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1979 Chevrolet Corvette C3 Coupe - It's A Wrap!

The Project Shark Attack Finale Is Finally Here

Chris Petris Dec 1, 2006
Corp_0612_08_z 1979_chevrolet_corvette_c3_coupe Red_exterior_front_view 2/1

After two short years, Project Shark Attack is now over. Hopefully you have followed along with us as we have turned our '79 coupe into a show-stopping C3 anyone would love to own. The first year consisted of planning our overall project and then enacting the plan. After a normal start to the project, we thrashed during the final three months of that first year, making a major push to have PSA ready for the '05 Hot Rod Power Tour. It took another year to iron out all the issues that cropped up from that push. Usually when a project car hits the road, minor things that were put under the heading "I'll get to that later" are never completed. That's why we spent another year tweaking things and making PSA the Corvette we expected from the outset.

These are the pitfalls that we've experienced over many years that should be avoided to prevent aggravation getting the best of any Corvette owner. We'll call the first one "the seventy-five percent" situation; this is where the project is partially completed, and then the Corvette is sold because of all the minor problems that continue to nag at you. Then there's the "I am now drawing the line" conundrum where you loose sight of the final objective, whether it's a total or partial restoration. A wise man that had been in the car resto business for many years once said, "you need to draw the line when you're doing any project." that may sound easy to do, but really isn't. To be really successful in a project like this, you have to draw that line. The final pitfall is the "ants in the pants" syndrome where unreasonable goals are set and then your patience runs short, sometimes compounded by decisions that are made in haste. This situation can be dangerous to the Corvette owner or other drivers on the road. We can all get in a hurry to complete our project and then compromise on the pieces we use just to get the project done ASAP. We've been known to set unrealistic goals, and in spite of promising ourselves we wouldn't do this with PSA, we did it anyway. We didn't compromise on the parts used, but we did forego many nights of needed rest to try to stick to the completion date.

The correct concept we're pushing here is to make a good overall plan and stick to the plan as close as possible. Before your pride and joy hits the road, have it as complete as possible to avoid major aggravation and mental anguish. Utilizing a plan for partial restoration can save you money because you can avoid overlapping labor costs in many areas. Plan well before the first part is removed from the car.

Moving on with our plan to transform our C3 into Project Shark Attack, we feel we picked all the correct parts for the transformation, but in the real world things happen. We finally assembled PSA, fueled it up for our 30-mile pre-road test, and then headed for Illinois to meet up with the Hot Rod Power Tour (HRPT). Our first real road trip gave us a few surprises along the way when our "ants in the pants" syndrome reared its ugly head. In hindsight, we should have waited until the next big event and shook things out on the car before we tried a major road trip.

Never Say DieOn our way to Illinois, we had to deal with an overheating ignition distributor that would limit our long-distance driving to about 300 miles. Anything less than 300 miles, the problem was nonexistent. After 300 miles or so, we would be on the side of the road replacing the ignition module or coil. We found out later that the distributor breather holes were plugged, which kept the heat contained in the distributor, and this was frying the modules or coil. We kept up with the rest of the tour with a spare coil and module tucked away and got very good at changing them, even in the dark on the side of a fast-moving interstate.

About halfway through the HRPT, we found PSA wandering all over the highway, so we stopped in at a local shop to take a look under the car. We discovered many loose bolts in the suspension and drivetrain, which brought to light problems we had previously experienced with powdercoated parts. While powdercoated parts look great and wear well, the powdercoating will wear away where the mating surfaces meet. As the material is rubbed off, the pieces become loose, requiring additional tightening of the fasteners. We retorqued all the fasteners and were on the road again. On future projects, we will remove the powdercoating on mating surfaces so the pieces can be torqued properly the first time. Unfortunately, we hit the highway with a broken front spoiler that just happened to get in the way when PSA was put on the lift. We finally made it back to Florida without any more roadside events.

The most aggravating issue with PSA over the last year was a cylinder head problem that cropped up on a trip to Bloomington Gold 2005. We were an hour away from St. Charles, Illinois, when we heard what sounded like a loose rocker arm. When I heard the ticking noise as we came to a stop, bad thoughts were going through my mind. We had used roller rocker arms with positive lock nuts, and I knew the chances of one coming loose were slim. We were now 1,000 miles from home and a new engine problem had surfaced, but we made it to our hotel without a total breakdown.

