Through the first five installments of our Split Personality project series, we've covered project planning, chassis and suspension, engine, drivetrain and brakes, installing C5 seats in a midyear, engine electronics, and exhaust and fuel systems. In this installment, we'll cover the various features of the body and exterior components. In the next installment, we'll cover the engine compartment and cooling system, and in Part 8, the key interior features including the A/C installation. Over the course of this project series, we'll feature each one in enough detail to give you a good idea of what's involved and the sources we used. Since each project is unique, and you'll have your own ideas on the approach to take and components to use, we'll just describe the approach we've taken and what has worked for us. At the very least, we hope it will stimulate some ideas and hopefully save you time.
Perhaps the most enjoyment we receive from these projects is being able to design our own features and see them come to life. The fun, and sometimes the pain, can lie in the details, and if that's a good measure, we've had more than our share of each with this project!
Our basic approach to the body is to retain the integrity of the original styling but take the original ideas further to improve function, performance, and appearance. In our minds, the styling is the feature that attracted folks to the car from the beginning, and it's an aspect that's hard to improve. Frankly, it's possible to go too far in making changes and potentially ending up with features that don't fit well with the original design. Our focus is to make subtle changes to enhance what's already there, with the objective of making only those changes that look like they belonged there from the beginning. That doesn't mean there aren't many changes, but we know we've achieved our goal if they blend well with the original design and you have to look twice to notice most of them. Here are the major repairs and custom changes that were made to the Split Personality '63.
Body Exterior - Bodywork, Paintwork, and Polish
The first order of business was to repair or replace whatever fiberglass or metal needed restoration, which-no real surprise here-turned out to be much more involved than we had hoped. We fully realized the extent of repairs needed once the body was media blasted. First, the front end had more previous repairs than we liked, and we decided to replace it with a press-molded and jig-assembled nose from Corvette Image. Next was to replace the drip moldings, which had some rust, using reproduction pieces available from America's Finest Corvettes. We also found some weak areas just above the door striker areas and had pieces made by Twin Brooks Restoration using an English Wheel. Once the nose was removed, we also found some small rusting beneath the windshield area, which was rewelded and coated. Fortunately, the remainder of the birdcage structure was in great shape. (See photo 1: bare body/doorsill)
In addition to the repairs and custom touches made to the body, a great deal of time was spent by the Corvette Center in Newington, Connecticut, smoothing the body surfaces and gapping each seam and joint for the hood, doors, headlight doors, and valance panels, as well as fitting the door handles, locks, parking and taillights, grille, and moldings. Jason Bernier spent many painstaking hours getting both the top and underside of the body the way we wanted. He certainly put a lot of effort into it and did an outstanding job.
For paint products, we again used the BASF Glasurit Paint System, which we've used on all our cars. The red is a custom mix first used on our '67 Corvette and later on the '62. After the bodywork was completed, it was coated with a polyester primer-surfacer, and then the BASF process of primer, sealer, guidecoat, base, and clear followed. One side note is that we once tried using the same formula with a different brand of paint, and the color was noticeably different. Whatever the reason, we've had such good luck with the BASF products that we'll stick with a known product that's worked well for us.
Once all the bodywork was completed, we decided to take an additional step by having the body "baked" to make sure everything was completely cured and to bring out any issues such as trapped gases or seam problems. The baking booth was heated to a temperature of 140 degrees for two hours. While we didn't find any issues, we felt it was a good step before going into final paint.
While we're addressing the subject of paint, it's probably a good time to mention the polishing and wax products we use. While we have tried many different products over the years, we like the results from the Zaino line of products. Everyone has their preference for what they feel the results should be when it comes to ease of use, durability, gloss, and depth of shine, but we've found Zaino gives us the results we look for on both the Vettes as well as the daily drivers. Discussions we've seen regarding polishing products can often turn into a heated debate, and we don't want to get into that turmoil but just relate what works best for us. Whatever you are satisfied using, by whatever measure you feel most important, is a personal choice. We've also found that Zaino's product support is outstanding. It's not usual to have the owner of a company call to answer your questions, but Sal Zaino has done that for us more than once. After the paint was wet-sanded and buffed, we then applied Zaino "Fusion" for the final polishing, using a Porta-Cable random orbit polisher and white foam pad, followed by hand applications of Zaino Z5 polish and Z6 detailer using microfiber towels from DF Towels.
