Charlene Wood’s Custom 2021 Stingray

Adding the Feminine Touch to the Corvette Community

Dateline: 7-28-22 This story was first published in the June 2022 issue of Vette Vues Magazine, story and photos by K. Scott Teeters, except where noted. – Since the dawn of the automobile, people have been personalizing and customizing their vehicles. The Corvette community can trace its roots all the way back to around 1910. Young Harley Earl, the future Father of the Corvette, learned the craft of “coach-building” while working in his father’s shop, Earl Automotive Works.

Jacob William (J.W.) Earl, moved to Los Angeles, California in 1899 and launched “Earl Carriage Works”, and began building and repairing wagons and horse-drawn carriages. Along the way, J.W. started making accessories for his customers and in 1908 changed the name of his business to, “Earl Automotive Works”. Around the same time in Los Angeles, the Horsley Brothers started the first movie studio, which was effectively the beginning of the Hollywood movie business. J.W. Earl expanded his business by building wagons, buggies, chariots, and other rolling stock for the movies.

It wasn’t long before the early movie stars began hiring J.W. to make customized automobiles for their personal use. J.W.’s teenage son, Harley started working in his father’s shop and learned the custom car and design business from its beginning. Young Harley liked to “play with mud” and would use real dirt mud to hand-form new shapes for cars.

Harley Early went on to be hired by General Motors President, Alfred P. Sloan, and by the age of 34-years old, was in charge of GM’s newly created “Art and Color Department”. Earl literally created the art of automotive styling. Prior to this, car companies gave “design” no importance at all. When Earl started cranking out beautiful cars, the industry took immediate notice and was never the same.

Arguably within days or weeks after the first Corvette was delivered in the summer of 1953, we can be certain that someone was personalizing and customizing the Chevrolet’s new plastic fiberglass Corvette. Thanks to Harley Earl’s background, personalizing and customizing is deep in the DNA roots of the Corvette, and it all goes back to customized, personalized cars for the stars at the beginning of the Hollywood Dream Factory.

For most of us, the car-bug gets us early in life, but for Charlene Wood, of Fort Mead, Florida, the car-bug got her later in life. But all that’s really important is that the car-bug gets us. Charlene always “liked old cars”, but there’s “liking old cars” and “getting into cars”.

Around 2010, while still living in California, Charlene started going to car shows with the brother of her significant other, Mark, who has a few cool rides of his own; including a 1928 Ford, a 1969 Camaro, and a 1970 El Camino. That’s when she started seriously looking at unique cars; it was bound to happen! When you start to get close to and educate yourself about the car culture, it doesn’t take long to start wanting a cool ride.

In 2018 Charlene finally spotted a car in Texas that she hand-to-have; an Inca Gold Pearl Coat 2002 Plymouth Prowler roadster. The Texas Prowler was a one-owner car with only 2,600 miles on the odometer, garage kept, and no scratches or dents; a true cream puff and the paint just glows.

Charlene bought the car sight-unseen and made a few slight changes, including; a chrome grille for a little extra bling; side markers; and a chin guard. There’s that “personalization thing”.

2002 was the last year for the retro-styled, Daimler-Chrysler-built hot rod roadster. The Prowler started out as a concept car in 1993 that amazingly went into production in 1997 as a Plymouth and was only built for five years. The Prowler was a most unlikely automobile for a major car manufacturer to produce. Hot rodder, Chip Foose designed the car as part of a Chrysler-sponsored Art Center College of Design project and was originally intended to be a coupe, but was later made into a roadster by the Chrysler design team.

As Charlene commented, “It’s a fun car to drive, buy you can’t do anything with the car besides enjoy it.” Because of it’s extreme limited-use, Plymouth only sold 11,702 Prowlers in six years of production. The Prowler didn’t help Chrysler’s sagging Plymouth Division, as by June 29, 2001 the division was closed down after almost 70-years in business.

The Prowler, as well as the PT Cruiser, and the Voyager Mini Van were absorbed into the Chrysler brand and only 1,436 Prowlers were built by the end of 2002. Charlene’s Prowler is stunning with special feminine touches similar to her 2021 Stingray.

