Whenever a Corvette is brought into a shop for restoration, the owner has a big choice to make: Should the car get done exactly the same way it was on the '53-only line at Flint Assembly, the '54-'81 St. Louis Assembly, or the '82-up Bowling Green Assembly-or does it get done to an "insane level?"
Jeff Lilly says that his San Antonio, Texas, shop restored this '58 Corvette roadster for its current owner to the latter standard, knowing it could be point-deducted if it's judged at certain Corvette events. "Cars that are taken to national shows can have points taken off them because they're too straight," he says. "They want them to have the waves and shrink marks like the factory did, but we don't like to do that. I'm somewhat of an 'over-restorer,' so to speak." His shop builds to a higher standard than Chevrolet built Corvettes back then, which you can see in the photos of this finished '58.
The only way you'll see waves in this car's body is if you park it next to an ocean, or a large picture of one, even though it was far from smooth when it arrived at Jeff's facility. "Extremely rough" is the kindest thing he can say about the '58's before-work condition. "The car's original front clip was just plain wasted," he says. "There were thousands of cracks we had to repair all over the body." He says that most people would have said, "Forget it!" when a car is that bad. However, owner John Barker decided to build the car because when he first inspected it, he noticed yellow paint around the outer edges of the body. He wanted it because of its rarity even though its condition was so rough. But Jeff says it's best not to choose a car that bad when trying to build something really nice. "If you start with them rough, you can only get them so nice. If you start with a real nice car, you can make it outstanding, at a lot less cost, because it's already halfway there."
One reason why a car such as this was a good restoration candidate is its rarity. Only 190 Corvettes were built with the Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White color combination in 1958, out of a total production run of more than 9,100 Vettes (which was an increase of over 50 percent from 1957's production total).
Still, the challenges and revelations didn't end with the disassembly, as Jeff states that some of the reproduction fiberglass pieces he got weren't much better than what he'd taken off of it from a fit standpoint. "They were the best available," he says. "For instance, on the front driver-side fender, we had to cut out a section of the wheelwell, right down the center, because there was a large bow in it from the molds."
The original fiberglass body pieces had pinhole problems that had to be solved for the body to hold up after it was done. As Jeff notes, first-generation Corvette fiberglass body parts were hand-laid in molds that may not have been up to producing parts for 10,000 cars a year. That likely changed when the C2s entered production, which was when Chevrolet changed to injection-molded fiberglass with a larger-percentage glass count and fewer pin holes, which also looked darker than the earlier C1 'glass.
Underneath, the frame and chassis were another thing altogether. "The x-member in the frame had been butcher-cut in many places to fit different exhaust systems, so we had to redo all of those areas and make it look stock," he says. "There were lots of problems with this car."
Over a couple of years, Jeff's crew solved the problems that were in, on, and under this Corvette. Once the body was the way they wanted it, on went the original Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White colors, this time in modern basecoat/clearcoat urethane paint instead of acrylic lacquer. The original 230hp 283 and Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed were rebuilt to factory-fresh condition, as was the 3.55-geared rearend. Inside, the interior received a full-on restoration, with new Charcoal vinyl press-pleated/embossed covers wrapped to the seats. Original, Daytona-style loop-pile carpeting replaced the well-trashed piece the car had when Jeff got it.
When the job was done and the owner first laid eyes on the finished product, what was his reaction? "He said it was 'gorgeous,'" Jeff recalls.
Moral of the story: If you're looking for a Corvette to restore yourself or to bring to a shop like Jeff's, look for as complete and solid a car as you can find. "Bring me something that's really, really clean, and I can build you a diamond," he says. "In general, steer away from rough cars." He says that the body and its brightwork are the most expensive part of any project, especially "on a car like [the '58 Vette]because there's so much of it-fitting all those grille teeth and making sure they have a razor-blade gap between each of them, filing all the die-casting, and sanding all the copper to remove waves and fit to the body exact. Tweaking the stainless trim to fit to the panel edges. There's a lot to it."
And when you finally pick a car, Jeff recommends you get an appraiser to inspect it. "Spend the $300-$400 to have a professional look over the car, because they know certain things to look for," he says. This way you'll have a clear understanding of what you're getting involved with."
That way, you'll end up with a car that's an attention-getter like this '58 Corvette. But it won't take as long to finish.
DATA FILE ::: '58 Corvette
|Owned by John Barker; Restored by Jeff Lilly Restorations, San Antonio, Texas|
|TOTAL||’58 Corvette production 9,168; in Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White two-tone 190|