Finished in blue with a matching interior and based upon a thoroughly modern 2002 Corvette, this remarkable vehicle is number five of only eleven Avelate Split Rear Window coupes produced. While the manufacturer is no longer building the car, some say that this custom is a look into Corvette’s future.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:2002 Corvette Avelate Coupe
Years Produced:1997–2004 (for the C5 Corvette)
Number Produced:11 Avelate Split Windows
Original List Price:About $100,000 for the Avelate Split Window. The list price for the 2002 C5 Coupe was $41,680
SCM Valuation:$15,000–$22,000 (for C5 Corvettes)
Tune Up Cost:$500
Distributor Caps:N/A (coil-pack ignition)
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side dashboard at base of windshield
Engine Number Location:Pad forward of cylinder head on right side
Club Info:Corvette Club of America P.O. Box 9879 Bowling Green, KY 42102
Alternatives:1990–96 Corvette C4 2005–11 Corvette C6 1997–2004 Ford Mustang GT convertible
Investment Grade:D

This car, Lot 411, sold for $41,800, including buyer’s premium, at the Auctions America by RM sale in Fort Lauderdale, FL on March 5, 2011.

A little over a decade ago, Michigan-based independent automotive designer and retired GM stylist Don Johnson got together with world-renowned Pacific Northwest customizer Dean “Dino” Arnold to create their custom version of a true 21st Century custom Corvette.

Both Johnson and Arnold were somewhat surprised by the degree of interest shown from enthusiast and media outlets—and the public. Arnold was already famous in Washington’s custom and hot rod scene, while Johnson, whose tenure at General Motors spanned 1969 to 1984, had played a significant role in Camaro and Corvette design during that period.

The combined talents of these two resulted in a number of Corvette customs that bear the name Avelate.

It did not take these two long to begin creating body molds and working on their first C5-based Avelate, with the idea of building multiple cars. Their designs soon grew from one concept to four: The Roadster, Convertible, Split Window and the “Fifty-Three,” which is a tribute to the first Corvettes. All these custom cars were built on the Corvette C5 platform.

The first Avelate—a maroon Speedster—debuted at the Seattle Roadster Show in March 2000 and offered styling that was quite aggressive—yet kept with the overall styling of the Corvette. The car also featured top-tier build quality.

A little of this, a little of that

The high-quality conversion incorporated a handful of styling cues that harked back to almost every generation of America’s Sports Car. The side scallops remind one of the mid-late C1, the pointed rear of the C2, the front end is akin to that of a C3 and the grille is loosely based on the first-year 1953 Corvette. Rounded out with more than a hint of Mako Shark throughout, the handcrafted fiberglass body is extremely well finished. Of the original body with which the C5 Corvette left the assembly line, only the interior lower valance was kept—along with the door handles and mirrors.

The word of this custom Corvette soon spread, and Johnson and Arnold made their way to Southern California to tempt the television, movie and commercial advertising studios into featuring their car in productions.

The aspirations of these two were high, but after building only a few examples of each model, Dean Arnold filed for bankruptcy in 2004, and Avelate Automotive soon devolved into Avelate Coachworks, LLC. The company sold body kits for the Roadster and Split-Window variants.

Arnold said their intent had been to build 100 cars per year, yet only 25 were produced during 2001, 2002 and 2003. Arnold blamed the economic downturn immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks—and the inevitable delays and differences between clients’ wishes and reality—for the downfall of the company.

Unloved changes

However, the Avelate may have fallen foul of one simple tenet among Corvette enthusiasts—wholesale changes from factory models are unforgivable. And changes that added to the price are liked even less.

For example, the majority of Corvette purists gave the higher price tag of Corvette’s own ZR-1—made from 1990 to 1995—the cold shoulder, and they didn’t embrace the ZR-1’s European-designed, overhead-cam V8 engine.

Other Corvette customizers—from Eckler’s to Callaway—have also felt the pinch of the recent economic downturn, despite their relatively longer histories in the Corvette and racing worlds. In the end, those who believed that any deviations from cars built in Corvette’s Bowling Green plant were marquee transgressions were not about to pay even more for a modified car.

Johnson and Arnold may have felt that their combined panache—along with their standing in the West Coast-based tradition of customizing cars—would give them a chance at making their small run. They were wrong.

A glimpse of the future?

Personally, I rather like the look of the 2002 Avelate Split-Window that sold at Auctions America’s Fort Lauderdale sale for many of the reasons that encouraged both Arnold and Johnson to do what they did.

The car might be a bit over the top, even by Corvette standards, but that is part of the appeal of these powerful machines. The unusual and attractive shade of light blue with a coordinating interior, along with a 6-speed manual transmission coupled to the LS1 engine, is compelling.

ll the styling details that went into this ill-fated tribute to almost every Corvette ever made still beg this question: Why did GM make the C5 such a plain-looking car? As a teachable moment for Corvette designers, showing them what the C5 could have been, this car was a very fair buy for a thoughtful collector—and it sold squarely in the middle of the estimate range.

This car could even be considered slightly well bought, especially as the debut of the C7 generation Corvette nears. After all, that car is rumored to share many of the same styling cues Avelate produced more than a decade earlier.

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