Extensive work was also done on the underside of the body. As we wanted to finish the underside to the same degree as the topside, each bonding strip was reshaped, the entire underside of the body was smoothed, all corners were filled and radiused, and several new panels were made to smooth out the underside appearance of the body. One key tool in making this doable was the body-dolly attachment that allowed us to lay the body on its side. Ninety-degree-angle fixtures were made, which fit into the square tubing of our body dolly. They're relatively easy to make, hold the body steady, and allow full access to the underside. This would have been an almost impossible job to do lying on our backs. (See photo 2: body tilter)
Since we painted the frame red, we wanted more contrast and decided to paint the underside of the body in a two-tone of Corvette Quicksilver and our custom mix of red. Since we plan to drive the car, we also used Chip-Guard in the areas which might be subject to stone chips, such as the wheelwells. Color was mixed with the Chip-Guard to achieve full coverage. For appearance in visible areas, the Chip-Guard was smoothed and clear-coated. (See photo 3: body underside and photo 4: wheelwell)
When we started to make the list of changes to cover here, it reminded us of just how many changes there were. Here's a recap of the major body changes.
Cold-Air Intake :::
We laid out several approaches that would gain access to outside cooler air. The main considerations were how well it could be integrated into the body as well as the best route to take to get to the engine. Other factors were the type of ductwork that could be used and how we could make the connection to the throttle body. Space is awfully tight when you look for a route through the chassis, under the radiator, under the steering rack, and in front of the engine damper. The approach we used uses a scoop molded into the front valance (which incorporates a custom air filter and grille) and a combination of silicone and metal ductwork to connect to a custom throttle-body elbow made by Street & Performance.
The intake grille is located between the bumpers and is a custom piece machined by Marks Machine to our design, which maintains the horizontal-bar style of the grille. Behind the grille is a custom air filter we made ourselves. The scoop was made starting with an aftermarket unit which was extensively changed to make it blend into the valance. The rear of the scoop was shaped to fit an aftermarket C4 bridge, which makes a transition to a 90-degree elbow and then an upward turn under the steering rack. From that point, an ovalized tube was used to make the connection to the throttle-body elbow, which is a custom piece made by Street & Performance and incorporates the Mass Air Flow sensor and IAT hose from the dry sump tank. We'll cover the engine compartment ductwork in the next installment. (See photo 5: intake grille)
Exhaust Outlet :::
We wanted to incorporate a C6 design element for the exhaust outlets as we had in our '62 and route the exhaust through the center of the rear valance. In our last project installment (Part 5 in the June '08 issue), we covered the exhaust system, hangers, and Corsa exhaust tips. For the cutout in the rear valance, a template was made for the area to be cut which was large enough to clear the exhaust tips and still fit beneath the license plate and between the bumpers. A lip was molded into the cutout to give it some shape. The shape mirrors that used for the intake scoop profile. (See photo 6: rear exhaust/valance)
Looking Back - RearView Camera System :::
While we're covering the rear of the car, this is a good time to mention another aspect we've addressed by using technology not available 45 years ago. No doubt the most recognized styling aspect of a '63 coupe is the split rear window. While a great styling feature (and subject to controversy when the car was designed), it's also a major limitation to rearward visibility. We thought a great way to overcome that would be to utilize current technology by incorporating a rearview camera. We did that by utilizing a tiny color camera from Rostra Precision Controls.
Finding a way to hide the camera proved a bit more involved than the installation itself. But, in keeping with our theme of making subtle changes, we thought installing the camera into the billet license plate frame would do just what we wanted. We worked with Richard Kemmel of BilletFrames.com to make the license frame. If you look at the letter "O" in the word "PRO" at the top of the license-plate frame, you can see where we mounted the camera. The monitor is contained within the rearview mirror and, while small in size, shows a clear view of the area behind the car. We wonder, had this been available when Mitchell and Duntov were arguing over the rear-window design, if the split window would have continued for other years. We'll never know. (See photo 7: rear camera) We'll address how we installed the mirror/monitor in the installment covering the interior features.