Photo from Charlene Wood collection.

It wasn’t too long before Charlene added a very cool daily driver to her garage. In 2019 she bought a new ’19 2SS Camaro Convertible and promptly added an aftermarket cat-back system for some extra rumble. Now, the new generation of Camaros are fine cars; they are built on the same platform as the Cadillac CTS, and have a lot of Corvette technology built into them.

In hindsight, the 2SS Camaro Convertible primed Charlene for a C8 Stingray Convertible. But when Charlene laid her eyes on Chevy’s new drop-top Vette, she had to have one!

Charlene carefully studied the 2021 Corvette brochure and online visualizer to determine the options and appearance of her new C8 Corvette. She settled in on; an Arctic White Convertible; Natural Dipped 3LT interior with 2LT seats; the Front Lift System; the Performance Exhaust for some extra bark; Head-Up Display; and red brake calipers. The optional Trident wheels would be added later.

On Jan 6, 2021, Charlene went to the dealer to do business and arranged a trade-in of her Camaro. Initially, Stingray Chevrolet Bartow did not ask for a deposit, as they are a small dealership, and were waiting for their allotment of C8 Corvettes.

Since she had no interest in taking her Stingray to the Sebring International Raceway or any autocross events, she passed on the Z51 Performance Package. Even without the Z51, the C8 is a true-performance car.

The dealer assured her that not ordering the Z51 and Trident wheels would not hold up her build. Once Bartow knew that they could get the Corvette Charlene wanted in a reasonable time, on January 21, 2021, they took her deposit, thus starting the delivery clock ticking. On Memorial Day, her 2021 Arctic White Stingray Convertible arrived, was dealer prepped, and ready for pickup!

Owners of new C8 Corvettes almost all say the same thing, “There’s a ton of stuff to learn about the car.” After a few weeks of getting used to her new Stingray, Charlene started her customization project. When the Trident wheels came in, Charlene connected with Southern Powder Coat in Bartow, Florida to give the wheels a unique look. The Trident rims were flat silver and to make the 5-spoke “mag” section of the 15-spoke rims stand out, she first had the rims powder-coated gloss black.

Then the barrels and the front face of the five central spokes and outer rim were powder-coated gloss white to make the remaining ten spokes and center section visually pop. The white lug nuts, gold C8 Cross Flags cap, gold valve stem cap, and bright red brake calipers beautifully finish off the Trident wheels. There was a time when custom wheels were the end of most owners’ personalization. But Charlene had more plans.

The C8 Corvette is a beautiful shape all by itself and Charlene opted for the black side scoop trim to go along with the black front openings, headlight buckets, the roof, engine lid vents, rear vent openings, and lower valance. But modern Corvettes can always be enhanced with a few aero accessories. Charlene went to American Hydrocarbon for help and came away with a gloss black extended front splitter, gloss black side skirts with “Stingray R” decals, and a gloss black elevated rear wing.

The C8’s new 6.2-liter/378 cubic-inch, 495-horsepower LT2 engine is a jewel inside and out. Stingray Coupe owners get to see the LT2 through the rear glass. Convertible owners don’t have that pleasure, as top up, or down, the engine is covered. However, under the outer engine hood and over the top of the engine, there’s an insulation panel.

At a Lakeland, Florida car show Charlene saw a cool graphic that she knew would be perfect for her C8 Convertible. Logo Graphics, in Ocala, Florida makes and installs life-size, top-down view photo decals of the LT2 engine cut-to-fit the Stingray Convertible engine covers.

Nothing screams “EXOTIC” like Lambo doors. This style of door has many names, including; switchblade doors; swing-up doors; scissor doors; flap doors; wing doors; upswing doors; and beetle-wing doors. The first vehicle to have these unique-design doors was the Marcello Gandini’s 1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo concept car, created by design house Bertone.

Years later, Gandini used the upswing “scissor” doors on the Lamborghini Countach which was the first production automobile to have such doors. The Countach was part of a wave of exotic, high-end supercars that defined the 1980s. Instantly, the door design was called, “Lambo doors” and it wasn’t long before several small companies designed hinge kits for hundreds of different cars. Charlene’s Lambo doors were installed by AutoXTC, in Tampa Florida.