I decided to pull the rocker cover off the driver-side cylinder head in the motel parking lot the next morning after things cooled off. It wasn't a surprise to find that all the rocker arms were tight. What we found next appeared to be grease on the number seven exhaust valve retainer. Things were about to get much worse. The number seven exhaust valveguide was worn severely, and the valve seal was burned from exhaust, which explained the pasty substance on the exhaust valve retainer. The ticking noise was an internal exhaust leak in the valve cover. Now the dilemma-how do we get PSA home?

The only options were to tow the car or do a temporary repair. We certainly didn't want PSA to show up at Bloomington Gold on a flatbed and then have to tow it all the way back to Florida. We could have pulled the cylinder head off and tried to repair it there, but we're glad we didn't attempt it since this problem required more than a simple fix. We opted to pull the intake and exhaust pushrods out of cylinder number seven to avoid further engine damage. Since we were running a roller camshaft in the '90 Corvette engine, we were able to pull the pushrods out. The roller lifter guides keep the lifters in place; otherwise they can pop out of the lifter bore. When a normal lifter is pulled out of the valvetrain, the oil pressure drops immediately, so having a preroller flat tappet camshaft in our engine wouldn't have allowed us to pull the pushrods out. After this repair, our ticking noise was gone. Now we had to deal with driving the car on seven cylinders. It wasn't too bad on the highway, but idling around town was aggravating to say the least. The good thing was we were still moving under our own power.

Once we made it back home and thought our situation over, we contacted our engine builder who told us to pull the cylinder head and he would replace the suspect valveguides. When we pulled the engine apart, it was apparent there were more problems than we originally thought. There was metallic paste in the lifter valley and in the cylinder head oil return areas. We realized the metallic paste was being generated from the rotating assembly, so we decided to pull the engine and tear it down to inspect the complete assembly. That proved to be a smart move. The camshaft dowel pin was sticking too far out of the camshaft, rubbing on the timing cover and causing the metallic particles we found flowing through the engine. The camshaft dowel pin was too long because we used an LT-1/LT-4 camshaft, which uses the longer pin to drive the Opti-Spark distributor in the '92-'96 LT engines. The engine builder should have checked and tapped the pin further into the cam when he originally assembled the engine. This just goes to show that even when you have a so-called "reputable" engine builder build an engine for you, don't just assume that they have built it correctly. Check it out yourself. In our case, since we were on such a tight deadline, we were unable to check things out as we normally would have.

After further inspection, we found our exhaust valveguide problems were caused by insufficient valve clearance. The valve spring retainers were hitting the valve-guides, breaking the valve seals and damaging the valveguides. Unfortunately, the engine builder would only cover his labor to rebuild the engine (for the second time), and we would have to pick up the cost of all the new parts. We weren't comfortable with this arrangement so we decided to rebuild the engine ourselves. We used a combination of valve retainer locks and retainers that would allow enough valve-retainer-to-valveguide clearance and cleaned the metallic particles from out of the engine. The crankshaft now required polishing and new bearings to complete the bottom end. We pushed the camshaft dowel pin in to the correct length and then reassembled the engine. The engine ran better and had more power than ever before. That should have been no surprise. It's a miracle we didn't drop a valve in Illinois. Make sure you choose your engine builder carefully.

Despite this major setback and a few smaller ones, we moved on and never looked back. To date, we've gone on some extended runs with excellent results. We also have made a few passes at Gainesville and Orlando Speed World dragstrips with our best quarter-mile pass at 13.50 at 101.0 mph on a hot sunny July afternoon. The BFGoodrich KDWS tires hooked up fairly well as long as the throttle was eased into, and we were shifting at 5,500 rpm. On our next visit, we would like to see high-12-second quarter-mile times when things cool off a bit, and we learn how to launch the car better. We also had PSA at the '06 Year One Experience show in Atlanta. While we were there, we couldn't resist a few high-speed laps around the Road Atlanta road course that Year One sponsored. On the long backstretch, we had PSA up to 130 mph and it was still pulling hard.

