1979 Chevy T-Top Corvette - Part 1: Gone Fishin for Right Project Car

On the hunt for a real-world project shark

Chris Petris Jan 27, 2005 0 Comment(s)
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The Corvette marketplace can be volatile when dealing with early modelcars. However, several years of Corvettes have been stagnant in themarketplace. This stability makes the '74-'81 T-top Corvette a good buy,and if you're modest with the purchase and repair costs, you can drive anice car without fear of damaging a pristine, numbers-correct beauty.

The idea behind our Project Shark Attack is to get into a driveable,good-looking Corvette at a reasonable cost. The shark body or "Cokebottle" styling is a look many love to see. On a road trip, peoplealways take a second glance at a shark.

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This left front brake caliper has been leaking for a while. The Rallywheel is corroded badly on the inside. It's hard to believe, but all thebrake calipers look like original ACDelco pieces. I dislike having thisparticular fluid leak on my shop floor as it can do long-term floordamage.

I set out to find a reasonably priced '74-'81 shark with a solidfoundation that required some work. Approximately 337,000 '74-'81 T-topsharks were built and you can find them relatively easily. The '74s and'75s can be an exception because of the higher cost of convertibles andbig-blocks. Plus, those build figures don't reflect convertibles, pacecars, or anniversary cars. Prices vary from a few thousand dollars totwenty grand or more for an extremely nice, restored car.

To the first-time buyer, a low- dollar car may seem like the smart wayto go because, after all, it needs work anyway. But buying a low- dollarcar usually means everything needs attention immediately, which can becostly. Based on our experience, a car in the $2,000 range is good formajor modifications or a donor car, but not this project.

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Here's another typical leak to expect on a shark. The leaking P/Scontrol valve appears to be a remanufactured unit. TheP/S-control-valve-to-P/S-assist cylinder hoses are bent and out ofposition.

A lot of sharks in the $5,000-$6,000 range have had some repair workdone. These cars are sometimes good bargains because someone may havetired of the project and wants out. A shark in this range may be a goodbuy for an owner who can do his own repairs and cleaning.

Sharks in the $7,000-$10,000 range can be a good starting point for thefirst-time buyer. These cars should be driveable with good exterior andinterior appearance. Remember, a professionally restored shark sells for$20,000 or more, so if you find one for even half that, it will stillrequire some repairs.

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The driver-side lower-control-arm bushing is gone, causing a loud clunkwhen brakes are applied. Power-steering leaks end up on top of the frontlower-control-arm bushing, weakening it. When this happens, thecontrol-arm bushing becomes soft and falls apart.

Spending a few dollars more up front can save money in repairs later.Knowing this from the many sharks that have passed through the shop, Ilooked for one in the $5,000-$7,000 range. I like the interior of the'74-'77 because of the round speedometer and tachometer, but don't carefor the flat back window. If you live in an area where air conditioningisn't optional, the '78-'81 A/C is preferable because it has moreairflow than the earlier cars. The '74-'77 can be modified to havebetter A/C airflow, but it costs money.

With a good idea of what I wanted, I found a '79 with fresh paint and afour-speed transmission. The owner said it was mostly unmodified, so Igrabbed my Corvette Black Book and went to look at it. On the way, I wasthinking how nice it would be to shift a car again. You don't find many'74-'81 four-speed cars--especially factory equipped. As I turned intohis shop, I remembered the seller telling me it was red. This isn'tnecessarily a bad thing, but it seems every car I have the opportunityto buy is red.

My first impression of the car was fairly good. It had a spoiler on thefront and rear, two different brands of tires, and the center hubcapswere missing from the Rally wheels. The tires were pretty worn,indicating the car was most likely bought for resale. The interior wasmostly complete with incorrect seats. Someone installed a Vega steeringwheel on the non-tilt steering column. Under the hood looked largelyuntouched, as the owner said. Most of the shielding and hardware was inplace, which was good. But there was a rust-colored stain on theradiator and the right side of the engine compartment. So it had anoverheating engine and possible engine damage as a result.




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