage, the 2.29 first gear gives me the ability to go almost 70 MPH in first, which helps in big autocrosses, and the transmission is easy to shift. The car feels like it is on rails when cornering in autocross, and the Baer Brakes stop the car on a dime."

Solar Flare Corvette with Bertlesen


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