Q:

I want to restore a Corvette that has lost its original engine at some time in the past. What are the ethics of replacing the engine with a re-stamped one?


A:

As you have found, factory original examples of early Corvettes are rare today, unless you purchase a car that has already been restored and certified to be correct. It seems that most all of them have had a long history of use and abuse.


Because of all the years of modifications it is increasingly necessary to re-construct these early cars in order to get them into factory specifications again.


The restoration process is a long, difficult and expensive one. In addition, there is some controversy in so far as the engine numbers and originality. I believe that this stems from the suspicions that a car might be a counterfeit. That is, a car might have been restored to a specification different from the one it came with from the factory.


As an example, if you were to take a base engine car, with an automatic transmission, and rebuild it with a fuel injected, high performance engine with a four-speed transmission, you would have created a counterfeit car. This car would probably have more value in the marketplace than the original base engine one, and therefore, you can see the temptation to change the equipment to increase the dollar value. Still, this car didn't come originally with this engine and transmission, and therefore it is not restored, it is modified. The dictionary definition of restoration is to put back as original. Since this car is not returned to original condition, it is not restored, but modified. If, on the other hand, you have a Corvette, which has been separated from its original engine, but you know exactly what engine it originally had, you could obtain another engine block with the original casting number and date, and re-stamp the original numbers into the pad, ending up with a restored engine car. The engine had to be replaced because it had become unusable or unavailable, just the same as the carpet or the exhaust system. This car would be restored, not counterfeit. It would have restored paint, chrome plating, window glass, seat upholstery, weather-strip rubber, tires and everything else, just like all the other restored Corvettes.


Some people in the Corvette hobby use the judging process to identify cars that they think are counterfeit. To some judges, any re-stamped engine pad is a counterfeit. There is a great deal of time and energy spent during judging to try to determine if the stamped in, or cast in numbers are original or not. When this becomes obsessive, it brings suspicion to the judging field, and sometimes causes a lot of acrimony.


I can understand why a judge would want to identify a counterfeit car, but I fear that this practice has grown into such a widespread game that often judges spend hours comparing and discussing and scrutinizing and dissecting the engine numbers that they end up out of balance with the judging of the rest of the car, and the purpose for which they are there. Nowhere else in the car is so much time and energy focused.


This is why many owners and restorers are confused and unsure as to how to restore a non-original engine car. You say that you want to have something as close to original as possible. You ask if you were to purchase a Corvette with a 350 engine, could you find a 283 engine block and "bring it back to original?" I would answer YES. You would be doing exactly what the Corvette hobby is all about. That is, protecting and preserving the marque for future generations of people to enjoy.