Nostalgia is great. Early model Corvettes, all of 'em, have style and a certain grace, a sensuousness that isn't there in a late model. There's nothing wrong with a C4 or a C5's appearance; their forms are functional, first and foremost, while their elders were designed to be eye candy, to be attractive, almost frivolous. But those same glorious shapes cover mechanical components that, while in many instances were advanced compared to much else that was available in those days of old, now rank right up there with a Conestoga wagon.
For the restoration side of the hobby, that's part of charm. If you are lucky enough to own a nice original or correctly restored first- through third-gen, you accept the quirks that were built into the old timers. If your primary intent is to have a vintage Corvette that can be driven comfortably and safely, well, them oldies aren't always goodies.
Possibly the two biggest deficiencies in the first three generations are brakes and steering. The four-wheel drums were scrapped in 1965. The disc brakes that were used from 1965-82 still work well, particularly when treated to the common upgrades like stainless steel sleeves. Systems like SSBC's Force 10 (see "Gimme A Brake," October 2001) bring those setups in the 21st century, and there's a plethora of quality bolt-on front disc brake conversions for the solid-axles.
There is, of course, the Paul Newman/Car Creations approach-extensively reworking both ends and portions of the center of '53-72 frames to adapt complete late C4 front and rear suspensions, brakes, and power rack steering into the older models. It's very well engineered, very well crafted, works incredibly well, and costs a lot more than many folks can afford to invest in an old Shark.
Steering upgrades? Well, that's another matter entirely. We know of at least one company that makes a bolt-in front suspension conversion, with disc brakes and a Mustang-sourced rack-and-pinion steering system, a la street rods, for '53-62 Corvettes. Owners of '63-82 Vettes who want something better than the bulky and imprecise factory worm and sector steering box and, if equipped with power assist, the even bulkier setup with hoses, slave cylinder, and power ram dangling below the car, have been pretty much out of luck.
There's a seeming ton of moving, "wear" parts in the old C1-C3 steering systems, and it's not at all unusual to have a quarter turn (of the steering wheel) dead area or slop in the system, just from wear in the box and related parts. If the idler arm is shot, a frontend shimmy is common. Delightful-dead-on-center steering, sloppy and imprecise, and the front tires and wheels shake and shimmy like a third-rate exotic dancer.
Just changing a power steering-equipped '63-82 over to a more contemporary, internally-boosted steering box (and getting rid of the bulky and leaky ram, cylinder, and related parts) would be a tremendous improvement for a non-resto driver. Jeff Montgomery, the owner/builder of the silver split-window in the March 2002 issue, did such a swap, and we're working with him on creating a how-to.
It would, however, be a quantum leap forward to be able to convert one of these vintage Vettes to a modern rack-and-pinion steering system, just like in all C4s and C5s, and almost everything else automotive in this day and age.
Pure and simple, a rack-and-pinion steering system imparts a much more positive feel, is more compact, weighs less, and has substantially fewer moving and wear parts. It's a win-win situation, and there is now a true bolt-in, power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering conversion kit for'68-82 Corvettes. The system or kit, called Steeroids(tm), was in development for at least a year and a half and has just been released for sale by the manufacturer, SpeedDirect of Santo, Texas.