Probably short of “salt-water flood recovery,” no phrase terrifies a Corvette enthusiast more than “nose damage.” And for good reason. Really. Short of the hood and, in some cases, headlight doors, the front parts of a Corvette don’t readily come off for replacement.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or even difficult to remove and replace a Corvette nose. Contrary to popular belief, the body isn’t monolithic. It’s a patchwork of panels bonded together at seams. Break those bonds and a Corvette comes apart even easier than a steel body. Putting another nose on isn’t all that much harder, either.
When word got out that Denny Olson at Streetrods by Denny wasn’t afraid of breaking the bonds that make a Corvette, owners came out of the woodwork. Guided by local guru Darrold Elhard, Denny and his crew started swapping panels. He even did the nose on his own C3.
Recently, a client brought in a 1959 for a full build. Just like the freshly finished C1 sitting in the adjacent shop, its nose was literally beyond repair.
Denny repaired it using the same components from The Corvette Image. The company offers complete noses in two styles: assembled from individual press-molded components as GM made them for when faithfulness matters and as hand-laid as one piece when it doesn’t. While there’s a huge price difference between the two styles, the reasons to choose between them aren’t so clearly defined. See the sidebar elsewhere in this article for a few of things to ponder.
This is not necessarily hard or very technical work; it’s just a lot of work. Finishing aside, the job has three distinct phases: stripping the old nose, which one person could do if necessary; fitting the new nose, which is somewhat technical and time-consuming and takes a helper now and then; and bonding the new nose to the body, which is really fast but takes several helpers. Case in point, Denny and his crew, Josh Sanders and Doug Isbell, have installed many noses on the three early Corvette generations and Denny makes sure he has four people on deck when it comes time to bond a nose. I wouldn’t recommend swapping noses for a first-time body project but it’s well within the capacity of an experienced enthusiast with the right tools.
All finished up, it would take a serious critic, if not a judge, to tell that anyone swapped noses on this car. And considering the pampered life this car will receive for the remainder of its life, it’s safe to say that this is the last nose it will ever have. Vette
Press-Molded or Hand-Laid
If you listen to most enthusiasts, the choice between press-molded and hand-laid is an easy one: you want press-molded. But typical for blanket statements, it ignores a few critical elements. In fact, there are applications where hand-laid is actually better. Here are some things to consider.
Because GM press-molded its bodies from individual panels, a nose made from reproduction press-molded panels is the most faithful to the original construction. Naturally, this correctness brings with it value for a restored car but at a cost … literally. Press-molded noses cost a lot more than hand-laid noses (like about four times more in this case).
However, if you’re building a car where correctness isn’t such a virtue—say a hot rod, custom, race car or just a car that you know you’ll never sell—then hand-laid might actually represent a better value beyond the significant savings.
It’s because a part made correctly in one piece is stronger and more consistent than one made of panels bonded together. Yes, a backer reinforces each joint in a nose assembled from press-molded parts but stress from even ordinary use and bonding shrinkage often reveal the seams. Study a crashed Corvette and you’ll often see where the panels come apart at the seams. One-piece parts are still vulnerable to stress at risers like hood openings but they won’t fail at the seams because, well … there are none. Vette
1. Streetrods by Denny technician Josh Sanders cut close to each of the joints with a body saw then ground away the skin and bonding agent with a 36-grit wheel. Stop grinding once you cut through the panel into the bonding agent (the dark gray area shown here). Fine-tune those areas later.
2. Panel fit wasn’t exactly tight in some areas. The factory compensated by building up the area with extra bonding agent. There’s no real need to grind this all out. You’ll just have to add it back in during reassembly. Grind into the bonding agent just enough to establish a good surface.
3. The new front clip from Corvette Image includes part of the doorsill and rocker. These parts are good on this body so Josh cut the body back to the front edge of the door. He’ll square up the cut as part of the fitting process. Just remember that it’s easier to cut more off than cut more on.
4. The new clip doesn’t include the defrost channel/cowl vent support. You’ll need to remove it from the old one and transfer it over. Be sure to locate where it is so you don’t accidentally cut through the thing.
5. After stripping the clip, Josh squared the body on the frame so the wheel hubs center in the wells in both axes.
6. He then aligned the doors to establish consistent panel gaps. He’ll work these gaps later on but for now he’s paying attention to general door fit, including how the top lines up with the quarter-panel.
7. Mount the radiator support prior to fitting anything. Josh installed this one with 1/16-inch shims so it’ll fit without chipping after everything comes back from paint.
8. Josh also clamped up all the internal supports. He left drilling to the very end when all the panels lined up.
9. It’s a good idea to make the clip as complete as possible while fitting. So Josh mounted the defrost channel and cowl vent (not shown installed here). He used temporary panel fasteners (often referred to as one brand name: Cleco).
10. The clip includes partial doorsills. This car has good ones and the sills make it harder to fit the clip, so Josh removed them. Note that he left the rockers long.
11. Josh and Doug Isbell test-fit the nose on the car. Bear in mind that you’ll have to spread the rockers and align the inner fender panels.
12. Corvette Image leaves most panels a little bit long, giving end-users the ability to trim everything to fit. The inner structure prevents the nose from going on all the way.
13. The dash represented the biggest interference point. Josh pulled the nose back and ground the edge of the flange. Remember to remove small amounts and re-check fit frequently.
14. The angle of the dash needed thinning as well. Again, work incrementally. It doesn’t take much to go too far.
15. Josh found numerous other interference points, like where the dash corners fit. He removed probably less than 3/16-inch from this crevice, but it made a huge difference.
16. The inner fenders clashed with the firewall in several places, like here at this seam. Josh marked the interference point.
17. He also marked the interference with the rest of the inner fender where it meets the firewall. He took off about 1/8-inch with each trim, checking the fit after each cut.
18.The clip moved back a lot faster and easier than anticipated. Then Josh trained his eye on the vertical alignment.
19. Josh used a jack stand for the test-fitting. He used wood blocks for the first part then a series of thinner strips (think paint stir-sticks). Once he got the level right, he taped the shims together.
20. Fully satisfied with the fit, Josh and Doug pinned the nose on with temporary panel fasteners. The aluminum angle iron maintains perfect alignment through the rockers.
21. Josh straightened the cut and trimmed the panels where they meet in the rockers. He cut down the pieces he cut from the nose to make backers that support the joint. Those bond to the body side of the rocker, giving the rocker part of the nose a stable place to mount.
22. Corvette Image left all of the panels long except the fenders where they meet the cowl. This isn’t ideal but it’s not difficult to correct during the finishing stages.
23. Before committing to anything permanent, Josh installed the windshield and door posts to check the fit. He went over every other part of the car to ensure correct alignment.
24. The pieces are beginning to resemble the Corvette that this car is. Everything fits exactly as it will when bonding occurs in the next installment.
Photos by Chris Shelton