Side Fender Grilles :::
One feature of the '65-'67 midyears that most folks like is their functional side fender vents, as they help extract underhood heat and air pressure. We thought of several possible designs, but a key focus was to maintain the original design appearance as much as possible. Our approach was to cut the front, top, and bottom of the fender depressions (up to the point where you reach the firewall) and deepen them by 1 1/4 inches. (See photo 8: side fender vent cutouts) New pieces were fabricated to box them in, and outlet holes were cut into the forward areas. Grilles were designed to fit the openings as well as to achieve the proper angles that would fit each area. That was another aspect more involved than you would think, as the vertical and horizontal angles differ from top to bottom as does the side angle of the fender. We laid out a design and templates which were machined by Mark's Machine. When viewed from the side, it's hard to distinguish from stock, but as you move toward the rear, you can see the grilles and deepened recesses. (See photo 9: finished side fender vents and grilles)
Bumpers and Grille :::
We wanted to do something different with both the front and rear bumpers but not so much that they wouldn't retain their stock appearance from a normal viewing angle. Two areas we thought could be improved were on the backside of the front bumpers and underside of the rears. For the rear bumpers, templates were made and metal cut and welded in place to enclose the underside of the bumpers following the body contour, which would fill the normal gap between the bumper and body. That also meant that permanent nuts had to be welded in place to bolt the bumper in place from the backside. (See photo10: rear bumper filler plates and photo 11: finished rear bumper)
The fronts were a bit more involved as templates were made to enclose the entire backside; metal was cut to size, shaped to their curvature, and welded in place. That also meant a new means to mount the upper center bumper bracket would have to be made while also hiding the bolt mount. We made a slot in the rear of the bumper large enough for the bumper bracket to slide through and mate with the original bolt location. A snap-in cover was made to cover the bolt access hole. The welding job was handled by Twin Brooks Restoration in Suffield, Connecticut. (See photo 12: front bumper fillers and photo 13: finished bumper) It's tough to get a good shot of the rear side of the front bumper once installed, but hopefully you get the idea.
Chroming those pieces was more of an involved process than we had imagined-just ask the chromer! Chroming original bumpers is involved enough, but getting an even finish on an enclosed bumper was something else. One major issue was making sure that any holes were plugged to avoid the chemicals used in chroming from getting inside the bumper and forming a sludge, as it can leak out and discolor the chrome and also has the potential of ruining the contents of their tank (ask us how we know). After several tries, it was finally done, and we wouldn't want to have to tell the chromer that we had more like these to do. Allied Metal Finishing in South Windsor, Connecticut, did that work as well as all of our chroming.
We also had to make new lower brackets to mount the bottom of the front bumpers to the tube chassis. Believe it or not, we used 1-inch flex exhaust tubing as a template to get the shape and length needed. Inserts were machined from billet aluminum to make the mount at the frame and at the rear of the bumpers. (See photo 14: lower front bumper braces) In that photo, you can also see the grille. We wanted to use a stock '63 grille and were able to buy one unassembled. We then chromed the brackets and grille bars and assembled the grille with 6/32" x 1/4" stainless button head screws instead of rivets.
