This is the first installment of a multipart series covering the building of our Pro-Classic '63 Corvette coupe. In this installment, we'll address the beginning of the project: Research & Planning, Establishing a Baseline Budget, and the Car Search Phases. We'll follow the "Pro-Classic Project Planning" outline, which appeared in Corvette Fever in December 2004, and the "Vette-Rods Basics" article that appeared in our February 2006 issue, and put more meat on the bones using our own project as an example. We'll recap the major points from those articles to avoid having to reference them and follow that format throughout the series.
There are many ways to enjoy the Corvette hobby these days. We've now completed several restorations and conversions and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. We are having more fun than ever building what we call "Pro-Classics," but you have likely heard of other terms such as "Resto-rod" or "Vette-Rod" in the case of Corvettes. But whatever you call them, it refers to a project that retains the style of the original car while transplanting modern Corvette components designed to improve the handling, braking, ride, performance, and comfort of a classic Corvette. It can result in the best of both worlds for those who love the classic lines of past generation Corvettes, but enjoy the improvements possible with the use of more modern components. One attractive aspect of a project of this type is that it gives you the chance to build a car expressing your own ideas as well as experiencing the enjoyment of creating a car that is unique, particularly if you enjoy doing much of your own work.
Many folks have asked for more details of what it takes to undertake a project like this. To try to answer that question we are going to describe how we have gone about it on our latest project through each major project phase. The following text, exhibits, and photos are intended to provide a real-life example of the major aspects involved, based on what has worked for us and refined through several projects.
Research & Planning Phase
Planning should always be the first step for any large project. There's quite a bit of up-front research to do and decisions to be made for a successful project, but the time spent here will pay off in the long run. Too many projects are abandoned because not enough time was spent on the initial steps, having a clear vision of the end product, or in managing the project. Taking the time necessary at this stage will minimize the headaches, disappointments, and lost investment that can result from diving into a project without having carefully thought things through. The two main planning tools we use are the Project Plan and the Building Plan.
One important thing to keep in mind is a project of this type is really two projects undertaken simultaneously. The first is whatever restoration work that is needed, and the second is the conversion to modern componentry. As a result it can be more involved and require more time and investment than some projects. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the best way we know of to make a large project doable is to break it into small and manageable pieces.
The first step is to decide your primary use for the car (street, show, or a combination), determine your objectives, and outline your vision (theme) of what the end product will look like. The second is to determine the type of components you plan to use to reach your objectives. The third is to decide who is going to do the work and sources for the necessary components and outsourced work, and the fourth is to determine what you want to invest both in terms of dollars as well as your time. From that point, you can lay out an initial cut at a project plan.
It might seem obvious that determining your primary use for the car would be a logical first step. All too often though this does not get enough attention. It is a key decision that should be made early-on as it will heavily influence the components used, their level of finish, and, ultimately, the total costs. Getting your objectives on paper will help you in thinking through what you really want as an end result, as well as provide a good point of reference as your project evolves. This also helps to set your expectations and will help in determining what you are willing to invest in time and dollars.
There are many ways to go about a project like this, but that's part of the fun. The modifications you decide on should enhance the overall performance while keeping the appearance as immediately recognizable as the car with which you started. Our main approach is to maintain the integrity and design of the original car while upgrading the major components. The changes, other than relatively subtle external changes, are kept largely to what's under the skin.
Researching the various component suppliers is a key early step in these projects. The Vette-Rod Source Guide in this issue of CF should be a big help. Another good idea is to contact the many chassis builders out there, as well as finding those people who have built their own cars. With the popularity of these cars expanding, there are many who can be found on the various Internet forums, such as the Corvette Forum at www.corvetteforum.com, the Corvette Action Center at www.corvetteactioncenter.com/forums/ and LS1 Tech at www.ls1tech.com/forums/. There's no sense in reinventing the wheel, and most of these folks are more than willing to help with tips from their own experience. Just be forewarned they won't do all your homework for you, but they are usually willing to be a good resource and help with your specific questions.
The Project Plan
The Project Plan identifies the major phases, tasks, responsibility, and estimated timelines. This sample plan can be used as a framework to develop your own project plan.
Once you have set your objectives, completed your initial research, and determined the major components to be used, you can lay out your first cut at a Project Plan, which identifies the major phases, tasks, and estimated timeline. Dividing the plan into major phases will help guide you through each of the major tasks involved. We break our plan into six phases.
