It’s been 2 years since Project Corvette was parked on jack stands and literally torn apart. I've owned it going on 5 years and in more than half of those, the tires were hoisted and dormant, a frightening reminder that when it comes to muscle cars (old classics, for that matter), a mechanic’s work is never done.
It’s been a long journey, but Project Corvette recently reached a milestone: It’s back on the road.
Words can hardly describe the feelings of owning a muscle car… and actually driving it once again.
Juggling that fine line between limited seat time (cruising) and down time (restoration) is a quandary enthusiasts are all too familiar with.
Admittedly, owning a classic Corvette had become a chore. Many times I’d hesitate, even avoid, the garage door. It’s hard not to let the pressure to get back on the road get to you. After a long day at the office, the last thing you want to do is slide underneath the floorboards and face another grueling session into the wee hours of the night.
It’s easy to give in, just plug along in your daily commuter, being content to fill ‘r up and change the fluids once in a while. With old cars, it takes so much more discipline and work just to keep the faith. All too often, there’s never enough time or money to get something done instantly.
Most of the time those so-called little projects are inspiring and motivational. But too many things snowball (like a simple transmission overhaul that turns into full-blown chassis resto). Weeks turn into months and before you know it, years later the project languishes in the corner stall zapping the fun out of ownership.
The whole point of owning a classic is to enjoy the driving experience. The flip-side is old cars need constant attention. One way or another, if they break down or simply need some refurbishment, you're in deep when holding the keys to a classic.
Now with Project Corvette having a new lease on life, the so-called test drive made me reflect on all the sacrifices I've made over the years. Truthfully, I would have never imagined it would've taken this amount of work or years of down time.
Writing it down on paper magically puts it all in perspective. There’s nothing like a laundry list of repair bills to recap how much work has been accomplished. Unfortunately, it also reflects the dollar amounts associated with each task, which adds up. As usual, it really doesn't show the whole picture, as your time and labor is never factored in.
In the end, Project Corvette represents more than a dollar amount. The majority of the work I handled myself which saved me literally thousands. But I still spent way more than I ever imaged and it took three times as long as originally planned.
In a cathartic sense, then, this article is a tribute to all those restorers who have spent countless hours breaking their backs, tirelessly working towards one common goal: Just trying to build a cool daily driver they can be proud of. On a tight budget, at that.
Follow along with all the details. Perhaps reading this article will give you a break and inspire your project's finish.
In the end, it’s all worth it.
Project Corvette is a 1971 coupe powered by the LS5 454 engine. A Turbo Hydromatic 400 automatic transmission transfers the torque to 3.08 gears with a limited slip differential.
A recap of Project Corvette’s journey to respectability:
Carpet set installed, along with Eastwood Sound and Heat Thermal barrier.
Console restored, new dials, wire controls for heater/AC/fiber optics.
Heater core replacement (Big block with Air Conditioning is no fun).
Seat-back adjustment/bottoms repaired (ongoing).
Vacuum hose system rebuilt with new relays and actuators (still tracing a leak).
Complete front suspension rebuilt (rubber bushings, installed with new hardware/bolt kit.)
Driveshaft sanded and painted, rebuilt with new, solid (non-greasable) U-joints.
New front differential bushing mount (rubber).
Borgeson power steering conversion kit (hose and pump issue to resolve).
Corvette Central 2-1/2” aluminized dual exhaust system (replaced sidepipes).
Swapped to 10” rear spring bolts from 8” on older replacement 7-leaf HD spring (corrected ride height).
Uninstalled, re-installed shock mounts (after adjustable strut kit would not fit spindle carriers).
Complete 4-wheel alignment.
Replaced front rotors, riveted hubs per factory assembly.
Installed stainless steel sleeved calipers and braided lines, new pads.
Replaced leaky front hard line.
Replaced original/shot emergency brake cable bushing with new stock item.
Repaired and restored stock oil pan, painted Chevy Orange.
Replaced oil pan gasket and rear main seal (Fel-Pro units).
Installed new flexplate (original had teeth missing).
Distributor: Pertronix electronic conversion with a tune up (spark plugs, wires, cap)
Installed new, stock oil sending line and unit.
Rebuilt stock TH400 automatic transmission, including welding a crack in the case.
Restored TH400 crossmember.
Original, mushy trans mount replaced with new stock rubber unit.
Lower speedometer cable replaced.
Column shift lock cable replaced missing original.
Transmission cooling lines repaired.
Removed original, tired fuel tank, sending unit.
Installed new repo tank, sending unit, straps, hoses.
New spread-bore Q-jet replacement Holley fitted to stock intake.
New fiberglass tunnel heat shield barrier installed.
New Positive battery cable (replaced cracked original)
New starter, wrapped with fiberglass cloth heat shield.
Replaced upper radiator hose, new water neck housing.
New thermostat installed.
Installed all new heater coolant lines.
Used stock tower clamps and correct-looking markings where applicable.
Drained and flushed fluids.
Removed stock PO2 Deluxe wheel covers, fitted trim rings and Rally caps on stock 8” wheels.