So you have a C2 or C3 Corvette that drives a little less "tight" than it used to and you are starting to wonder why. Well, it could be that your frame is rusted in a few key areas, allowing the suspension to move askew ever so slightly going down the road. How you check whether a frame needs to be replaced and how to fix this issue are what this story is all about-and if you are thinking this problem doesn't apply to your summer-only vehicle, think again. This issue is very common to all the early Corvettes. The Corvette shown in this story was a summer-driven car (and cold stored in Michigan during the winter), but the frame rusted out anyway . . . so an all-new frame was ordered from Collier Technologies and is shown being installed here by the pros at Jory's Race & Custom in Westland, Michigan.
Besides a frame that is damaged from a car crash, the next most common reason for having to replace an early Corvette frame is it being rusted out. The early generation Corvette frames are susceptible to rusting from the inside out at the rear mating point of the two frame sections, just behind the seating area. It's hard to see the damage with the body on, but one of the most common methods to investigate this issue is with a long screwdriver, a flashlight, and spending some time under the vehicle.
The screwdriver is used to poke at the frame in various areas while the flashlight lets you peer into the small openings in the frame to see what you can see. If you feel any "soft" areas on the frame with the screwdriver, you will need to replace the frame.
While the area where the main framerails and the rear suspension framerails mate together is the most common area for "softness," the frames can rust in multiple areas. You want to look for areas where dirt, moisture, and other debris accumulate, as this is what often leads to a rusty section of the frame. The only solution to fix a rusted out frame is to replace it. This is an involved process, as the entire car is built off the frame, but it will make your Corvette like new again, or better-setting you up for many more years of enjoyment with it.
Removing the Frame
To get the rusty frame out of a vehicle, the short answer is you need to take the body off the chassis, and then completely disassemble everything off the frame. It's a big job that is best done with a two-post vehicle lift. This allows you to get underneath the frame to access all the fasteners (spraying them with penetrating fluid first, then loosening them) and also to easily lift the body off the frame when it comes time to separate the body and chassis.
The body/chassis separation is probably the easy part when compared to completely disassembling the drivetrain, suspension, steering and other systems from the rusty frame, stripping these components of many years of road grime, inspecting the parts for damage or excessive wear, and then painting or powdercoating them in prep for reinstallation. On this frame swap, the prep and paint work took the longest amount of time and definitely took the most effort.
Collier's Replacement Frame
You can order a Collier replacement frame with just about any setup you like. Want a C2 'Vette with a C4 suspension? No problem. Want a frame built out of stainless steel? No problem. Want that stainless steel frame fully polished? What do you think? That's right-no problem. The Collier team is a very talented bunch and always enjoys a challenge. In this case, we ordered one of the off-the-rack, powdercoated frames for a C3 Corvette. Collier had it delivered and we started installing new or rebuilt parts as soon as it arrived.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Collier replacement frame was the accuracy of all the mounting locations. Sometimes with fully fabricated frames, it is hard to hold position on the locations-but the Collier replacement frame is spot-on. Very impressive.
The main rails are fully boxed from laser cut metal pieces that are welded together in special jigs-which means that these are not like the factory 'C' channel rails, but rather a four-sided rail (often called a box rail)-so we thought mounting reproduction pre-bent fuel and brake lines would be a challenge. We were wrong. The lines went right on the frame like they were meant to be; the only thing we had to do was drill and tap some holes to mount some hold-down tabs.
Other than that, the various systems bolted right on the frame and everything looked great when everything was reinstalled. The owner of this vehicle is very excited to get it back on the road and enjoy the better-than-new performance of his beloved Corvette (a car his dad drove for many years and now is ready to once again be a longstanding family heirloom).
Without a doubt, swapping frames is an involved job, but if you have a rusty frame and want to enjoy safe, durable miles with your Corvette, you have to replace the frame. It's a tough choice, but one of those tough jobs that will pay dividends for years to come.
Collier Technologies Frames
The men behind Niagara Falls-based Collier Technologies, Bob and Rick Collier, are both Corvette enthusiasts. The engineering and manufacturing side of Collier Technologies, Davert Tools Inc, started in 1996, but these guys have over 20 years each supplying assembly line equipment as a Tier 1 automotive supplier to the OEMs including most GM plants in North America (including the Bowling Green Corvette plant).
Their frame business started many years ago when Rick needed a new frame for one of his vintage Corvettes and couldn't find one-so the brothers decided to build their own. Like most car guy projects, the frame building program was soon an over-the-top project utilizing Davert Tools engineering and manufacturing as well as other resources to build a frame better than the factory piece. Other than being fully fabricated, the Collier replacement frame has been through extensive simulated durability testing to ensure it can handle the rigors of being driven for thousands of miles.
While their journey to a final product was lengthy, we think it was worth the effort as every Collier Technologies Corvette frame is a fully-boxed work of art in its strength, mounting point accuracy, suspension flexibility (it can be set up to mount late model Corvette suspensions under an early vehicle) and appearance.
As a heads up, the Collier frame is slightly different from a stock frame, but once we spent some time with it, the appearance and functionality of their frame won us over. In the end, we would recommend the Collier frame for someone who plans on driving their Corvette like a regular car and wants late model rigidity and functionality in their older Corvette.
|Difficulty Index - 3 Wrenches|
|Anyone’s Project: no tools required||1 Wrench|
|Beginner: basic tools||2 Wrenches|
|Experienced: special tools||3 Wrenches|
|Accomplished: special tools and outside help||4 Wrenches|
|Professionals Only: send this work out||5 Wrenches|