A '65 His Way

Charlie Burga’s Midyear restomod serves up modern performance and comfort in a thoroughly classic package

Photo: A '65 His Way 2
July 21, 2022

Charlie Burga retired in December 2011 after a 42-year career with a major medical company. He was healthy, financially secure, and ready to stop working, but there was one dilemma. “I did a good job of planning my retirement from a financial perspective,” he recalls, “but I didn’t really have a plan about what I would do with all of that found time.”

Any danger of boredom was quickly obviated, however, when a pal inspired Burga by example. “A friend was in the middle of building a C2 restomod and that caught my eye,” he says. “He encouraged me to build a custom Corvette based on my experience restoring my ’65 convertible.”

Burga had enjoyed refurbishing the Midyear in question but wasn’t especially keen on repeating the process. “The car I restored has loud side pipes and no air conditioning,” he tells us, “so it’s lots of fun for the first hour. After that my six-foot, five-inch frame starts getting leg pains, my ears ring, and the sweat runs down my back.” After seeing what his friend was doing, Burga resolved to build a classic Corvette with the comfort of a new model.

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Burga restored the cabin himself, smoothing various surfaces and applying generous amounts of stitched red vinyl.

Burga considers C2 coupes the most beautiful Corvettes ever designed, so he began searching for a suitable Sting Ray to build the car of his dreams. After a few months of looking he found an excellent specimen in a small mountain community outside of Denver. It was a ’65 coupe that had been disassembled three years prior by a man planning to build a mild hot rod. He got as far as taking everything apart and accumulating lots of new parts—including a full interior from Al Knoch, chrome bumpers, an Ididit tilt steering column, a ’67 big-block hood, parking and taillight assemblies, door handles, and so on—but then the project stalled and he lost interest.

The disassembled car was an excellent launching pad for a modernized Midyear, but there was one thing that gave Burga pause initially. “This was an original fuel-injected car,” he says, “so I felt bad that it wouldn’t be restored as such.” His feelings of guilt were assuaged, however, when he learned that the car’s owner had already sold the entire FI system and rebuilt the car’s 327 engine with non-stock parts.

Burga had already mapped out his build plan and knew he’d install an LS3, so he had no use for the hot-rodded small-block. Fortunately, the seller was willing to keep the engine and lower the car’s price accordingly. After the deal was finalized, Burga had one more challenge before heading back home to Florida: He had to prepare his newly acquired and completely disassembled car for shipping.

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“Before I left Colorado I managed to build a wooden dolly with caster wheels and attach it under the body and bare frame,” he recalls. “At least the car could then be pushed around.” His efforts yielded the desired result, and in January 2013 the car and all of its parts were delivered to his residence in Fort Lauderdale.

To fulfill his vision for a mostly stock-appearing car with upgraded performance and amenities, Burga bought an SRIII Motorsports tubular chassis fitted with C5 front and C4 rear suspension parts, a C4 Dana 36 differential fitted with 3.08:1 gears, C4 rack-and-pinion steering, C5 disc brakes, and Viking two-way adjustable coil-overs at all four corners. He then completed the assembly with custom-bent, stainless-steel fuel and brake lines.

Propulsion comes from an LS3 Burga bought new in 2014. Out of the box, this smooth-running and clean-burning engine delivers 436 net horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 428 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm (as installed in a C6). Besides providing considerably more output than the car’s original 375-horse (gross) Fuelie engine, the LS3 offers countless other benefits, including quicker response, a much broader power band, better thermal stability, and less mass.

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Internally stock LS3 is a cozy fit in the original engine compartment.

For optimum packaging, Burga went with a Vintage Air polished front-runner drive system. Thanks to its compact alternator, power-steering pump, and A/C compressor, the setup fit the C2 engine compartment without issue.

Exhaust from the LS3 is channeled through stock manifolds to custom, 2.5-inch steel pipes and low-restriction Magnaflow mufflers. Equipped with custom resonators, the system provides a deep, throaty exhaust note that Burga says is subdued enough for long trips.

The all-aluminum engine is coupled to a ProFit3 Tremec five-speed gearbox from American Powertrain. Unlike the four-speed the ’65 originally came with, this modern transmission offers a sufficient gear-ratio range to facilitate both off-the-line launches and low-rpm highway cruising. Inside the car, the stock look Burga wanted is preserved with an original-style shifter designed to work with the Tremec box. Shifting, meanwhile, is noticeably improved compared with a stock Midyear by virtue of an American Powertrain hydraulic-clutch system.

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SRIII chassis employs an extensive list of aftermarket and late-model stock hardware, including adjustable coil-overs and a C4 rear end.

