“If it doesn’t sell today, it’s going to the scrap yard tomorrow.”
Depending on your viewpoint, hearing these words while trying to negotiate a deal for a car is either a very good thing or a very bad thing. Glass half full, the price is probably cheap; glass half empty, the car might be more trouble than it’s worth.
But what is life without risk? Boring, that’s what. John Ludwick Jr. is many things, but boring is not one of them.
In my conversations with John, about both this car and his Zhiguli, I got to know the man behind the wheel just a little bit. The first thing I observed is that he’s an incredibly busy person – he returned my calls, emails and texts from at least three different time zones over a 10-day period.
John’s so busy, simply because he’s always creating. Bikes to cars, cars to laser engraving – Mr. Ludwick takes great pride in making things his own.
An internal desire to modify and refine influences nearly all of his life choices, car selection not withstanding. The need to create was instilled by his father, someone who, like son, has a hard time leaving things as the factory intended.
Today, John and his father draw inspiration from each other. If one has an idea, no matter how far-fetched, the other is grabbing the tools to make it happen.
Don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t are words that hold no real value in the Ludwick family garage.Nobody’s Perfect
The Chevrolet Corvair is a very imperfect car, but not one without charm. Built to compete with various German air-cooled cars of the era, the Corvair was the first GM car with a motor housed behind the front windshield.
Despite being the subject of a rather unflattering book titled Unsafe at Any Speed, the Corvair wasn’t a complete failure. These cars have a cult following today, and the turbocharged variants are rumored to be quite fun to drive. Or at least as fun as a domestic car with a
blow draw-through turbo setup can be.
For John, his love for the platform came from a neighbor that lived up the way. Neighbor Ted had a Corvair of his own, but it was no ordinary model. Ted dug the lines of the Corvair, but not the lackluster power-plant it came with. However, that problem was soon solved with eight cylinders of American small block power.
Ted later went on to pair the V8 swap with a proper suspension package before mass-producing the entire package under the brand Crown Manufacturing.
When Crown eventually shut its doors roughly 1,500 swap kits later, Ted retired back to New Hampshire with his original test vehicle. Ted loved that car and made sure the entire town knew it as he drove up and down the local drag at a decent clip. On one such instance, a young John saw the car and an interest was born.
John admits that as he got older, and more into German cars, the idea of an air-cooled domestic car intrigued him more than a V8-powered one, but he acknowledges Ted’s car as an inspiration nonetheless.
Looking on and off for a Corvair ever since, the perfect car was discovered one night while cruising Craigslist. Original blue paint fighting its way back to the surface through a hastily done brown respray, this car had character unlike any other he’d seen listed for sale. A few days later when the owner offered up the quote that started this article off, the Corvair’s return to the street was set in motion.Off With His Head
In the world of Corvairs you’d be hard pressed to find many lower than this (somewhat ironically, any close have already been featured here). The ride height contributes to its stature, sure, but the roof chop is what really sets this car apart.
John and his father always thought a Corvair would look great with a little chopped off the top, and despite neither having performed one before, both were willing to give it a proper go.
I asked how much the roof had been chopped and John hesitated only slightly before responding with “enough”. I’m not quite sure if that’s a metric or imperial measure, but “enough” certainly makes a drastic difference to the car’s overall profile.
When a roof of this design is chopped, its overall dimensions change. In short, they get longer. To complete the chop, John and his father had to cut up a second Corvair for the sheetmetal required to fill the gap. The added material can been seen grafted on behind the metal strip that runs from drip rail to drip rail in the photos above.
With the roof dimensions changed, the stock glass had no hope of fitting. The rear screen is acrylic and was shaped in a home-built wood oven. Once warmed to a workable temperature, the acrylic was laid over the stock rear glass then cut to fit the new roof.
Acrylic works for the rear, but wasn’t a suitable option for the windshield. So, with mere days before starting on a drive from New Hampshire to Georgia, John and his father set forth to cut the original glass.
Typically when cutting a windshield to size new glass is used, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Cutting the weather-worn glass mostly went to plan, save for two cracks that unfortunately appeared right in the driver’s line of sight. Swapping the windshield for a new one has been on the post-completion to-do list ever since, however, it’s not a simple remove and reinstall, so it’s easy to see why it still remains unaddressed. Pick your battles and all that.Selective Preservation
Inside, what’s left of the stock interior is original to the car. This is impressive considering the Corvair was last registered in 1973, and remained completely neglected until the moment John dragged it from the ground it had sunk into.
The seats, however, couldn’t stay stock as they no longer fit from an aesthetic or ergonomic standpoint. Those in the car today are pressed aluminum pieces made by Rotten Leonard, and feature ornate side plates, authentic rivets, and minimalist upholstery. More importantly, they can be mounted in the car as low as possible negating any head clearance issues caused by the roof chop.
Having put miles upon miles on the car, John says they’re actually pretty comfortable as well, making them a very functional aesthetic modification.
The rest of the interior has been modified in a fashion that puts everything you may need exactly where you’d need it. Where a dome light is more typically found, John has mounted a fuse panel. Slots closest to the windshield are in use, while those in the rear hold spares. Right above the driver’s line of sight, switches have been added to control interior lighting, a pair of compressors, and 12V auxiliary power sources.
As a shout-out to his long-time project collaborators Air Lift Performance, John stuck the 3H management control module where a radio would have previously been housed. Replacing the tape-driven soundtrack is the tinny echo of 1965 sheetmetal battling the ground as it whizzes by underfoot.
If you were expecting some sort of complex motor swap under the engine cover, I’m sorry to disappoint. This Corvair’s engine is factory stock. Running like a top after a slight tune up, John has seen no need to change it. Instead, the lion’s share of this car’s mechanical work lays in the suspension.
Getting the car as low as it is required custom control arms, upper and lower bag brackets, and even notching the uni-body a significant amount.Impeccable Taste
If there’s a constant among John’s builds – other than a low ride height – it’s impeccable wheel choices. At one point this car wore more traditional – Chevy traditional - five-spoke Cragars, but he’s since replaced them with five-spoke Southern Way Epsilon wheels.
Shockingly, in the 1980s it was possible to order Epsilon wheels specced for a C4 Corvette straight from General Motors. These wheels came from such a Corvette, and were run for a few years before the owner replaced them with something else.
After not seeing the light of day for 20 years, John managed to scoop them up, give them a light polish, and toss them under the Corvair.Talking Point
Since resurrecting the Corvair, John has driven the car a lot - much more than you’d expect a car of this custom nature to be driven. Being such a simple car has its advantages too, and thus far it’s needed little more than fluid changes to be completely content.
Its simplicity and character also makes it one of ‘those’ cars that draws gear-heads out of the woodwork wherever it goes. This isn’t a car that people just drive by; it’s one people make u-turns for in hopes of a second glance and a conversation with the owner.
John welcomes these conversations with a smile, as they’re the ones he values most among the car community.
Like-minded individuals chatting about what drives them and what lays on the horizon – we’ve all had conversations like this that leave us motivated to tackle the next, even larger project.
I’m not sure if it’s proper form to cheers with a coffee – especially a Dunkin’ coffee – but I’d like to offer up John a cheers of my own for building cars that are as enjoyable to look at as they are to write about.
Hey Keiron, can you go shoot his Beetle-panned 700 now?
Photography by Keiron Berndt