I want to restore an early Corvette. What kind of problems can I expect?


So, you want to restore a Corvette. I remember when I started my restoration. 

It was in the fall of 1981.

I actually drove the car, a Fuel Injected, 1962 Corvette, into my shop to repair a front turn signal that wasn’t working. I removed the screws holding the chrome ring around the glass lens, and removed the lens. When I tried to remove the light bulb, it was stuck in the socket. The socket had rusted solid, and it was impossible to replace the bulb.

When I finally realized that the socket was designed to be one piece with the housing, I could see that I was going to have to replace the entire light assembly. Since the light was still available, I decided to order a pair. Might as well do it right, I thought.

When I went to unplug the wires to the main harness, I discovered that the connectors were so badly corroded that it was not going to be possible to plug the new wires into the original harness. Actually, as I inspected the wiring at the front of the car, I could see that it looked more like a bird’s nest than like a wire loom. Wires were everywhere. Connections were made by twisting wires together as though they had been connected in an emergency, without the tools or supplies to do it right. Masking tape was used instead of electrical tape. If that wasn’t bad enough, I noticed that one horn was hanging from the wire like a pendulum. Every time I would accelerate, the horn would swing back and hit the radiator, and every time I would brake, the horn would swing forward and hit the grille.

On the other side, the horn mounting plate, which was originally riveted into the fiberglass inner fender, was rusted to the bolt holding the horn. When I tried to remove the bolt from the bracket, the entire mounting plate tore loose from the fiberglass panel and turned in circles. There was no way I could remove the horn from the car. The bolt and retainer plate twisted around, but it couldn’t be removed from the car.

OK, so I needed new horns, a fiberglass repair to the inner fenders, horn mounting plates, turn signals and a wiring harness, right?

After I got used to all that, I decided that I wanted to change one burned out headlamp, and adjust them so they wouldn’t shine up into the trees.

As I tried to remove the bad headlight, I could see that the headlight mounting brackets and aiming hardware were in such bad condition that the job was impossible. I could get the old one out, but, I would never be able to get the new one properly mounted in the headlight bucket, which had been bent completely out of shape. Also, the adjusters, which were made of plastic, were so badly aged and brittle that when I tried to turn the screws, they would splinter. Once again, I found that it would take a lot more than just routine maintenance to get the headlights to function as they were intended. 

I could tell you about the tail lights, and the clutch, and the exhaust system rattling incessantly against the frame. I could tell you how my clothes would smell like raw gasoline after driving the car.

I could tell you how the car would wander all over the road.  I had to concentrate to keep it from ending up in a ditch.

Speaking of going straight, let me tell you about the brakes. To say that the car pulled would have been an understatement. I never knew where it would go. Sometimes it would dart to the right. Sometimes it would veer to the left. Sometimes the pedal would sink right down to the floor.  I would grab for the parking brake handle, or downshift to a lower gear to slow the car down, all the while trying to keep the car from wandering off of the road.

The clutch pedal would squawk like a duck whenever I used it, and then it would stick to the floor. I had to pry it up with the toe of my shoe.

Sometimes, when I would press the dimmer switch, the headlights would go off altogether. It was quite a thrill to be going along on a country road at night and have the headlights suddenly go off. 

The gasoline gage was like a game. Every time I looked at it, it would say something different. Sometimes it seemed like it was gaining on gasoline, and then, all of a sudden, it would show empty. This was always when there wasn’t a station in miles. Actually, I never did run out of gas, it seems like the smell lingering in the upholstery was enough to keep it going long enough to get to the next town.

Then there was the little issue of rain leaks. If I got caught in the rain, the water would come in from all sides. I always kept a towel next to me, but I soon found that the water was only part of the problem. The windows would fog up so badly that even if you could wipe up the water fast enough, it was impossible to see out. The defrosters were a joke. Any air that was propelled by the blower motor went up my pant leg. I really can’t blame the defrosters too much because I actually never got to turn them on. The pull cables were so rusted that when I would pull on the knob, it would come off in my hand.

The wipers wouldn’t go on, and then, when I finally held my tongue just right, they wouldn’t go off.

I can tell you this; I didn’t need any windshield washers. There was plenty of water.

So how does all of this pertain to the subject of this class you ask?

The answer is simple. If you want restore your early Corvette, you need all the help you can get. There are plenty of problems, and none of them are going to go away by themselves. Each problem must be addressed, and handled on its own. This attention to detail is what makes for a winning car, one with lasting value. A winning car is a compliment to the owner.

Fortunately, we have many dedicated people who will be willing to help you with the job. Sometimes it’s just a little advice. Sometimes it will require the assistance of a technician to get the results you need.

All in all, it should be a positive experience. It should be fun. If it isn’t, we’re doing it wrong.

This hobby isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of time, money, patience and determination to get one of these cars restored correctly. Ask any one who has done it.

The good news is that, every problem has a solution, and, winning cars come from winning people.