Photography by Joe Greeves.
In the late ’90s, noted hotrod builder Dean “Dino” Arnold contacted Don Johnson to do some design work for him. Johnson, a respected automotive designer who put in time as a member of General Motors design staff as well as a stint at Toyota was happy to oblige. During that time, Johnson showed Arnold a few sketches of a custom Corvette he’d drawn. Enthralled with the design, Arnold suggested he and Johnson should partner to build it for the public. It was from those sketches that the “Avelate” Corvette was born.
The design was based on the C5 Corvette platform. Its unique look evolved from his passion for American luxury sports cars especially the 1963-1967 Sting Ray design. Feeling that current GM designs had lost the sculptured look of Mitchell era vehicles, Johnson wanted to resurrect the Mitchell style using the DNA of a Sting Ray but in a modern rather than a pure retro look. The sketches included a split window coupe and roadster model.
From every corner, the Avelate was stunning. The slab sided C5 Corvette panels were history, replaced with panels that had a European flair. The previous softly rounded tops of the Corvette front fenders were now heavily peaked. The front fascia, while continuing in the Corvette tradition, appeared more aggressive. A side cove, reminiscent to the 1957 Corvette, was tucked into the fenders and doors. An aggressive horizontal feature line ran across the front fenders and was duplicated in the quarter-panels. Twin circular tail lamps were deeply frenched into the tail panel.
The icing on the cake, at least for the Avelate coupe model, was its split rear window design similar to the design made famous in the 1963 Corvette. While it looked like two separate windows, a cleverly designed fiberglass cap neatly fit over the factory rear window. In addition to the new exterior, interior appointments were upgraded with special multi-color leather seat covers and door pads.
The Avelate was produced at Arnold’s 5,000 square foot Tacoma, Washington facility. The business plan was based on a customer delivering their newly purchased Corvette to Arnold’s shop where his team would strip the exterior of nearly all body panels, replacing them with custom Avelate body panels. The only original exterior parts that remained were the door handles, mirrors and lower valance. The base price of the conversion was $29,000 but customers could order additional options including a supercharger, Brembo brakes and special wheels that could add another $20,000 to the price. Arnold also attempted to partner with high performance Chevrolet dealers who would sell Avelates next to other new Corvettes.
Production began in early 2001. With only two Chevrolet dealers signing up and no national marketing plan in place, initial sales were lackluster at best. With little money in the bank, the financial situation was becoming grave.
In 2003, Avelate Automotive was approached by John Rothman who asked Arnold to produce another Corvette based custom sports car. A partnership was formed, with hopes that the potential added revenue would help keep Avelate Automotive afloat. Unfortunately the partnership deteriorated and a lawsuit was filed by Rothman. As a result of the lawsuit, the company was required to hand over all of the molds to one of the plaintiffs in the suit, culminating in Avelate Automotive closing its doors in July 2004.
The setback didn’t stop Dean or Don. Both continued to ply their trade in specialty automotive work. In 2009, Dean “Dino” Arnold was inducted into Daryl Starbird’s National Rod and Custom Car Hall of Fame. He was named the 2009 Builder of the Year. Today, Dean Arnold and Don Johnson continue to work together on future projects. One can only imagine what they have up their sleeves this time.
Fuel For Thought
All “Avelate” Corvettes were painted with House of Color paint
The name “Avelate” was penned by partner Don Johnson
Exterior panels were constructed in Evercoat Fibre Glass
Number built – 27
Construction – fiberglass body with hydro-formed steel frame rails
Engine – 5.7 liter (346 cubic-inch overhead valve V8)
Power/Torque – 350 horsepower/375 lb-ft torque, 405 horsepower/400 lb-ft torque
Transmission – four-speed automatic, six-speed manual
Suspension Front - Independent SLA forged aluminum upper and pressure-cast aluminum lower control arms, forged aluminum steering knuckle, transverse mono-leaf spring, hollow front stabilizer bar, spindle offset, gas-pressurized shock absorbers
Rear suspension - Independent 5-link design with toe and camber adjustment, cast aluminum upper and lower control arms and knuckle, transverse mono-leaf spring, steel stabilizer bar and tie rods, tubular U-jointed metal matrix composite driveshafts, gas-pressurized shock absorbers
Steering - Power, rack and pinion, speed sensitive power steering cooler
Brakes – 4 wheel Antilock Braking System (ABS), 12.6-inch front and 11.8-inch rear disc
Length/width/height – 179.7/73.6/47.7 inches
Wheelbase – 104.5 inches
Weight – 3,212 lbs.
0-60mph/quarter-mile – 4.5 seconds, 13.1 seconds at 111 mph (Car and Driver, August 2001)
Top speed – 162 mph (Car and Driver, August 2001)
MPG – 18-26 mpg EPA est.
Price – $41,885 plus $29,500 for Avelate option;
Today – $14,375 - $19,400 (2002 Corvette)
Insurance cost is $411 per year (with a $500 deductible) for a 2002 Corvette valued at $18,025. This is based on 3,000 miles per year of pleasure driving.
*Based on a quote from Heacock Classic Car Insurance
The rugged architecture of the LS1 aluminum block made it race ready. Six bolt main bearings held the nodular iron crank securely in place and a high .500 inch lift cam actuated 2.00 intake and 1.55 exhaust valve to provide power. With 350 horsepower and a flat torque curve, the LS1 moved the Corvette quite well.
Corvettes extremely well balanced chassis design resulted in handling that was second to none. No other sports car in its price point could come close.
