How does a typical restoration get done? There are two ways that come readily to mind. One is to pay an expert to do everything; the other is to load up on assembly manuals and restoration guides to perform a do-it-yourself job. But what if paying someone else to do things you're fully capable of is against your religion? And what if, on top of that, there's a shortage of manuals and information on the project you've just taken on? Well, unless you want to just give up, you do things the hard way-piece by piece, recording each step, and put in lots of detective work to get the information and pieces you need. Does this method work? Can dogged persistence and attention to every little detail overcome the lack of black-and-white directions? After seeing Don Harwood's Top Flight '55 Vette, we answer with a resounding "Yes!"
Harwood, a resident of Floyds Knobs, Indiana, had his first Corvette encounter later in life than most. While on a business trip, Harwood picked up a "cars for sale" paper to read on the flight home. Two cars caught his attention: a Plymouth Hemi GTX and a '55 Corvette. Harwood's interest in the Hemi made sense. His first car was a '55 Chevy, which he worked on with his older brother. He also owned a '57 and a '60, though never a Corvette. His interests turned toward quarter-mile racing, and Harwood describes himself as an "old drag racer," though his memories of Super Stock Chryslers and "Big Daddy" Don Garlits are still vivid. The GTX, however, isn't the vehicle that he called about.
When asked, "Why a Corvette," all Harwood answers is, "I don't know. I knew nothing about them." Whatever it was that drew him, he made a call to the '55s owner to get the low-down. He told Harwood that the engine was out of the car and the transmission was in the trunk, and he claimed that all the parts were "present and accounted for." It took an attorney's intervention to obtain a clear title, but once done, Harwood made an acceptable offer and went to pick up his "new" '55.
It was only when he got the car home and started looking closely at it that Harwood realized he was in for an adventure. The first obstacle was that some of the original gauges, the radio, and other rare parts were missing. The second came when Harwood started looking for information on the '55 Corvette. The problem? There wasn't much out there. No assembly manuals, no restoration guides, just one book by Noland Adams (which Harwood does admit helped a lot). The V-8-powered '55 Corvette, after all, was in many ways a one-year only vehicle. The small-block Chevy was a brand-new engine, with more than a few components that were found only during that model year. This resto was gonna have to be done the hard way: with tons of documentation and detective work.
Harwood is the type who dives into a project feet first, so he tore into the old Vette. There was a method to his madness, though. Everything that was taken off the car was "bagged and tagged." Every plastic bag was documented with extensive notes-information that proved invaluable later on down the line. Harwood also took extensive pictures, photographing each step of the disassembly. Once he had the body off the frame, every marking was captured on film, and he documented each and every bolt, screw, and connector. He even put all his documentation into a book-20 pages worth of '55 Corvette details.