East Coast Garage: Rebuilding 1963 Corvette like running a marathon

*Part 2 in Jeff Melnychuk’s series on rebuilding a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray coupe

To the casual observer, rebuilding a car is like running a marathon. There are slow spots, bumpy roads and ‘hitting the wall’ but as long as there’s forward motion, you’ll eventually get the race done.

The reality isn’t quite that linear, however. Start at the beginning, finish at the end? Sure, but to finish before you’re buried six feet under in a pine box, you’re really running a half dozen or so mini-marathons all at the same time, all of which have to mesh with the other races. Then throw in a completion deadline and all kinds of surprises and obstacles — from unforeseen expense and damage — and it’s a wonder that any project car is ever completed.

The 1963 Corvette: a worthwhile recipient of a restoration

This marathon happens to be a 1963 Corvette — a masterpiece of design, but actually not much in terms of engineering — a worthwhile recipient of a restoration if there ever was one.

In the last installment, we were spellbound by two things: the ability for the seller to lie so blatantly about the condition of the car (‘professionally restored’); and the ability of our fiberglass guru to magically construct finished body panels out of thin air. And that’s the upside to this mess: that we get to spend a lot o’ dough bringing the body back to where it should have been when the car arrived at our offices.

Three of the four corners had been hit and the area where the metal roof supports — the A pillars — bond with the body was rotted out. Of course we didn’t discover any of this until we got to work stripping the paint. There’s some experimenting to be done to discover the best method since every vehicle seems to require a slightly different approach. We tried chemical stripper on the cracked red lacquer paint, which is just plain messy and in this case wasn’t particularly effective. We found that the paint would actually peel right off, dry, with a razor-blade scraper.

How does a quarter inch of plastic filler over the entire tail sound? It sounds like a giant grinder, of course.

 

Peeling off the paint in inch-wide strips is tedious and time consuming… and frustrating, as it reminds you that you wouldn’t have to spend your nights and weekends and hard-earned cash if you knew what you were getting into.

I would be not be exaggerating if I said that there was serious talk of selling the Corvette at this point, with the bleak financial picture so blatantly obvious, especially as we were about to begin races Two and Three . . . the engine and the frame. Because, you see, it’s not enough that you’re already spending your nights and weekends stripping the body, but now you’re spending more time putting together an engine program and tearing the frame apart.

A grinder with a coarse disc is used to remove the offensive undercoating, paint and hatchet patch jobs.

At this point you’re going to have to be honest with yourself: Are you getting in over your head with too many projects at the same time. The simple answer is yes. Of course you are.

But that can actually be part of the fun if you’re any good at delegating and also have an idea of what order things need to be done. For example, it doesn’t do any good to have a rebuilt engine sitting around the shop while it takes another year to get the chassis and frame to the point you have somewhere to install it. But, depending on the engine shop, it might take six months to a year to put it together anyway.

So, one of the best pieces of advice is to separate your project into the various sub-projects.

Research what’s needed as well as how much it will cost and how much time it will take. Then you can put a plan together with a good idea of a completion date and cost, starting with the foundation and sub-projects that can be done concurrently.

While the body is out being done, the frame can be torn down, repaired (as they all need some kind of repair) and sent out for sandblasting and painting. Then you can take stock of the parts you need and get ordering them now, because the last thing you want is delays due to parts or to waste money on overnight shipping because you forgot or procrastinated.

But we’re not quite at that stage yet as we’re still stuck in Bondo City. For an extended visit.

*This is Part 2 of a series of columns related to the restoration of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray.

1963 Corvette Rebuild: Part 1 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.

 

How does a quarter inch of plastic filler over the entire tail sound? It sounds like a giant grinder, of course.

How does a quarter inch of plastic filler over the entire tail sound? It sounds like a giant grinder, of course.

How does a quarter inch of plastic filler over the entire tail sound? It sounds like a giant grinder, of course.

The cowl area by the windshield supports was in need of complete repair, which was shocking since the damage was perfectly hidden under the old paint.

The cowl area by the windshield supports was in need of complete repair, which was shocking since the damage was perfectly hidden under the old paint.

The cowl area by the windshield supports was in need of complete repair, which was shocking since the damage was perfectly hidden under the old paint.

With the paint stripped and a light sandblasting, you then realize that you really do have your work cut out for you. Sleepless nights await.

With the paint stripped and a light sandblasting, you then realize that you really do have your work cut out for you. Sleepless nights await.

With the paint stripped and a light sandblasting, you then realize that you really do have your work cut out for you. Sleepless nights await.

A grinder with a coarse disc is used to remove the offensive undercoating, paint and hatchet patch jobs.

A grinder with a coarse disc is used to remove the offensive undercoating, paint and hatchet patch jobs.

A grinder with a coarse disc is used to remove the offensive undercoating, paint and hatchet patch jobs.

Once the panels and support pieces are repaired/rebuilt, all the seams are sealed. The underside of the car will be painted black, but not undercoated.

Once the panels and support pieces are repaired/rebuilt, all the seams are sealed. The underside of the car will be painted black, but not undercoated.

Once the panels and support pieces are repaired/rebuilt, all the seams are sealed. The underside of the car will be painted black, but not undercoated.

The repair to the lower driver's-side corner is roughed in after a few days of reconstructive surgery.

The repair to the lower driver's-side corner is roughed in after a few days of reconstructive surgery.

The repair to the lower driver's-side corner is roughed in after a few days of reconstructive surgery.

The previous slap-dash repair was readily apparent once the taillights and bumpers were removed.

The previous slap-dash repair was readily apparent once the taillights and bumpers were removed.

The previous slap-dash repair was readily apparent once the taillights and bumpers were removed.

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