Custom cars are all about the details. When you live in Florida it can be very “buggy” in the warm months, making ceramic coating a blessing. The ceramic coating was applied by Jay Pro Auto and Aviation, in Lakeland, Florida. One of the last things Charlene had done to her Stingray was the white pin-stripping tape applied to the edges of the front splitter, the front grille blades, the side skirts, the rear wing, and the rear lower valance.

After spending several hours talking with Charlene and photographing her 2021 Stingray Convertible, there was only one thing I could imagine to add to her now, “show car quality” Corvette; an LED lighting kit. Charlene smiled and said, “Yup, that’s next! I’ll be getting the LED kits for the wheels, scoops, and under the car. And the new kits have remote-control color change devices and apps for your phone.” How cool is that?

The Corvette world is mostly populated by male owners and in the past, Vette Vues has put a spotlight on many Corvette gals, including; Jill Jahn’s 1959 Corvette; Lyn Adam’s 1964 Grand Sport Roadster replica, and her 2009 GT1 Championship Special Edition Z06 (Lyn has owned 28 Corvettes in her life!); Joanne Woodard‘s Custom 2016 Coupe (Joanne sold her 2016 Coupe and has a C7 that she’s customizing that we will cover); and we’ve covered Mary Carol Plott‘s 1967 427 Coupe, 1971 Convertible, 1981 Coupe, and 2001 Z06. Mary Carol and three of her Corvette gal-pals will be the subject of an upcoming story.

Charlene Wood’s custom 2021 C8 Corvette Stingray is an asset to the Corvette community and Vette Vues is looking REAL GOOD with her car on the cover! – Scott

PS – Vette Vues loved Charlene’s C8 Stingray so much, that they put it on the cover!

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Founding Fathers, Pt 2 of 6 – Ed Cole, the Corvette’s Godfather, Pt 2 of 6

Ed Cole was the Corvette’s Corporate Angel


Dateline: 10.2.18 (All images GM Archives) The Corvette is arguably the greatest enigma in Detroit history. Every car line has to carry its own sales weight. In 1957 6,339 Corvettes were sold, the same year, Ford sold 21,380 Thunderbirds. Corvette sales didn’t surpass that figure until 1963 when 21,513 Corvettes sold. How did the Corvette survive? The Times and Angels.

It was the Wild West days when William Durant founded General Motors on September 16, 1908. By 1910 Durant lost control of General Motors to a bankers’ trust. In 1912 Durant started Chevrolet, secretly bought back controlling shares of General Motors, reorganized in 1916 as “General Motors Corporation”, only to lose control again in 1918.

Successful industrialist Alfred P. Sloan, became vice president of GM in 1918, then president 1923, and brought order and structure to the chaotic company. Sloan created autonomous operating divisions, centralized policies, planning, annual model changes, platform engineering, and emphasized “styling.” Sloan hired Harley Earl specifically to “style” GM cars. Eventually, GM owned 43-percent of all car sales! By 1955 GM sold over 5 million vehicles and was the first corporation to post $1 Billion dollars profit!

Ed Cole was born on September 17, 1909 and grew up on his family’s dairy farm. As a kid, Ed designed, built, and sold radio sets and when he was old enough, the natural mechanic started working at an auto parts supply store and building hot rods. For a time, Ed thought he wanted to be a lawyer, but that “car thing” got in the way.

In 1926 GM bought the Flint Institute of Technology and renamed it, “General Motors Institute”, focusing on creating industry and business leaders through a co-op program, teaching all aspects of automobile manufacturing. Cole enrolled in 1930 and was so bright that by 1933, without finishing his GMI education, he was hired by Cadillac’s engineering department. During WW-II Ed became the chief design engineer on GM’s light tanks and combat vehicles program. In 1946 Cole was promoted to chief engineer at Cadillac and was the lead engineer on the groundbreaking, 1949 Cadillac 331 OHV high-compression, high-revving engine. Ed Cole was the “go-to” guy in GM engineering, with great things ahead of him.

