1963 Corvette: Ordering parts with our appetites instead of our brains

*Part 10 of our East Coast Garage series on rebuilding a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. Click here for Part 1.

 

“I want THAT!”

Have you ever been at a restaurant and ordered something that looked delicious only for it to be massively disappointing?

Who hasn’t. Well, this is the automotive equivalent of that.

The factory builds a given car to function as a package. Mess with this too much and you’re asking for trouble.

But 1963 was a long time ago, so it’s perfectly natural to think that things have come a long way in that amount of time and that we could easily make improvements. But unless we became an automotive engineer somewhere along the way, modifications made by mere mortals have to be carefully weighed, otherwise they can really bite us in the butt.

We should take our own advice more often. Seriously. Looking back now, there wasn’t really anything particularly loathsome about the ride and handling qualities of the 1963 Corvette before the restoration began. It was just old.

 

 

 

Even when brand new, most 60-year-old cars wouldn’t hold a candle to even the worst-performing cars today.

On the surface, a simple rebuild of the suspension with new bushings, new stock springs and shock absorbers just wouldn’t cut it since I really wanted to drive it.

Have you ever heard the saying, “you don’t know where the edge is until you drive across it?” That’s me, in a nutshell.

I usually like the package approach to things. Yes, let someone else figure out all the nitty gritty. So, in shopping for upgraded parts and pieces for the Corvette, I happened across a complete ‘street and slalom’ package with, I presumed, carefully selected shocks, springs and attaching bits and pieces as well as big, beefy anti-roll bars and urethane bushings to replace the soft rubber pieces that deflect more under higher loads.

 

 

 

Like a tempting dish from fancy restaurant, it all sounded delish. I read the listing in the parts catalog over and over again.

There was drool. Massive amounts of it.

Of particular note was a fiberglass monoleaf (single leaf) to replace the transverse steel multi-piece leaf-spring assembly. A tasty looking piece, indeed, and one that saved at least 50 pounds.

Offsetting the weight savings was the addition of a rear anti-roll bar as no such device came on a ’63 Corvette. The intention was to keep the car cornering nice and flat. The shock absorbers were from Bilstein.

 

The original rear control arms were crusty and beat to a pulp, so we elected to install new high-strength replacements. The superb Bilstein shock absorbers have never steered us wrong before but being coupled to the new rear anti-roll bar proved too big an impact on ride comfort.

 

At the front is a new larger anti-roll bar, also to keep the car flatter during corner (which promotes stability) and special high-rate (stiff) coil springs.

 

I pulled the trigger and ordered the whole package at a cost of about US $1,100.

Now, any one of these parts would have had a noticeable impact on driving dynamic and ride quality, but the cumulative effect of all of them is off the scale… and in entirely the wrong direction.

I was hoping to sharpen up the drive a bit, but that came with annoying squeaks and groans from the urethane bushing and a new rear suspension with so little give that it seemed as though the air in the tires was the only thing cushioning the ride.

 

The 1963 Corvette never came with a rear sway and in hindsight adding one wasn’t a great idea as it negatively impacted ride quality and noise.

 

For slalom racing in a parking lot, this setup would likely be right on the mark — which is likely why it’s called the “street and slalom” package, I suspect — but for comfortable cruising, it’s just terrible. The best thing I can say about the parts is that they look good.

Just so you don’t think we’re entirely brainless, we’ve purchased other complete suspension packages for other project cars and all have exceeded our expectations; some by very wide margins. But those were cases where the vehicles had purposes well past their stock abilities.

 

Rather than restoring the old rear control arms, which would have also meant installing new bushings, we found these new reproduction parts online, painted and ready to install.

 

The Corvette? As a straight-up restoration? Bad call.

The lesson from all this is that for stock purposes, consider sticking with the stock hardware and if you have to make changes, don’t go overboard.

We’re still figuring out how to detune it for a better ride, but next time we’ll head deep into the Corvette’s six-decade-old wiring. This is not a matter to take lightly since, guess what, a fiberglass Corvette catches fire easily. Very easily.

 

*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.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 8 here.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 9 here.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 10 here. (You are here)

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