In general, the overall response to PSA has been very good at each event we have attended, and we appreciate all the readers who stopped by to take a look and give us the thumbs up. We were glad to hear many of you were happy that we were able to take a decrepit C3 and build it into a very desirable Corvette. Our goal was to breathe life into a group of Corvettes that have been written off.

The only area we're not totally happy with now is the overall paint. When we first found our $2,500 '79 Corvette, the fresh paint looked OK. We have wet-sanded, rubbed, and waxed the exterior many times, and it looks decent. It is definitely not a concours paint job, but certainly acceptable for a driver, which is what we wanted from the beginning. We'll keep touching up the nicks and minor chips from our many highway travels until it's ready for another overall paint job.

There were many sponsors who worked with us to bring Project Shark Attack to completion. We want to sincerely thank all of them for their participation in this enjoyable process. Everyone involved was responsive to our requests, and the finished car shows it. Special thanks are due to Corvette Central, our founding sponsor who supplied all the drivetrain parts and many other pieces that were necessary to complete PSA, whether it was under the car, under the hood, or inside. No matter what, when our back was to the wall, Corvette Central was always there to help us out of the jam.

Special thanks also go out to Mid America Motorworks for their custom interior work, providing us with our beautiful leather-stitched and embroidered logo seats, door panels, and carpet. They told us they could do just about anything with Project Shark Attack's interior, and they certainly proved they could and in record time to boot.

We also want to mention our Optima Red Top battery that's hidden away in the rear compartment, effortlessly starting PSA no matter what situation we subjected it to. These batteries are awesome.

We hope you enjoyed our start-to-finish coverage of Project Shark Attack. If you happened to miss any segments of the PSA build, you can always read them at In spite of all the setbacks, we are very happy with the finished product and plan on driving the wheels off PSA. At the end of this journey, we now have a basically brand-new, high-tech C3 shark that pulls down good gas mileage and will be fun to drive for many years to come.

All of us involved with Project Shark Attack hope you have enjoyed the ride. See you out and about!

Project Shark Attack SponsorsACCEL : Plug Wires

Advance Discount Auto Parts :Headlights, BU Lights, & Misc.

AutoInstruments : Instrument Gauges

Bill Heard Chevrolet : Misc. Corvette Parts

Centerforce ::: Clutch

Corvette America :Door, Window, Heater Hardware

Corvette Central : Steering & Drivetrain Components

Crane Cams : Cam, Lifters, Valvesprings, Timing Chain

Crutchfield : Sound System, Security System

DeWitts Reproductions : Radiator & Carpeted Storage Compartment

Discount Tire Company :Locking Nuts, Lug Nuts

EC Products & Design :Interior Trim Components

Edelbrock : Water Pump

Escort ::: Radar Detector, G-Timer Performance Computer

General Motors :Emblems, Light Assemblies

GT Automotive ::: Machine Shop Services

Holley : Fuel Injection, Intake Manifold

Hooker : Headers

Keen Auto Parts : Interior Boots, Pads, Trim

Keisler Engineering : TKO-600 Transmission, Hydraulic Clutch Kit

Lakewood :Bellhousing

M&H Electric :Wiring Harnesses

Mid America Motorworks : Custom Leather Seats & Interior

Mr. Gasket : Bolts, Washers, Timing Tab

MSD Ignition : Alternator & Bracket Kit

NAPA :Hoses, Engines Mounts, Horns

Pelton Steering Wheels : Leather Steering Wheel

Performance Automotive Warehouse : 383 Stroker Kit

Performance Distributors :Distributor

Pure Power : Stainless Steel Oil & Fuel Filters

Random Technology : Catalytic Converters

Royal Purple :Lubricants

Scott Rose :Aluminum Welding, Special Machining

SLP Performance Parts : Wheels & Tires

Stainless Steel Brakes Corp. :Brake Calipers, Discs, Pads

Thermo-Tec Automotive : Interior Insulation

Our bottom line comes to $27,500 (plus or minus) figuring all the parts purchased at retail prices. We originally paid $2,500 for the car and were able to sell some of the original parts (drivetrain, suspension, and other parts) netting approximately $1,500. Buying new parts in quantity helps to lower the cost of rebuilding a Corvette, especially interior items. Swap meet deals can also be found if time is not a concern. The labor hours involved are too numerous to mention, and no cost has been included for our labor. with smart buying habits, $5000 could be knocked off the total.

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