There was a tremendous economic boom after WW-II thanks to pent up consumer demands after the long depression and war, but by the early 1950s a slowdown was in the making. A month after the Corvette made its debut at the New York Motorama; Harlow H. Curtice became the President of GM and understood that to make money, you have to spend money. In February 1954 Curtice announced a $1 Billion dollar plant and facilities expansion plan. Ford announced their own $1 Billion dollar capital expenditure and Chrysler committed $500 Million for expansion. Curtice doubled down with another $1 Billion and third triage of $1 Billion in 1956! Time Magazine voted Curtice “Man of the Year” for 1956. Curtice said, “General Motors must always lead.” GM was the largest corporation in the world and Ed Cole’s star was rising.

With the success of the Cadillac 331 engine, Cole was in a prime position. In 1952 Chevrolet general manager Tom Keating promoted Ed to Chevrolet’s chief engineer. Cole’s major assignment was the replacement for the 23-year-old Chevy Stovebolt Six. A V8 project was in the works, but Cole hated it and started from scratch, instructing his team that the engine should be compact, lightweight, and powerful. By the fall of 1954, the new 265 V8 was ready for 1955 Chevrolet cars, including the Corvette. No one dreamed the basic design would still be produced over 60 years later. The next step in Cole’s career was Chevrolet general manager in 1956.

In 1952/1953 a 43-year-old Russian engineer seeking employment named Zora Arkus-Duntov sent letters to Studebaker, Chrysler, Lincoln-Mercury, Ford, and General Motors, explaining his background in engineering and racing. Duntov was told that he’d find better opportunities with smaller companies, because big car companies make bread-and-butter vehicles, and don’t have much need for his skills. Zora wrote two letters directly to Chevrolet engineering chief, Ed Cole. In November 1952 Cole personally responded with, “… if you are ever in Detroit, let me know.” Duntov wasn’t happy, at least is wasn’t, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

As providence would have it, Zora went to the GM Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and “fell in love” with Harley Earl’s EX-122 “Corvette” concept car. Years later Duntov said, “… I thought it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen…” Just before the event, Maurice Olley, Ed Cole’s chassis and suspension man, was given Duntov’s first letter to respond to. On January 5, 1953 Olley wrote to Duntov, “If you are still available, and would consider employment with Chevrolet Engineering, we can arrange an interview.” After numerous letters and an interview in March with Cole and Olley, Duntov was offered a job as an assistant staff engineer, with a salary of $14,000. On May 1, 1953, Duntov was “let in the door” and things would never be the same.

Ed Cole’s motto was, “Kick the hell out of the establishment!”. Cole also hired Frank Winchell and three-time Indy 500 winner and engineer, Mauri Rose. Duntov and Rose hit it off great. Their boss, Maurice Olley, was a quite Englishman who did not like outbursts of enthusiasm; such as whistling. Rose could be abrasive and Duntov was outgoing and gregarious. It didn’t take long for Duntov and Olley to start chaffing. The GM blue/gray suit world was a very different from Zora’s European continental culture. The culture clash was shocking to Duntov.

Olley did not like Zora’s “Let’s try this!” style of engineering, he wanted calculations. Soon, Olley suggested Duntov might consider employment somewhere else. The final straw came when Duntov told Olley he was off to the 24 Hours of Le Mans drive for Allard. Olley said, “No!” so Duntov went over his head to Cole, who wasn’t much happier. Ed explained that Maurice was retiring soon and Zora was in good position to fill Olley’s place. When Zora explained that the Allards used Cadillac engines and engineers for assistance, Cole grudgingly agreed, but Duntov’s junket would be without pay. Zora was so put off, he bought a one-way ticket, intending to not return, and send for Elfi later! I’m sure that Ed Cole’s colleagues were telling him, “Ed, he’s all yours!” Duntov would be both “angel and devil” for Cole for the rest of his career at GM.

