East Coast Garage: 1963 Corvette – remove the body or just paint it?

*Part 3 in our series on rebuilding a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray coupe

You could decide on a new paint job for your car and just be done with it.

And that’s exactly what I was thinking when it came to the not-so-shiny 1963 Corvette coupe purchased from a sleazy used-car emporium in the Bronx, N.Y.

For a basic repaint, people are sometimes tempted to take shortcuts, such as taping off and not removing window-frame trim. In a body-off-the-frame situation, you’re committed to a no-shortcuts route, or what’s the point.

 

But then local paint-and-body expert Mike Poirer from Shediac, N.B., said, “You know, we could do a much better job, and it would actually be easier, if we took the body off the frame.”

“Easier.”

Perhaps in one respect, but when that decision is made, you are entering a hell storm with every other aspect of the car, too.

Is it ‘easier’ to take the body off the frame? Or just paint the car? 

When deciding to paint a car, you’re only dealing with one facet: painting the car. When deciding to take the body off the car, even if it’s just for paint, there is no way you’re putting it back together without going through the rest of the car, too, because you’ll never get the chance again.

From there it’s a chain reaction: you’re not putting a refurbished body back on that dirty frame; and you’re certainly not putting worn suspension parts back on a fresh frame. And it keeps going until you find yourself hand-painting some 5/16-inch nut that no one will ever see, but you’ll know about if you don’t do it.

We treated the original 327-cubic-inch V-8 to 11:1 compression using original-style forged pistons. The cylinder heads were also ported for increased airflow.

 

Maybe the engine and transmission will be spared the royal treatment if they’ve already been gone through, but you’re at least going to clean them up, install new gaskets and give them a fresh coat of paint.

So, the seemingly innocent comment that it will be “easier” isn’t even close to describing the can of worms about to be opened up.

I came to this revelation after about four months of full-time work and about $25,000 of money just out there somewhere. The car body was covered in sanding dust, the engine was all apart in the shop, the frame was out for welding and the naked interior seat frames were in grey primer.

Most of the interior parts were ordered new, which means less refinishing time and, for the most part, a better car in the end.

It’s a really sickening feeling knowing that if the money suddenly dried up, you’d be done for. It would be just one of those project cars on Ebay worth 30 cents on the dollar.

The only choice is to spend more money, which is just as scary. But how much more? You won’t exactly know until the project is done, so you better have tenacity and the ability (money) to see it through until the end. As luck would have it, there was both.

I earmarked $70,000 for the restoration, thinking I would be way ahead of the game.

In the end, it took about $62,000, which was a much tighter gap than I expected. Why so much? It’s really the little things that add up. We went with top-of-the-line clearcoat from House of Kolor at $300 a quart.

When the engine was built, I elected to have the cylinder heads ported for more power and the connecting rods shot-peened (surface hardened), which is a labor-intensive process.

Fast forward. After months of finding new parts, scraping, grinding, welding, painting and engine building, the Corvette is at the mockup/assembly stage. At this point, even the nuts and bolts have been either refinished or replaced.

 

Inside, there are leather seat covers instead of vinyl and I replaced the console top for $500 when the old one would likely have worked OK. I bought a new gas tank, new hard lines for brakes and fuel, new wiring harnesses, new glass, an upgraded suspension and front disc brakes to replace the drums.

Rather than just vinyl, we upgraded to leather over new seat foam and freshly painted frames. The “hockey-stick” chrome trim is also new.

It’s safe to say no expense was spared on this car.

The reward, especially with a 1963 Corvette or any other rare and desirable car, is that you would likely recover most of your cash costs (but not your time) when you sell. You couldn’t do that with a 1978 Chevrolet Malibu or a 1964 Ford Falcon given the same costs of restoration.

But if I had to do over again, I might have just said, “No thanks, I think we’ll just paint it and be done with it.”

We would have saved the extra work and money, but then again the car would not have turned out like this. It’s worth it just to walk around it in the garage.

And if we had just painted it instead of taking the body off the frame, we wouldn’t have been able to bring the experience to you in this series.

*Continue the series:

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 1 here

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 2 here.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 3 here. (You are 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.

 

Most of the parts shown here are new, from the custom stainless-steel exhaust to the licence-plate frame, taillights and bumpers. Even the tires are new. This is what body-off-the-frame means.

 

 

This kind of detail means taking the car apart. There’s no other way.

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