- Research and Planning
- Initial Budget and Requirements
- Car Search
- Detailed Project Plan
- Disassembly/Component Ordering
- The Construction phase is broken into five areas.
- Chassis/Brakes and Suspension
- Engine/Accessories and Drivetrain
- Bodywork/Components and Painting
- Interior Components
- Miscellaneous section for odds and ends
Within each section you can list the major tasks, responsibility, target date, status, and notes to yourself. The format is up to you, but this has worked for us. We have outlined the major steps and the sequence we use, but each of us goes about things differently so just use whatever layout works best for you. We use Microsoft Word to lay out the plan as it makes things easier to setup initially, as well as to modify and keep up-to-date. Another aspect of a good plan is it allows you to manage all the things you have underway, anticipate the next steps, and keep track of where you are within each phase.
Our project timeframe example covers almost a three-year period given the extent of the project. While we have completed others in much less time, we really enjoy the design and building and decided to take our time with this one. We found the project car in April 2004 and plan to have it completed by early 2007. See the sample "Project Plan: Tasks and Timelines" (Chart 1, page 40) for a better idea of what we use.
The Building Plan
Once the overall Project Plan is laid out, you can get into more detail with the Building Plan. This follows the same categories-Engine and Accessories, Chassis and Suspension, Interior Components, Exterior, and a Miscellaneous section-used in the Project Plan Construction phase, but now goes into the specifics to identify the components for each major area, their sources, part numbers, and a place for your notes. We also use a Status column to keep track of things labeled as: Ordered, Received, Scheduled (and the date), Completed or Needing Further Research. This also helps give you a sense of progress and helps to manage the project. See the sample Building Plan (Chart 2, page 42) for a better idea of what one section of our plan looks like.
The Building Plan goes into the specifics needed for the Construction Phase to identify the components for each major area, their source, part number, and a place for your notes. It also helps keep track of whether a part or work has been ordered, received, scheduled, completed, or needs further research.
It's a good idea to retain all the company names, contacts, phone numbers, parts receipts, and notes you make from your research as part of your Building Plan and in a project folder file. We make one which is divided into the same categories as the Building Plan. It makes things easy to find and will be a good source of information should you need it in the future.
Car Choice/Objectives and Theme
For this project, we identified several years and models as potential candidates. We thought the '63 coupe, with its unique split window and as the first midyear, would be a great choice, plus combining the first Z06 model offered for sale with the latest C6 Z06 components would make a great theme for our project. As with all these cars, we set our main goals as improving handling, ride, braking, comfort, and performance, while maintaining the integrity of the original classic design. We've been closely following the new Z06 development and will use the LS7 engine as the centerpiece for our project.
Our plan is to participate in events such as Detroit Autorama, World of Wheels, Super Chevy, Good Guys, and Corvettes at Carlisle. While primarily designed for shows, this project, as with all our cars, will also be driven to many local cruise nights and shows so it has to work for both purposes.
These days it seems common to name a project. While we've never done that before, we thought the name "Split Personality" would be a good way to reflect the unique design feature of a split window coupe, as well as the combination of old and new components.
Initial Budget and Requirements Phase
It's at this point that you should develop an initial budget based on your objectives, theme, choice of car, and components you've selected based on what you have learned from your research. Outline a base budget considering the estimated cost of the project car itself, the major components you plan to use, and the labor involved for both your own time, as well as the estimated cost of the work you will farm out. The cost of a project like this can vary widely depending on these choices; this is the best way we know of to get a realistic estimate. Any "ball park" figure we could throw out would be misleading given the number of variables possible. Whatever dollar estimate you develop, it's a good idea to add another 30-percent for those things you have forgotten, underestimated, or for changes you will make in your plan as you move forward.
You'll also want to evaluate your own skills to determine how much of the work must be outsourced, and where you can find experienced people. The more you can do yourself, the better control you will have over the project, including how long it takes. But most folks will need some work done by others, and finding people who have the time, interest, reasonable rates, and skills necessary is a key aspect for a successful project.
It's also a good idea to identify the major tools you will need, considering what you already have on-hand and what you may want to get. For example, to do a body-off project, you will need a body dolly and tools such as an engine lift and stand. Also, don't forget to consider the space you will need. Projects like these require space for the body, the chassis, and the assorted parts and components-space needed is often an overlooked aspect of a project. It's not uncommon for a project to take 18-24 months, so it's best to plan on needing the space for quite a while.
