With the price of Chevrolet products of the '60s and '70s looking more like what you'd spend on a nice condo, many have given up hope of ever owning vintage Bow Tie iron. Let's face it, even the rattiest first-gen Camaros command a king's ransom, even when equipped with a 6-cylinder engine. Novas used to be cheap, but that's no longer the case. A Tri-Five? Ha! Better be ready to empty the 401k.
We may have stumbled onto one of the last bastions of reasonably priced old Bow Ties: 1968-1982 Corvettes. No, we have not lost our minds. Sure, if you want a matching-numbers, 427/435-horse '69, you'd better have deep pockets, but small-block project cars are not as dear as you'd think. And if you don't prefer the rubber bumper cars built from 1973 and later, you can find real bargains. These can be had in the $5,000-$10,000 range all day long. And, while they don't run in stock trim like an LS6 Chevelle, they make great hot rods, can be easily modified, and have a near-unlimited supply of affordable restoration parts available for them. They also deliver striking styling, standard four-wheel disc brakes and are usually armed with lots of desirable standard features (especially with the late-'70s, early '80s models).
These Mako Shark II concept-inspired cars were also produced in high numbers (by Vette standards), which in tandem with their low-compression smog motors, helps keep down the purchase prices of later cars. The C3 Corvette prices are pretty much within reach of any average enthusiast, so why not take a different approach when you break into the kid's college fund? There still may be some cash left over.
We know what some of you are thinking: "A Corvette in Super Chevy?" Hey, we remember when this was the norm. In the magazine's early years it was rare to see an issue of SC that didn't have a Vette on the cover.
Our project specimen was found through an ad in the National Corvette Restorers Society's Drivelines newsletter for a price in the mid-teens. And while that may seem high for a non-original, non-original color example, it had one very big thing going in its favor: It's an original LT-1 car, which was the rarest of all Stingrays with just 1,741 produced in this, the option's final year. (The year 1972 marked the first time the actual engine code was carried in the VIN, so even without paperwork, you can buy one with confidence.) The LT-1 may have been the ultimate small-block, with lots of torque and the ability to rev to 6500 rpm.
The 1972 Corvette marked the end and beginning for many things. It was the last year to have both front and rear chrome bumpers, and was the last Vette to have a removable rear window. The LT-1 was also the last factory small-block to have a solid-lifter camshaft, and was also the only year air conditioning was available with the LT-1. This is an extremely rare find, as only 240 were so equipped. (Unfortunately, our project car wasn't one of those 240.) The '72 Corvette was also the first year the anti-theft system came standard.
This particular Stingray was originally white with a black interior, but was painted baby-poop brown sometime in the mid '70s (technically, it's called Cadillac Firemist Bronze metallic). To carry the disco-era theme even further, it was equipped with 15x8 aluminum slotted mags, which we swapped (temporarily) for a set of 15x7-inch Rallys from a '73 Stage 1 Buick. At some point in time, its original 255 net-horsepower engine disappeared and was replaced by a '73 350 passenger car motor, which is backed by an M-22, which technically a garden-variety LT-1 shouldn't have, as the heavy duty four-speed was only available that year with the ZR-1 road-race option or with a big-block.
While the color made us wince, the body was virginal and there was no rust on either the frame or the A-pillars, two problem areas on these cars. Because bodywork on these cars can cost a fortune, buy the best example you can find. Within a matter of days, Project Homewrecker was off to Motor City Auto Body in sunny, scenic Newark, New Jersey, where it was placed in the capable hands of Manny Costeira and his staff.
We wrestled with the color choice for weeks. Classic White (code 972) may have been the original hue, but it didn't do it for us. If the car was a convertible with a black top, we'd have gone with Ontario Orange, but without a contrasting roof we decided on something different: Targa Blue, an original 1972 color. Dark metallic colors work wonders on the swoopy body lines of these cars, especially with the chrome bumpers, tailpipes, and emblems.
If not for key player Mid America Motorworks jumping aboard this project, it probably would not have taken flight. Mid America Motorworks, located in Effingham, Illinois, houses one of the most extensive lines of Corvette parts we've ever seen. All years are covered, from 1953 to 2007. The prices are remarkably reasonable, something you don't always find in the Corvette hobby.
