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.