Car Search Phase
Decisions on what car to build are usually more emotional than rational, so look for the car which really trips your trigger. You will be investing a lot of time, dollars, and emotion into this project, so you'll be more satisfied with the end result by starting with the year and style car that appeals to you most. For a project of this type, we always look for a car that is in need of restoration and missing its major original components. We wouldn't use a real original car as we feel those are most often better candidates for a restoration project. Finding a nonoriginal car will also help keep the costs down. However, it's useful to find a car with decent or re-sellable components as the unused parts can often be sold to help offset your total costs. For example, even if you plan to use a new chassis, the old rolling chassis is a key component for resale.
To find the right car, the key aspects are patience and knowing in advance what to look for. Luck is often an element, but it's usually persistence and patience that works best. Some of the major sources available: a search of the Corvette classifieds (e.g., e-Bay, Corvette Trader, Hemmings, NCRS Driveline); Corvette forums (e.g., Corvette Forum, Corvette Action Center, Digital Corvettes, NCRS); private parties/local classifieds; local car clubs can also be a great source for cars, as well as information and help on the project; locator services (e.g., Jim Gessner at Vette Finders, http://www.vettefinderjim.com/); cruise nights, which are held on virtually every day of the week in many areas often have cars for sale; used Corvette dealers (there are some well versed and honest dealers out there, but you have be careful and know their reputation as well as what to look for when evaluating their cars); car shows as many have car corrals, auctions, or owners with their cars for sale (Corvettes at Carlisle, for example, will have hundreds of cars available from private parties as well as dealers); and, lastly, networking.
The best advice is to do your homework to know what you are looking at. There are all sorts of resources today (NCRS, Internet forums, magazines, and so on). If you are at all uncomfortable in making a judgment yourself, take someone along that really knows these cars and what to look for. If you can't look at the car yourself, try to find someone who can look at it for you. Dealing long distance, based on just pictures and broad owner descriptions, may not get you what you want.
For this project, we started to consider which model, style, and year Corvette we would build over the winter of 2003/2004, and found we had the most interest in a '63 coupe. We began searching in earnest in early 2004. When we've been asked what to look for in a project car, we've always advised to buy the best and most complete car you can find and to avoid basket cases. Basket cases often lack key or hard-to-find parts, and it can be difficult to know what is missing. A complete car also has the advantage of having things in place so you can bag and label the parts removed and take photos of where things go when disassembling. You also know exactly what you have, what's missing, and what needs to be replaced or rebuilt. In this case, we couldn't find a car in the condition or as complete as we wanted. Most of the cars we found were ones which were "too good" or too expensive for what we had in mind. It also didn't help that we chose a one-year-only model, but we finally found one that was reasonably close to what we wanted. Unfortunately, it was missing many of the one-year-only parts, such as the rear window exterior and interior moldings. But it did have a valid VIN and a current title, which are important things to look for. It also had a restored chassis with upgraded components, and we were able to find a fellow with a totally rusted frame who could use it. As you will often find, once you start tearing things apart, you will encounter a few surprises. For example, this car had more problems in the nose, which was covered by primer paint, and we also found rust covered by body filler on the driprails once the body was media-blasted. expect some surprises even after going over everything with a fine-tooth comb.
We've now made quite a bit of progress but still have a long way to go. The car has been disassembled and media-blasted; the body work begun; the SRIII chassis has been received; and most of the major new components are on hand, as well as a large stack of restoration parts from Corvette America. Our restoration parts list alone was over seven pages long.
In the coming months, we will detail the construction phases with details on the chassis, suspension, brakes, various systems (fuel, cooling, heating, A/C, exhaust, custom components, and electrical), the body work, interior, and the drivetrain (including what's involved in installing the LS7 engine).
A Final Note
Our intent for this installment has been to set the stage for future articles and provide a specific example of what's involved and how to go about a project of this type. We'll get into the more interesting aspects in coming months with more details and photos.
These are involved projects but can be a great deal of fun. Many folks who have done their own projects have found building them as much fun as driving the completed car. We hope what we have learned from our experience will help others considering similar projects. We also have a web site with some early project pictures and information you can see at: http://www.corvetteforum.net/c5/richs7/. The site also includes links to many of the component manufacturers we are using. CF
'63 Corvette Z06
>>> Chassis and Suspension
>>> Interior and Exterior Features
>>> Wheels and Tires