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1971 Chevy Corvette Stingray Project Car - First Impressions

This Month, We Make Our C3 Project Car A Little More Presentable

Dave Young Oct 1, 2009
Vemp_0910_01_z 1971_chevy_corvette_stingray_project_car Waxing_hood 2/31

Whether attending a black-tie charity event, making a new professional acquaintance, or driving our Corvette to the local car show, we all like to make a favorable first impression. And while there's something to be said for a ratty-looking car with over-the-top performance, the fact is that most often our vehicles are initially judged by their appearance, not their horsepower. Such is the case with our most recent project car, a '71 Stingray we picked up on eBay for around $5,600. Granted, getting a running, driving chrome-bumper Stingray with an array of new suspension and drivetrain parts for this price was a good deal, so we didn't expect our purchase to be all that aesthetically pleasing-and we were right.

Vemp_0910_02_z 1971_chevy_corvette_stingray_project_car Front_left 3/31

There's no doubt that our Stingray appeared used-very used, in fact, with oxidized, over-sprayed paint and two missing center caps. We saw potential, however, so we decided to make our used Corvette look its best.

Though the car looked pretty bad when we picked it up, we knew we'd be able to improve it significantly with a little hard work and the right tools and products. Mechanically, the Vette was pretty sound, but we found several issues that needed to be addressed, in addition to some overdue maintenance tasks. Last month, we performed an overall vehicle inspection, took care of a few fluid changes, and corrected most of the electrical and mechanical issues so we could get the car back on the road. Now that our Stingray is a pretty reliable driver, we want it to be less of an eyesore while cruising the streets.

Although making our Corvette presentable seemed an insurmountable task at first, we could still discern considerable potential through the oxidized, over-sprayed, years-old paintjob. Under their own discolored, thinning paint, we also had a decent set of 15-inch GM Rally wheels to work with, albeit minus two center caps and all of the trim rings. The interior, meanwhile, was mostly complete, and the carpet, door panels, and dash cover were fairly new, having been replaced by the previous owner. The sunvisors were missing, though, and the red seats didn't exactly match the black color of the rest of the interior. Numerous minor defects littered the remainder of the cockpit. While these will make it tough to pull off a show-quality appearance, we'll do the best we can. The undercarriage, though rust-free and recently restored with new suspension bushings and brakes, was dirty and somewhat discolored, and it would benefit greatly from a fresh coat of paint.

Vemp_0910_09_z 1971_chevy_corvette_stingray_project_car Buffing_pad 10/31

After towel drying the car, the paint will look dull and scratched from the sanding. Make sure the car is in the shade or the shop, and use a buffing pad and compound to remove the scratches left by the 2,000-grit paper.

Speaking of paint, our project car will be treated to a stunning paintjob in future issues, as it goes through the transformation from a used driver to a high-performance showpiece. But for now, our goal is to make the car look as good as possible without a complete refurbishment. Although we're not experts in the area of paint restoration, we figure that with a few pointers from our friends at JD's Paint and Body Shop, we'll give it a try. First, we'll wet-sand the oxidation and overspray from our older black paintjob, then buff the paint in an attempt to restore some luster. The wheels will be sanded and repainted, and we'll look for a couple of decent Rally center caps to match the two that came with the car. Inside, we'll have our hands full making the best of what we have to work with. Though just a temporary fix until we completely refurbish the cockpit, we'll dye the seats black to match the rest of the interior, and give the rest of the cockpit a thorough cleaning. We'll also repaint or redye some of the easily removed panels, and get the radio working while we're at it.

Vemp_0910_10_z 1971_chevy_corvette_stingray_project_car Compound 11/31

We used Meguiar's Ultimate Compound to remove the 2,000-grit scratches, then buffed the car again with less-abrasive Meguiar's Deep Crystal polish. The technique is to use progressively less-harsh abrasives to make the scratches less noticeable.

We're aware that many of the cosmetic improvements we'll make are merely superficial, and we do plan to completely restore and modify the body and interior in future issues. That being the case, you may be asking, "Why do all this work now?" Truthfully, now that the car is running pretty well, our Stingray is so much fun to drive that we're compelled to take it out every chance we get. Always wanting to put our best foot forward, and knowing that people often judge you by the car you drive, we want the Vette to look as good as it possibly can. And since we'll be performing several modifications and testing the car before we get around to painting it, making it look its best will also help out from a photographic standpoint.

So follow along as we give our Stingray a quick makeover. We think you'll be surprised at the results, and you may learn a technique or two that will help make your own Vette look a little better. When you're done, be sure to log onto to see videos of our baseline braking and acceleration tests.



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