While his SRIII chassis was under construction, Burga went to work on the car’s body. After building another wooden dolly high enough to allow him to work underneath it, he put in a lot of hours using a heat gun and scraper to remove a thick, tar-like undercoating that someone had assiduously applied to the underside. Once that task was completed, he executed a series of well-conceived modifications designed to make the car more comfortable for his long frame. “I cut out the driver-side foot well and re-glassed it to remove the angle,” he explains. “The firewall is now just straight down, which adds about five inches of additional floor space.

Other alterations were required in order for the body to work with the new chassis. “I had to do some cutting and re-glassing of the front inner fenders to accommodate the C5 A-arm suspension,” Burga says, “and I cut out the storage wells behind the seats and flattened the rear floor to provide clearance for the C4 suspension and C6 wheels.”

To improve the car’s cosmetics, Burga removed and glassed over the side vents behind each door for a cleaner look. He used a similar treatment on the hole for the factory antenna, which was no longer needed thanks to the new antenna installed inside the ceiling above the passenger door. He also cut out the firewall indentation that housed the windshield wiper motor and glassed over the hole to leave a flat firewall. Finally, he modified the rear valance to accommodate four exhaust tips beneath the license-plate area.

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To make sure there was sufficient clearance for the suspension, steering, and wheels—the latter of which are shod with 255/45ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires all around—the body was installed onto the chassis several times while the fiberglass work was being performed. The repeated installations and removals also enabled Burga to perfect the fit of the door and hood.

When purchased, the car was wearing white paint that Burga had no intention of reusing. The normally unpleasant and time-consuming task of removing it was simplified when Burga discovered that he could gently scrape the finish off with a razor blade. “I didn’t want to bead blast for fear of body damage, and I thought chemical strippers could seep into the fiberglass and remain there, so I decided to use razors. Once I developed my technique, it was easy—the paint came right off and left all the primer.”

After the body modifications were finished and all of the paint was removed, Burga coated the interior and underside with LizardSkin, a spray-on coating designed to reduce noise inside the car. For additional sound and heat insulation, he also covered most of the interior fiberglass panels with HushMat.

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The final exterior paint prep was entrusted to S & B Auto Care in Oakland Park, Florida. The technicians there primed, block-sanded, and sealed the body before applying Spies Hecker two-stage urethane top coats. The C7 Blade Silver paint is beautifully complemented by Torch Red for the hood stinger and painted interior surfaces.

After the paint process was completed, Burga got to work on the electronics. The engine was dialed in with a stock Chevrolet Performance LS3 harness and controller, but a plethora of added electronic components—including the aforementioned A/C, a modern stereo system, a backup camera, and much more—required some creativity. To gain all of the needed additional circuits, Burga utilized an EZ Wiring harness and fuse-block system, which more than doubled the capacity offered by the stock ’65 parts.

Once finished with the complex wiring and related components, Burga turned his attention to the car’s interior. As with the body, he preserved a mostly stock appearance but made a number of meaningful changes. “I glassed over the dash-speaker hole and installed speakers in the doors,” he says. “The entire dash was covered in red vinyl with French stitching, [and] additional speakers were installed behind each rear wheel well.”

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The rear wall of the interior was covered in the same material as the dash, further receiving a likeness of “Jake,” the Corvette Racing team mascot. A custom console, designed and fabricated by Burga, got the red-vinyl treatment as well, as did a custom shifter boot.

The car was completed in February of 2019, and its first outing was an NCRS regional meet in Lakeland, Florida, where it was entered in the then-new Concours judging category for modified cars. In testimony to its design and workmanship, Burga’s Corvette lost only two points and easily received the highest-level award.

Though the project took six years and a lot of hard work, innovative engineering, and money, Burga has no regrets. “Although the custom nature of the project was very challenging,” he reflects, “it was also very creatively satisfying. I reached out to others who had gone down this same path, and they shared their knowledge and experience, which gave me the confidence to carry on alone.” In particular he credits Corvette builder Mike Coletta, who allowed Burga to visit his shop and “pick his brain” about the particulars of the build.

“Unlike an NCRS car, you have no book to go by [with a restomod],” Burga says of the build process. “You implement your idea, and just when you think it’s done, you get another idea on how to do it better. It never really stops, but in the end, it’s all worth it.

“This is a comfortable, classic long-distance cruiser…and the result is summed up in my vanity plate: 65MYWAY.”

Also from Issue 156

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  • Street/Strip '57 Custom
  • Duntov "Continuation" Grand Sport
  • Market Report: Performance Buys
  • Berger Big-Block '69
  • Racing: Midseason Update
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