1963 Corvette: It can only be original once

Rebuilding a 1963 Corvette: You can restore a car a thousand times, but it will be… original just once.

*Part 7 of our East Coast Garage series on rebuilding a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. Click here for Part 1.

 

Decisions, decisions.

It would seem there really aren’t all that many when restoring a vehicle. The road map is right there in front of you. Paint code? Check. Engine casting numbers? Check. Start tearing everything apart and don’t stop until every part is back to original condition. Check.

Now hit the road with it.

Ah, but there’s the rub. If you realize that it’s only original once, then you can never, ever get back to original. What really matters, then, when it comes to a restoration is that it looks brand new and, for the most part, correct. For the most part? Hey, no matter how hard you try, something somewhere will not be quite the way it looked when it came from the factory.

But when embarking on a project such as a 1963 Corvette with significant historic and monetary value, the first thought is to keep it as original as possible, drum brakes, orange-peel paint and all.

You’ll see plenty of changes to originality here, but if you have to replace parts, which makes it non-original anyway, why not use better stuff, like the Bilstein sport shocks, much stronger control arms and better paint products. I want the restoration to last a long time and be more drivable than the original car was.

 

The most valuable, in terms of originality, are cars that have never been touched.

That is highly desirable, low-volume, nearly perfect cars that have never been touched. These are cars we commonly refer to as survivors. No, a rusty original beater sitting in a field is not a survivor as many sellers will profess in their classified ads. And our wrong-colour (red), hit-on-every-panel ’63 Corvette coupe was also not a survivor.

The car was complete, however, meaning I wouldn’t have to hunt for parts. Or so I thought.

Unless it was in a time capsule, a six-decade-old car will need soft parts, such as seals, seat covers, grommets, wiring harnesses and carpet. That’s just the way it is.

 

But does replacing the entire interior and suspension make the car any less valuable or desirable? Of course not. It’s the look of originality and the quality of the restoration that matters and the fact they don’t make them anymore.

The more comprehensive the restoration is, the less originality there is. It’s a pickle, I know, but there are no rules, so do what you like.

 

The bottom line is that it’s your money and your car and you really don’t owe history, critics or anyone else anything at all.

You can try to cater to originality or what would bring the best price when it comes time to sell, and that’s your business. And you could tear apart your cherry 1971 Hemicuda convertible and make a mud-bog monster truck out of it, which is also your business (but call us before you try this, we have a straight jacket waiting for you).

To look at this ’63, you would swear it’s original and better than showroom fresh and that’s what I was after. But the list of non-original stock-appearing items is shockingly long and shockingly expensive, with some overtly non-stock-appearing parts showing up under the skin. Some were great ideas and others, well, not so much.

Back in 1963, it’s likely that disc-brake calipers were bare cast iron. But our car came with drum brakes. So what colour should we paint the non-original calipers?

 

I’m not shy to share my ideas because the point of this series is to share the experiences with you, good and bad.

There are no sponsors to please, so I tell it like it is. I made the call to convert the front drum brakes to disc, which means there’s a rather large brake booster now located on the firewall under the hood. Pretty tough to camouflage, but not one car-show goer — or even the judges — has ever pointed it out.

The seats and headliner are leather and not vinyl/cardboard. The engine has an aftermarket intake manifold, carburetor and air cleaner because the original pieces represented a significant 55-horsepower restriction in dyno testing (but those pieces were restored and kept for later).

The rear gearing was upped, numerically, for quicker acceleration and the custom exhaust system uses large-diameter pipe, polished-stainless-steel mufflers and tips.

The one really iffy ‘upgrade’ was the ‘street and slalom’ suspension package that consisted of stiffer (bad idea) coil springs, a composite monoleaf transverse rear spring, Bilstein-brand shock absorbers, high-strength adjustable rear control arms and new front and rear anti-roll bars (really bad idea).

Completely stripping the car? It’s now the most unoriginal stock-appearing 1963 Corvette on the planet. More importantly, it will essentially be a new car when it’s done.

 

The ’63 did not come with a rear bar. The package fit perfectly, but the ride is stiff and squeaky. If I had it to do over again, I would have bought new stock-spec pieces and then added the Bilstein shocks.

Not surprisingly, the best mechanical upgrade was the brake system. Cosmetically, the highly polished paint job wins hands down and on the comfort and convenience side, the leather seats fit like a second skin.

No, it’s not original. It never can be. But it looks original and that’s the point.

*Continue the series:

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 1 here

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 2 here.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 3 here.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 4 here

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 5 here

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 6 here

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 7 here. (You are here)

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 8 here.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 9 here.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 10 here.

 

Purists might attempt to restore a car using original techniques and materials, but since it’s not original anymore, why not opt for better materials that produce the desired results with greater ease of use and durability.

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