East Coast Garage: 1963 Corvette – Don’t blow it up, ok?

Jeff Melnychuk’s 1963 Corvette project car will never be original. So he set out to perfect its restoration without detracting from its appeal or value.

*Part 5 of our East Coast Garage series on rebuilding a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. Click here for Part 1.

 

No matter how faithful someone is to the original vehicle during a restoration, the result is, well, not original.

A vehicle is only original once.

Therefore, does it really matter if those colourful paint dobs on the differential cover are in the correct spot and in the correct colour, or that an engine is rebuilt with the correct guts?

There are several viewpoints on this:

1) So, you want a truly original car? Just leave it exactly as it is, unrestored. Maintain it with original parts.

2) Restore the car using original paint products, processes and original parts. Again, it’s not original no matter how hard someone tries.

3) Realizing a restoration can never make a vehicle original, you set out to perfect said restoration beyond any form of originality.

This 1963 Corvette project car is mostly the third thing.

Every restoration has some latitude as long as the car at least appears original and that ‘latitude’ doesn’t detract from the appeal or value.

 

Small deviations from the stock appearance are woven throughout this 1963 Corvette, not that anyone would ever notice.

There are polished-stainless-steel mufflers, a front-disc-brake conversion, Bilstein shock absorbers and a deeper rear gear ratio.

And then there’s the engine.

For the 1963 Corvette, there was just the 327-cubic-inch V-8, although it was available in four horsepower strengths: 250; 300; 340; and 360, the latter for the fuel-injected model.

A little parts decoding revealed that this car had its original engine block. It wasn’t until the tear-down, however, where the block and cylinder heads could be more closely examined, that this was confirmed.

You can’t see what’s inside the engine, but the outside is close to factory original.

 

The problem, if you can call it that, is that I like to extract the most power possible from an engine.

In this case, while keeping it looking and running like the original. Since it’s only original once and any new parts aren’t original, the engine might as well be upgraded, within reason.

Engine building is a bit of a black art that’s better left to the pros. You tell the shop what you want the engine to do and they handle the rest. You just write the cheque at the end.

The original 327-cubic-inch V-8 had been rebuilt once and the cylinders were true and round and required only a light honing. The forged crankshaft was machined undersize to smooth out the bearing surfaces.

 

One reason to stay out of their hair is that an experienced shop knows the limitations of the technology of the day, such as what’s inside a 1963 Corvette V-8. You can dream big, but they know what’s possible.

Power is made in the cylinder heads. Unless the intent is to switch to modern aluminum cylinder heads with better airflow and combustion chambers, power will be limited by the technology of the day.

As an example, the Project Mustang from this series has an engine that displaces 331 cubic inches and makes close to 500 very streetable horsepower on pump fuel (not racing gas). That’s largely due to modern camshaft technology and a set of the very latest computer-designed cylinder heads.

That’s a lot more than the stock 300 horsepower from the similarly-sized Corvette engine, which speaks to the advancements in technology over the decades.

 

But with a goal of keeping things looking stock on the outside, I decided to keep the original cylinder heads.

Would there be any value in porting the cylinder heads for more airflow? I discussed this with engine builder Paul Arsenault of Shediac, N.B.

Indeed additional flow can add power, but the engine is still hamstrung by the old-school combustion chambers: how efficiently the air-fuel mixture burns.

Even still, a modern camshaft design helps achieve a drivable package and improved high-speed power. Adding a modern intake manifold is a plausible and common upgrade that can be replaced with the original equipment at any point.

This is one of the intake ports after grinding to increase airflow. How do we know it works? After porting, a flow bench is used to measure the improvements in airflow. We were up nearly 10 per cent.

 

The same could be said for tubular exhaust headers, but I elected to stick with factory exhaust manifolds — for appearance — which don’t flow as well and therefore negatively impact power.

Porting cylinder heads and porting them correctly are not necessarily the same thing. Engine builder Paul Arsenault from Shediac, N.B., is experienced, however, and used a flow bench to measure gains in airflow.

 

This is a wrestling match you can have with yourself all day long. How much, if anything, are you going to change, keeping in mind that it’s only original once?

For the next instalment, the 327 heads to the dyno where it’s run in and tested before landing between the frame rails.

Yes, now is the time to find any issues — such as leaks — and not when the engine is back in the car.

And we can tune it for power, of course. But how much power?

Given its original look, I’m pleased.

 

*Continue 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. (You are here)

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 6 here

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 7 here.

Loaded up and ready to make some power on the engine dynamometer. This is the time to discover and correct any problems such as leaks. Finding them after the engine is in the car is not the right time.

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