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