Although Cole was a corporate man, in his heart he was a car guy, and knew that the new 265 Chevy engine would be hot. Cole decided that two 1956 Chevy 210s should run the Pikes Peak Hill Climb with Duntov as part of the team and driver. The project was very successful with the cars breaking records. At the celebration party, Duntov proclaimed, “We ought to introduce the 1957 Corvette in a spectacular manor… lets show how fast the car will go!” Cole said, “Sure! How fast?” Duntov answered, “150-miles-per-hour!” Cole responded, “Yea, we should do that.” Duntov, being from another culture, thought Cole was serious!

Back at work, Duntov told his team, “Ed Cole said we should make a 150-mph Corvette.” So, the team set about the task. After some impressive performances with a heavily-modified mule 1954 Corvette with a 265 engine using a Duntov cam and aero tricks of the day, a team of three Corvettes went to the 1956 Daytona Beach Speed Trials. With John Fitch, Betty Skelton and Duntov driving, records were broken and the publicity was great. Cole was so thrilled; he proposed a three-car team to race at Sebring. Shockingly, Duntov told Cole that he wasn’t interesting in racing streetcars, so Cole put racer and engineer John Fitch in charge of the four-car Sebring effort. Duntov couldn’t resist a racing experience and joined the group of Chevrolet engineers. The Corvette took two class wins and Chevrolet ran their famous “Real McCoy” ads.

Later in 1956, Duntov heard that Harley Earl wanted to take a D-Type Jaguar, make a new “Corvette” body, and drop in a Corvette engine. This might have been a ploy, but Duntov said, No way!” Thus began the Corvette SS Racer project. Despite an embarrassing Sebring debut, Duntov was confident he could get the car ready for a three-car team for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately, GM chose to enforce the 1957 AMA Racing Ban. Not even Ed Cole could help.

The best Cole could do was to put Duntov and Mauri Rose in charge of a new “Off Road” parts program. Duntov handled the engineering and Rose worked with racers to field test the parts. This was the beginning of the Duntov “Racer Kit” series of options for Corvette customers. Cole’s idea birthed legends, including; 1957 RPO 684, 1963 RPO Z06, 1967 RPO L88, 1970 RPO ZR1, and many more. Ed Cole went on to become group vice president in 1961, executive vice president in 1965, and GM’s president in 1967.

Cole faced mandatory retirement from GM in 1974 at the age of 65. He immediately went to Checker Motors Corporation (Checker Cabs) and became chairman and CEO and was also chairman of International Huskey. Cole was an avid flier and a pilot. On May 2, 1977 Cole was tragically killed flying his private twin-engine Beagle B.206 Series 2 plane near Kalamazoo, Michigan.



Image; National Corvette Museum

1998 the National Corvette Museum launched there Hall of Fame. Ed Cole was one of the six men inducted that also included; Harley Earl, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Bill Mitchell, Joe Pike, and Larry Shinoda. – Scott

Corvette’s Founding Fathers, Pt 1 of 6 – Designer Extraordinaire, Harley J. Earl

The Roman philosopher Seneca is credited for saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” When Harley Earl attended his first organized road race at Watkins Glen in September 1951, (the very first Watkins Glen Sports Car Grand Prix was in 1948) two things were glaringly obvious to him; First; “sports cars” were not a fad, there was real passion for the unique European cars he saw racing through the streets of Watkins Glen. And second: General Motors needed to build an American sports car – right away!

By 1951 Harley Earl was entering the twilight years of his long career in design and innovation. He was a true living legend. Earl knew everyone who was anyone in the automotive world and then some. He wielded so much power inside General Motors that he had a button on his desk to get a direct call to GM’s president Alfred P. Sloan. Earl was a personal friend of United States Air Force General Curtis LeMay and one day in the early 1950s the general said to him, “Why don’t you make an American sports car?”

The Strategic Air Command general loved sports cars and owned an Allard J2. GM even built LeMay a special Cadillac-powered Willys Jeep. LeMay was also instrumental in helping start the Sports Car Club of America and in 1954 was the recipient of the Woolf Barnato Award, the SCCA’s highest award for club contributors. Barnato won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1928, 1929, and 1930 and he was the only driver to ever win the Le Mans race every time he entered! Continue reading “Corvette’s Founding Fathers, Pt 1 of 6 – Designer Extraordinaire, Harley J. Earl”