In search of a 1963 Corvette split-window, Steve Mitchell’s plan was to find a decent project car and from there have his longtime buddy Kyle Gambrell help him restore and restomod it with an LS engine and Morrison chassis. Constructing a restomod-style ’63 Vette for Kyle would have been a natural thing to do since Kyle owns Laid Back Recreations, a customizing shop in McLoud, Oklahoma, but it wasn’t in the cards.
Steve scoured all the right places and found a pretty good example of what he was looking for on eBay in Ohio. The tattered ’63 coupe was in the hands of a used car dealer whose only intention was to flip the car and turn a profit. The dealer told Steve there were a handful of so-called split-window aficionados interested in the car, but they were all chiselers throwing out lowball offers. Steve liked what he saw and loaded up the ’63—along with a few big, heavy wood crates included in the deal—and headed back to Oklahoma.
Once home, Steve started evaluating the car and discovered it was more original than he realized when he bought it. The unexpected change in build direction occurred when he opened the two wood crates and discovered the remains of the car’s original engine. In one crate there was a bare block with a cracked cylinder wall that was missing one main cap. In the other crate he found a pair of heads and intake manifold for a 340-horse 327. The numbers all jived and Steve was starting to think he might restore the ’63 back pretty close to how it was when new.
With the Corvette at the shop in McLoud, Steve explained to Kyle he’d like to over-restore the split-window and upgrade its original build quality. Included in this edition of Vette we’ve reprinted Motor Trend’s Corvette coupe road test found in the May 1963 issue in which it is stated that it’s not hard to over-restore a 1963 Corvette.
White paint hides a multitude of sins. There’s a reason the factory painted a lot of mid-year Corvettes white. In a mass production environment where Sting Ray fiberglass bodies had to be cranked out ASAP, the fit and finish was OK for something that had to drive off the end of an assembly line. During the disassembly process Kyle made an amazing discovery that sealed the fate of where the restoration of Steve’s ’63 would end up. Inside the driver-side door panel, the ‘63’s fourth owner, John Backus of Cincinnati, Ohio, wrote some vital information with a black felt pen.
Lt. William B. Adams Jr. bought the Corvette new on July 5, 1963, from Tony Falcon, a salesman at Bobb Chevrolet in Columbus, Ohio, and then sold the Corvette to Norman Potts. Norman sold it to Charles Easton and then Charles sold it to John Backus in March 1985.
On Backus’ door panel notes he listed in 1982 the ’63 was repainted, got new brakes and the transmission and rearend were overhauled. Steve learned when Laid Back Recreations had the coupe completely disassembled and the body stripped-bare for paint the only fiberglass damage discovered were slight fractures in the valance beneath the grille. Amazingly, the car had never been in an accident beyond pulling into a driveway too fast. After paying intense attention to adjusting the door and hood gaps, along with many hours of block sanding, Laid Back sprayed a custom PPG mix of a brighter version of Ermine White with a blue cast instead of beige.
Hedges Corvettes in Lowell, Arkansas, handled the interior work, but don’t judge the freshness of the driver-side door panel, Steve had Hedges clean up and dye the original card John Backus wrote his notes on and put back in place. In fresh paint, the ’63 left Oklahoma and rolled into Hedges Corvettes where the interior was gutted and restored to mint. The underlayment came from Ssnake-oyl in bulk and then Hedges custom fit Al Knoch Interiors’ carpet and upholstery kit. Steve’s ’63 spent three weeks at Hedges Corvettes and then was returned to Laid Back Recreations.
Additional ’63 details: black plastic doorknobs with a white plastic shift ball, early 1963 four-speed Corvettes still had a Borg-Warner Super T10, but by April when Steve’s ’63 was built it came equipped with a Muncie M20 four-speed. The rearend in the first year IRS (independent rear suspension) is equipped with RPO G81 Positraction and optioned with the taller than usual 3.38 differential gears.
The story of restoring the 340-horse 327 Steve’s ’63 left St. Louis with is interesting in itself. The car came to Steve with an unstamped blank pad, over-the-counter replacement 327 with a two-years-later date code. Other than a replacement engine, everything under the hood was original right down to the stainless steel ignition shield still over the Delco distributor.
Once Steve learned the bare block he had was the right one needed for an authentic restoration, rebuilding the 340-horse 327 started at R&P Machine in Tecumseh, Oklahoma, with the number one cylinder sleeve to repair due to a deep crack. Luckily, the bore was standard, and only required honing and stuffing 11.25:1 pistons back in place. Additionally, the block was line-bored to accept a replacement crankshaft and missing main bearing cap. Gambrell reassembled the engine leaving the 4-quart oil pan in place needed to accommodate factory power steering that’d been retrofitted. Steve opted to keep the faster ratio 250/300-horse power steering over refitting a 340/360-horse 5-quart oil pan that will not accommodate power steering.
Restoring cars back to stock instead of customizing might become a curse of sorts for Steve. His latest project, a 1956 Chevy Nomad wagon with 17,000 original miles, ended up completely original except for adding power disc brakes to help the car survive amid 21st century traffic. Vette
Photos by Grant Cox