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Corvette Frame Restoration - Discoveries Down Under
Inspecting, Preserving, And Repairing Corvette Frames
Feb 1, 2011
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Corvette Frame Restoration - Discoveries Down Under
The Achilles' heel of these frames is the rear end of the side rail, in front of the rear tire. When dirt that has accumulated in this area gets wet, it can take days or weeks to fully dry. And there's a surprise behind the framerail's endplate.
Removing the endplate shows a hidden internal gusset, which compounds the problem in this area by creating a small chamber with poor ventilation. Once dirt is trapped inside, it stays there. Once wet, it stays wet for a long time.
Insert a long blowgun nozzle into all available openings on the boxed section of the frame. Blow out any deposits of dirt and sand. Although this is more easily done on a lift, it can be performed at home if a large compressor is available.
A section of 1/8-in steel brake line attached to a blowgun creates an extended nozzle. This is particularly effective because it can be bent as needed to access all inside corners and surfaces. Removing accumulations of dirt helps prevent premature corrosion on any Corvette (or, for that matter, any other vehicle).
POR 15 is an incredibly durable rust-preventative coating that bonds tightly to steel, even on rusty surfaces. Tip one: Wear gloves, as POR 15 can't easily be removed once dry. Tip two: Purchase the 4-ounce cans; POR 15 can harden in the can after exposure to moisture in the air.
Oil is a very effective rust preventative, particularly for hard-to-reach, hard-to-prep areas. If you're not concerned about excess oil dripping out, squirt oil liberally into problem areas. Blow out any accumulated dirt first, and make sure the area being oiled is dry.
Warning! Warning! Undercoating on Corvette frames waves a giant red flag, since it's usually applied to hide extensive rust damage. Plus, undercoating is a bad idea for rust prevention on frames. When the thick coating separates from the steel surface, it traps water and makes the frame rust faster.
This is what you want to see when inspecting a Corvette frame: crisp corners and solid steel at all edges and punched holes or slots. If the lower surface of the frame is mostly bare steel, that's all the better, because there's no worry about repairs hidden beneath paint.
The rearmost crossmember is not boxed, but it suffers from road spray and exhaust heat. Fortunately, it is relatively easy and inexpensive to replace. Note the difference in texture of the surfaces. The new part is smooth, while the original part shows the effect of surface rust, even after sandblasting and painting.
Replacing major sections of the frame due to rust or collision damage requires the removal of the body. An insert was constructed and slid into both the old and new boxed sections of this frame before they were abutted. In addition to welding sections where they abut, inserts were welded through holes in the sections to further strengthen the joint. Inspect the frame where it rises behind the front wheels; this is a common splice point.
Frame damage from past collisions is not uncommon on C2 and C3 Corvettes. Inspect for this by measuring the distance between the front lower A-frame bushing bolts. It should be the same as the distance between the rear bushing bolts. Also measure the distance from the lower ball-joint zerk fitting to the transmission crossmember on each side.
Another common problem area is the weld attaching the extension for the rear of the lower A-frame to the front crossmember. Inspect it for cracking or tearing. This can usually be re-welded with the body on and engine in place. Note the gusset added between the crossmember and extension for added strength.
Removing portions of the endplate and framerail reveals the culprit: the internal gusset that creates a chamber within the boxed frame. Once dirt gets in here, it stays there and greatly accelerates rust damage.
A replacement piece of steel is cut and fitted to the underside of the framerail. This piece is then tack-welded in place.
Surface rust and rust scale are ground off near the cuts to enable a secure weld. The inner replacement piece will be welded from the inside because the inner cut is covered by a gusset.
After the rust is ground, the inside surfaces are brush painted with POR 15. The replacement steel for the other portion of the frame is cut, fitted, and installed overlapping the outer piece like the original.
The outer piece of framerail is now ready for final welding.
The weld is ground flush with the frame.
After the lower portion of the endplate is fitted and welded, the upper weld is also ground flush with the surface of the remaining original portion of the plate.
After grinding, any pits or deep grind marks can be filled prior to painting. Fortunately, the outer surface of this frame has no surface rust or pitting, so the replacement steel pieces look the same as the rest of the frame.
POR 15 is brushed over the bare steel and adjoining areas for rust prevention. It also serves as a primer for the topcoat, which is applied the next day.
A semi-gloss black topcoat is sprayed after the POR 15 is sanded. The repair is invisible, and the frame now looks good when viewed from underneath or through the wheelwell.
A body-off frame helps show the area where the body-on-frame repair will be done. A portion of the endplate of the framerail, and the area beneath and just in front of the endplate, will be removed and replaced. This area is the Achilles' heel of C2 and C3 frames.
The lower portion of this endplate is completely rusted through. It is not structurally important, but it is visible in the wheelwell at the front of the rear tire. Because a flap of fiberglass covers the upper portion, the plate is cut a little below the fiberglass using a die grinder.
The overlapping bottom pieces of the framerail in front of the plate are also rusted through. Tape is applied to help make the die grinder cuts straight. The framerail pieces are cut on the lower corners so that only flat pieces of steel are needed for the replacements.
The inner surface of the removed portion of the rail shows how localized frame rust can be. The steel is completely rusted through where dirt was accumulated, and yet the steel is perfect just an inch to the right.
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