Because there was little in the way of bodywork, Motor City's job was fairly simple. Unfortunately, the exterior brightwork was not in such good shape. One of the Stingray fender emblems was broken, the exhaust extensions were history, and the bumpers faded to oblivion. Mid America Motorworks supplied us with everything we needed to revamp the exterior: front and rear bumpers (plus mounting hardware), all new emblems, outside mirrors, door handles and gaskets, an exhaust filler panel (the one area of body damage we found), and a hood stripe stencil kit (among other goodies). The parts were all top shelf and fit perfectly. In part two of Project Homewrecker, we'll finish up a few minor exterior components. Most of the concentration will be on the interior, as a plethora of new parts from Mid America Motorworks will be installed. Stay tuned.
Now for the time we've all been waiting for: the paint. First, all the door jams, body seams, and nooks and crannies get sprayed. Then the remainder of the car gets even coats, until the painter is satisfied with the coverage. Typically, Motor City only does collision repair, but it has had a few of its custom projects featured in national magazines.
Take notice: this is a basecoat/clearcoat process. Seen in the picture below is the dull-looking basecoat. On the bottom is the finished product with clearcoat. Before the clearcoat is applied, the basecoat is checked for any imperfections that may need attention. Pretty shiny, huh? Check out Motor City's state-of-the-art downdraft booth.
Presenting the new Stingray side emblem, crossed flags nose and gas cap emblems from Mid America Motorworks. I'm having flashbacks.
Also from Mid America Motorworks, we have the door weather stripping. This will replace the worn out junk from 35 years ago and provide a tight seal around the door.
Pictured here is the front pillar post seal and its partner, the rear vertical window seal.
Next on our menu is probably one of the most important seals, the one for the removable roof panels (aka T-tops). These cars were not known for being water tight when new, which is another reason to check carefully for rust around the windshield frame and A-pillars. No need to ruin the new interior with water damage. It seems that everyone's first question is: "Do the tops leak?" The answer: Not anymore!
Here's the new GM license plate bezel from Mid America Motorworks. The old piece was pitted, dull and, frankly, not worth revamping. The best part of Corvettes of this vintage is an overabundance of affordable parts, both for restoration and modification.
Shown here are the exhaust tips. They are specific from right to left.
The hood ledge seal, which seals the hood to cowl area.
Here we begin re-assembly. First are the new triple chrome-plated rear bumpers from Mid America Motorworks. These babies fit like stock and came with all new mounting hardware. With the high cost to re-dip parts these days, it's almost not worth it. We'll save our old ones, however, as they were straight.
Next are the chrome license plate bezel, Corvette lettering, and taillight lenses. Some tweaking will be performed to later perfect all alignment errors.
We now moved to the passenger side in order to install the gills back onto the shark. These will be removed later in order to add the factory silver paint trim. Also installed is the Stingray side emblem.
It was time to turn our attention to the passenger door. A new side view mirror is being installed. This is a popular modification nowadays, as a passenger side outside mirror was not offered on the Corvette until 1977. The problem is that these cars have massive blind spots and without the extra mirror, it's difficult to see what's next to you. The extra mirror looks good and adds a margin of safety. Mid America Motorworks supplies this template in order to drill holes. Sounds scary huh? With patience, it's not too difficult. Once the 3/8-inch holes were drilled, grommets were pressed in and the mounting bracket was installed.
Now that the door has been fitted with a sideview mirror, a door handle, and a lock cylinder, it's time to reunite it with the car. The factory door handles looked trick, but were prone to sagging and pitting. Retail replacements from Mid America Motorworks are only $49.99 a pair. If they are not pitted, the company offers replacement springs to keep them from sagging. Notice that the Motor City staff lines all edges with masking tape in case of accidental contact during installation.
Once the headlight assemblies were reinstalled, the new front bumper was bolted up. Mid America Motorworks provides all new hardware for ease of installation. The finish on the bumpers was mirror-like.
Coming down the home stretch, the front grilles were screwed in and the hood was prepped for installation. Once again, much caution was taken during installation due to tight tolerances.
Finally the cowl is installed, and this baby starts to take shape. All items were rough fit and will be meticulously aligned prior to vehicle delivery.
Not bad for half a day's work. We have most of the exterior components installed and can't wait until it's on the road.
Special thanks go to Corvette enthusiast Dave Carara of Creative Towing for graciously flatbedding our latest project from the Super Chevy Corporate Garage to Motor City Auto Body in Newark, New Jersey.