Are you restoring for the love of the brand or going above and beyond? Are you trying to bring back your Corvette to the glory that once existed on the showroom floor or are you looking for another level by going well beyond what the factory did?
In the interim, many of us have always wanted to restore our newly acquired Corvette to showroom brilliance, or factory fresh if you will. There can be no denying there’s something about the shine and smell of a new car … especially one we have lusted after for years, possibly decades. I know, as I am no different and recently found myself in just such a predicament.
I recently found myself in a situation where I was able to round up two vintage Corvettes: a 1968 and a 1971. Ah, the beauty of the last of the real “bumper” cars. Chromed steel, nothing can replace it for its brilliance, appearance and heft! Now, the ’68 is pretty close to stock throughout, some might note that many of the components are numbers-correct (meaning they stack up to the mid-June 1968 build date supported by the buildsheet found on the top of the gas tank. Wow, was that a cherished find!). While the ’71 has lived the life of many a Corvette … it’s a hot rod and as such has undergone a myriad of changes.
Of course, the ’68 model in general has long suffered the disdain of the Corvette world for all of its shortcomings, not the least of which is the speculation that it was the car that placed Zora Arkus-Duntov on shaky ground (dare I say that!) within Chevrolet. Even by Duntov’s own admission it was the only Corvette that he felt was not better than the one that came before.
And that brings me to my ’71. It was hot rodded over the course of time as a daily driver and when things went awry parts were replaced with little to no regard for any future of numbers-matching heritage. Truthfully, it may actually be easier to work on the ’71 because I can go in the direction that’s fun today, building the performance car of my dreams.
You know the drill, a hopped-up engine and trans, immensely upgraded front and rear suspension, the latest in today’s wheel and tire design and performance, and throw in some nasty sounding exhaust. Heck, I might even spiff up the interior to enhance what little creature comforts there are. Let’s face it, neither the ’68 nor the ’71 had air conditioning to get too excited about.
But then there are those who have the budget and time to restore their pride and joy to the “nth” degree. Some of the most beautiful Corvettes I have ever seen were restored cars. Every aspect is more than correct … it’s perfect but is that what a restoration should be all about?
I’ve been around long enough that I have seen darn near every generation of Corvette new and in a showroom. And while it’s true that time can cloud one’s memories I am here to tell you that many of today’s restorations are well above the bar set by the factory. That’s OK and let’s face it, the car and the money required belongs to someone else and if that’s what he wants then so be it.
I just wonder, though, if we are doing justice to the up and coming Corvette crazy fans as to the actual appearance that this car once represented. Take, for instance, my ’68. I remember looking at this car new and on the showroom floor of Eddie Hopper Chevrolet in Garden Grove, California, as well as at Guaranty Chevrolet in Santa Ana, California, and I am here to tell you that the fit and finish were a long way from what I am seeing today. What is called a restoration today is far beyond the quality one might have seen on any of the high-end luxury cars back then.
As much as I thoroughly enjoy looking at the ’68 and the ’71, I know when they were new the fit, finish, performance and even ride quality left something to be desired. I also know that given some of today’s new products massaged with 50-plus years of technology behind them I pretty much can’t help but put together a better car now than what rolled off the assembly line or out of the dealership. So, am I doing the nameplate justice?
Well, time will tell but I hope to serve my lifelong dream of driving to work every day in a Corvette of my own liking. I guess that’s what restoring or modifying a hot rod is all about … to your own liking. And that’s why I like Corvettes … each is to the owners own liking.
Photography by the Author