Hood Spears :::
Another area we wanted to change was the hood inserts, which, on a '63, are pressed metal "pie-plates." We thought of several options but decided that a "finned"-style hood spear would work well and match other finned components used elsewhere. The spears were designed and cut from billet aluminum by Mark's Machine and then chromed. Seven spears were used for each side of the hood. A template was made so that the recessed areas in the hood could be shaped to fit the spears. 3M side molding tape was used to hold them in place. (See photo 15: hood spears)
Rocker Panels :::
Our goal with the rocker panels was two-fold. First, to retain the original '63 rocker styling while making them blend in more and, second, to increase their height to cover the lower profile of the tube-frame chassis. This was another of those "more involved than you would think" aspects. We had two original rocker panels that were in really poor shape. We decided to use the upper molding portion, which was still in good shape, and remove the lower "finned" portion. What we found is that, once the support from the lower area was removed, the remaining upper molding area would bend into the shape of a banana. We had to have the upper moldings annealed while held in a fixture to get them straight again. Once that was done, male and female dies were made to match the profile of the original "finned" areas and aluminum stock was run through a Pullmax to shape them. Then the original upper moldings were bonded to the new lower pieces. The new rockers were polished, and the depressed areas between each "fin" were painted in body color. We also had to make longer rocker mounts to fit the increased height. We started with stock supports to which new sections were welded. Rather than welding them in place, we used machine screws to mount them to the rocker structure. (See photo 16: installed rockers)
Window Moldings :::
This project started with just a bare body shell, and all the moldings were missing. Since these aren't reproduced (except for the rear-window corners), we searched to find both the exterior as well as the interior moldings. Complete sets are hard to find, and we ended up purchasing several mixed lots to make a complete set. The sources we used were various suppliers, such as Andy Cannizzo from 63's R Us and eBay. We ended up with several extra moldings, but those were easy to sell to other folks looking for them.
The moldings we did find all needed to be restored as they were in need of polishing and either dented or scratched. We covered stainless molding restoration in an earlier issue of Corvette Fever. You can find it on our website under the Tech articles, and a link is on page 10 of our website at: http://www.richsclassiccorvettes.com. (See photo 17: rear-window moldings)
Custom Emblems :::
Austin Barnett of VetteORama made all our custom badges, including the Split Personality emblems and those for the intake manifold, side fenders, and a gas-door insert from billet aluminum. While we gave him a file with the design we wanted for each emblem, he was great to work with in developing design ideas, and his craftsmanship is outstanding. We still are puzzled how he was able to engrave the script and flags on the domed surface of the gas door insert. That had to take some doing. (See photo 18: Split Personality emblem, photo 19: fender emblem, and photo 20: gas-door insert)
Wheels and Tires :::
In keeping with our theme of combining the '63 Z06 with the current Z06 components, we chose to use chrome C6 Z06 style wheels from Mid America Motorworks, which are 17 x 9.5 inches in front and 18 x 9.5 in the rear. The tires are Michelin Pilot Sport II from the Tire Rack, and the front tire size is 265/40 ZR17 and the rear 275/40 ZR18. The wheel center cap is actually a '62 Corvette horn button from Trim Parts. The wheel lugs are stock C5 lugs with custom billet covers made by a friend of ours, Bill Breski (860/877-1370). (See photo 21: wheel, tire, center cap and lugs)
A Personal Note
The key aspect of these projects that continues to hold our interest is that they allow us the freedom to design and build a car expressing our own ideas and seeing it come to life. Each project is unique and has its highs and lows, especially in a long-term enterprise, and we've had many project- and personal-related issues over the four years it entailed. But the most memorable experience is how friends and family helped out, especially during the last four months, to make it come together in time for the first showing at the Detroit Autorama. The number of 18-hour days-and literally around the clock in the last three days-really pressed everyone to their limit, and we couldn't have finished in time without lots of help from every family member and our good friends. (See photo 22: family at work and photo 23: group photo in Detroit)
We've had the hope of participating in the Ridler competition at least once in our lives, and that has been our main goal in completing this project. One of their requirements is that the car can't have been seen at a show, in a magazine, or on the Web in its finished form prior to the Autorama, which is the main reason there has been a gap in our project series. We fully knew what we were up against, having been to Detroit in 2003 with our '62 and seeing in person the level of cars there; however, we wanted to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience. To our knowledge, a Corvette hadn't participated in the Ridler competition in over 30 years and, even though it's primarily a "hot rod" show, we hoped to represent the Corvette hobby as best we could. The Split Personality '63 received four awards at the show, but what we'll remember most are the friends and family who came to help us, the experience of participating at an event like this, and all the nice folks we met at the show.
More pictures of the project can be found on www.richsclassiccorvettes.com, and we're always glad to try to help anyone who may have a question.
In the next installment, we'll cover the engine compartment, engine details, and cooling system, followed by an installment covering the interior fea-tures, including the A/C and audio systems, gauges, seatbelt system and custom panels.