Don’t think for a second that the look of Mark Rife’s ’63 split-window Corvette is the product of any trend or flavor of the month—it’s been refined over decades of hard-core wrenching, autocrossing, and road racing.
Using the old frame as a roller, the car went to Trophy Rides in Wilmington, North Carolina, for body and paintwork. (This would make it the sixth time Mark had painted the car since he’d had it.) As part of that parallel chassis/paint process, the wheels and tires (315s in front and 335s in back!) had been selected with the mission statement: make these fit! Mark says: “I told [the chassis guys at Street Shop] what wheels I wanted to put on, so he put some extra gussets in the chassis.” The fender flares had been put on back in 1975, so the goal was to build the new chassis with the suspension as in-board as possible.
New Street Shop frame in hand, Mark decided the old ’63 frame might make the basis for a nice vintage racer to replace the ’63. “I had the body off, so I took all my old race setup off, and I bought a ’69 Corvette from eBay,” Mark says. “I sold everything off of it and put that ’69 body on my old ’63 chassis. I don’t have any memories with that car, so if I tear it up, who cares? It’s just money.” The ’63 was now free to explore all the limits available to modern technology, and that would include a GMPP LS7 crate engine mated to a Tremec five-speed overdrive.
Pretty much a Corvette guy...
Pretty much a Corvette guy since birth, Mark has driven nearly every generation of the plastic fantastic, and swears by the C5-version seats. Comfortable on long cross-country drives, yet safe and supportive for max-effort driving, they blend well with the classic interior. Mark went with Painless for wiring, and Vintage Air for his HVAC needs. Eckler’s gets credit for new interior pieces.
Mark tells PHR: “I had been at probably about 500 hp back in the day with the old 327 small-block, and wanted to keep the power about the same. You can’t do that reliably with pump gas these days without fuel injection. I bought the LS7 crate motor and the Tremec five-speed—it’s all stock. I put a K&N filter on it and that’s it.” Mark notes that the power level was initially soft due to some very rich, conservative tuning, but some dyno work yielded impressive results, pushing the tally another 65 hp higher to 454 hp at the tire.
Back to the time line: “I put the engine in the chassis and bolted up the [Wilwood] brakes, put in the lines, and brought the car up to Stainless Works in Cleveland. They built the whole exhaust system: 1⅞-inch long-tube headers into 3-inch dual exhaust. This was the prototype car. The car originally had side-exit exhaust on it, but that wasn’t practical for the new system. They did a very good job on it. All the loud noise is behind me now!”
The car was finally ready for the Charlotte Goodguys in October of 2009. Unfortunately, Mark’s wife, Carol, would not be able to attend with him because she felt ill. With just 100 miles on the new rebuild, the ’63 handily won that autocross. But then life dealt a cruel blow to Mark and the entire Rife clan. When Mark returned from Charlotte, he found out his wife Carol was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer—essentially a death sentence. Nine months later, she was gone. “I’m kind of finishing off the dreams that we had with the car,” Mark says.
To that end, Mark tied up some loose ends at his businesses and at home, then hit the road with his ’63 Corvette for a whirlwind tour in 2011. He autocrossed it at Goodguys Columbus, Goodguys Indy (winning a PHR Street Challenge jacket), Goodguys Pleasanton, Goodguys Scottsdale, and Goodguys Del Mar with a stop somewhere in there for the SEMA show and an appearance at the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational. “These five or six weeks of coming out west and all the Goodguys stuff fits right into it. We never got a chance to travel out west due to business, and I’m just completing that dream in her memory. She would’ve enjoyed all this for sure.”
The new Street Shop C2 chassis...
The new Street Shop C2 chassis under the voluptuous ’63 body makes use of nearly every part from a ’96 C4 Corvette, except for the stock ’96 transverse leaf spring. Mark swears by RideTech’s new triple-adjustable coilover shocks (front and rear), which give him unparalleled tuning capability for the variety of autocross and road race venues he visits. A Stainless Works dual 3-inch exhaust works as good as it looks.