Finding The Right Repair Shop
Getting back to the major insurers, a common accident-aftermath problem for owners of older Corvettes is that the adjusters don't know what it takes to properly repair early-Corvette bodies. Prior to 1984, Corvette bodies were assembled by bonding the fiberglass panels together. For example, the front fenders were aligned and abutted to the upper surround (top) panel and glued together with a bonding strip clamped against their inside edges. After the initial assembly hardened, the seams between the panels were then ground, re-glassed, reground, filled, and flattened. Few of today's body shops have experience with this process, and the learning curve is steep. In addition, the materials used for bonding and filling are critical. If they shrink, the seams will eventually become visible through the paint.
Selecting the right shop is critical to ensuring the quality of the repair and refinish. This is particularly so for the type of damage shown on the rear of the pictured '73 Corvette. When the upper rear panel is replaced, it will be bonded to both rear fenders and the taillight panel.
As mentioned previously, insurance companies may try to steer you to certain shops that they recommend. This is not necessarily a bad policy. If the insurance company is good, the shops it prefers to work with are ones that consistently repair cars to its customers' satisfaction. Insurance companies have good working relationships with their preferred shops, so if the repairer says extra work is needed, it's less likely to be questioned. And some shops, such as those in State Farm's "Select Service" network, even provide lifetime warranties on the repairs and refinish (paint) work.
Regardless of whether you choose a service provider suggested by the insurance company, it's well worth the time to thoroughly check out the shop. To find an experienced Corvette repair shop, first ask around.
If you're not a member of a Corvette club, go to a Corvette show and talk to car owners. Additionally, much information can be found through Internet research, including visiting Corvette forums. The owner of the damaged '73 contacted J&M Enterprises, located in Brooksville, Florida, after the shop was recommended to him by people he trusted. J&M offered years of experience repairing and restoring older Corvettes. Corvette Center in Newington, Connecticut, was also highly recommended, having specialized in Corvettes for more than 40 years.
Do Your Homework
Be proactive by providing the insurance company with complete pricing for parts and labor. If the extent of damage potentially represents a total loss, providing a substantiated, current market valuation is particularly important (see sidebar). It's better to provide accurate information for the insurance company to base its decision on than to try to get it to reverse that decision later on. In the case of the '73, both experienced Corvette shops provided detailed estimates that helped the insurance company understand what was necessary in order to repair the car. However, the insurance company would only pay the local hourly labor rate and recommended three local shops said to be experienced in these repairs.
Visit the shops and talk with both the owners and the people doing the repairs. What you see, what they say, and your intuition will all help guide your choice. The manager of the first local shop was very friendly, helpful, and honest. One technician did all the work on Corvettes and was very experienced with newer models, but he freely admitted he never replaced top panels on older Corvettes. The second shop provided a few old photos of miscellaneous Corvette repairs, but the technician who did the fiberglass work said he drilled screw holes to hold the panels together while the adhesive cured. My experience is that the fillers shrink at the screw holes, eventually making little depressions that are visible along the seams.
Prepare a list of questions, and don't be hurried during your inspections. The owner of the third shop, Superior Auto Body Shop in Pinellas Park, Florida, proved very knowledgeable about earlier Corvettes and provided his personal cell number for follow-up questions. He stated exactly what materials would be used and said that the panels would be clamped-not screwed-during assembly. A tour showed the shop to be large, modern, and clean. Online research indicated that Superior had been in business for 30 years and was family owned. The shop was also a preferred provider of State Farm and a number of other carriers, which speaks volumes about the quality of its work.