2002 Dodge Viper SRT-10
Number built – 285
0-60/quarter-mile – 4.12 seconds, 12.3 seconds at 117.21 mph
Top speed – 185 mph Est.
Price – MSRP –$71,725;
Today – $38,100 - $50,400
2005 Ford GT (based on 2001 GT40 concept)
Number built – 38
0-60/quarter-mile – 3.8 seconds, 12.2 seconds at 121.6 mph
Top speed – 190 mph
Price – MSRP – $151,245;
Today – $128,800 - $172,000
One of a kind styling
Based on successful C5 Corvette platform
Outstanding performance and handling
Mechanical components readily available
No aftermarket body parts available
Makes Corvette purists cringe
Paint repairs expensive
Because of the rarity and inability to purchase replacement panels, the Avelate Corvette isn’t a typical daily or even weekend driver. It is most likely delegated to trailer queen status.
What To Pay
MSRP – $42,450
Low – $14,375
Average – $18,025
High – $19,400
*Prices courtesy of NADA
No Avelate Corvette parts are available.
2002 Corvette Parts:
Steering knuckle $339.99
Rear control arm $$80.99
Front brake rotor $89.99
Weatherstrip kit $1,899.99
Steering wheel $533.99
*Prices courtesy of Corvette Parts Worldwide
The Complete Book of Corvette by Mike Mueller
Corvette by Tom Benford and James Mann
Corvette Fifty Years by Randy Leffingwell
Corvette C5 (Sports Car Color History) by Patrick C. Paternie
The Corvette Factories: Building Americas Sports Car by Mike Mueller
The Avelate Corvette was arguably the most well proportioned aftermarket designed Corvette based sports car. Stunning from every angle, its retro lines took an already world class vehicle up a few notches. Their value undoubtedly will continue to rise.
Ron Rivette’s Corvette Avelate
Text and Photography by Joe Greeves
There is always something intriguing about rarity. The fewer there are of something, the more sought after they become. If you like jewelry, you’ll probably be captivated by the Hope Diamond. Are you interested in an exotic vacation? Sign up for Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne sub orbital adventures. Love cars? The sky is the limit in the automotive world but there are a few exotics that even the most up-to-speed enthusiast might find surprising. The Corvette has long been America’s sports car and it has evolved from the mid-’50s into a car with world-class, super car performance at an affordable price. There are a select group of individuals however, who view the end of the factory assembly line as a starting point, capitalizing on the car’s good points and adding their own special spin.
While some might consider it heresy to alter the design of this automotive icon, the Avelate diverts the tide of torch-carrying villagers marching on corporate headquarters by incorporating styling cues from several different years, offering recognizable reminders of past designs. You can see side coves popular in the Gen 1 versions, the tail is reminiscent of Gen 2, there are similarities in the front end to Gen 3 cars, and there’s an overall atmosphere of the Mako Shark styling that caused ripples in the automotive world back in 1961. Handled badly, this mix-and-match format could have resulted in a Frankenstein-like collection but the genius of the Avelate crew is apparent, imparting a new, yet familiar look to an old favorite.
Ron Rivette is also intrigued with rarity. A businessman and active automotive enthusiast living in St. Augustine, Florida, Ron has owned dozens of cars over the years with about 20 in his current collection. His recently acquired Corvette Avelate ranks with some of the very best and that includes his 1999 Ferrari 355 Spyder F1. Ron discovered the Avelate at the RM Auction in Palm Beach this year and jumped at the chance of buying this very limited production car. His is based on a 2002 Corvette Coupe that was a highly capable car even before the Avelate team worked their magic. The Electron Blue car runs a 350 V-8 that is more than powerful enough to transport its owners in style. Although very little information came with the car, Ron feels there have been several modifications to both the engine and suspension since it accelerates and handles significantly better than other Corvettes in his collection.
While the Corvette lines are unmistakable, there are lots of unique styling touches like the aggressive spoiler with its Mako-Shark-style teeth and side coves from the first generation cars. The handcrafted fiberglass body is beautifully finished, retaining just a small handful of original items like the lower valence, door handles, and mirrors. Everything else is new. The 2002 Avelate body style incorporates retractable headlights, side coves, and a Targa top with a rare split window fast back that pays tribute to the one-year-only design of the legendary ’63 Stingray, considered one of the most collectable of all Corvettes. The rear of the car displays a traditional four-taillight package along with an aggressive-looking quad exhaust system. While there may not be much room for storage in the rear hatch, it’s typically not a problem since most Corvette owners have learned to simply travel with a credit card and a smile!
Styling cues from several ’Vette generations were incorporated but the blend of retro and contemporary upgrades were more than just cosmetic. Five-spoke, 17-inch rims provide plenty of room for the oversized disk brakes where the Goodyear Eagle radials add style and traction. Obvious attention was paid to aerodynamics and air management with Ron attesting to the fact that the car is unusually stable at very high speeds. (Did we mention that the car has a 200 MPH speedometer?)
Inside, passengers are pampered by a pair of custom tailored leather bucket seats, done in the same Electron Blue shade to match the exterior. The Avelate logo appears on the seats and threshold plates. The Targa top provides the best of both worlds with sedan comfort and air-conditioning, then stowing easily in the rear hatch for open-air driving.
How does Ron like the car? “I feel that everything they’ve done to the car has been a positive addition,” he told us. “They’ve made a great car just that much better.” Ron plans to drive and enjoy the car for quite a while but he may not stop there. He has his eye on another Avelate, this one a convertible that just might become the next addition to the Rivette collection.