Corvette Restoration: The EngineBringing back a classic to original specs
When it comes to restoring a classic Corvette, making it "better than new" is not always the best approach, at least if you plan on entering a competition for the NCRS (National Corvette Restoration Society). Judges actually deduct points for an engine that's too quiet or a paint job that's smoother than the original. Imperfections such as noisy tappet valves or wavy fiberglass are hallmarks of an authentic Corvette because that's the way they came straight from the factory back in the '50s and '60s. For these and other arcane details about the world of restoration, we visited with Carlos and Sherry Vivas of C&S Corvette Restoration.
The husband and wife team started out restoring Corvettes as a hobby (they own a red '64 coupe), but 10 years ago it grew into a steady business with more than 100 cars a year now rolling through their shop doors in Torrance, California. Most of the Corvettes they handle are from the late '50s and early '60s, but occasionally a later model car shows up, even though the cost of restoration far exceeds the vehicle's market value. Corvette collectors are an enthusiastic lot, and usually well heeled, too. They have to be, since a complete frame-off restoration typically costs at least $25,000, if not more, depending on the condition of the car and the documentation research required. (For instance, one Corvette owned by a customer from Japan had an unusual special-order color that required a lot of digging to verify.)
Over the years C&S has been awarded more than 300 trophies for its work. We wanted to know the secrets of this company's success, so we met with one of its more colorful customers, Milton Lewis. His silver blue '64 coupe won not only 99.2 percent of 4,510 possible points at two collector events, but also the prestigious NCRS Mark of Excellence Duntov award. He gave us access to a large volume of photos chronicling the restoration of his treasured car. Since there are so many pictures and details, this article is broken down into three parts: engine, chassis and body.
Even though the restoration proceeded apace on all three aspects simultaneously, the entire process required more than two years of meticulous work. Why did Milton go to so much trouble to restore it? Partly because it's worth a lot of money now (he's been offered more than $60,000 for it), and also because of the memories associated with it. Milton purchased the car new for $5,652 when Hughes Aircraft Co. employed him as part of the Space and Communication division, working on the first soft lunar landing spacecraft, "Surveyor." The first soft landing on the moon was in 1966, and he was a young engineer assigned to the launch team. Since the program included seven spacecraft, he had to drive his new 1964 Corvette from Los Angeles to Coco Beach and Cape Canaveral, Florida three times. During his stint in Florida he recalls taking as many as four other engineers to lunch, not an easy feat with two in front and two squeezed in the back compartment of his two-seater coupe.
One especially fond memory Milton associates with his Corvette was the birth of his daughter in March 1970. He brought his wife and newborn home from the hospital in the '64 Vette, with the baby in a small bassinet tucked in the back. In her preteen years she often said that she would like to drive his '64 Vette, and on her 13th birthday she said it again. He replied that it would be difficult since he was working on the car and they'd have to talk about it at another time. He then removed the steering wheel and the car sat in his garage for twelve years. She learned to drive in a new Ford Mustang convertible instead.
Years passed and when the treasured car began to show its age, Milton decided it deserved some attention. His neighbor Joe Rajacic helped him start the process of a frame-off restoration and engine rebuild, and he introduced Milton to Carlos Vivas, owner of C&S Corvette. Carlos even made house calls to help with its completion. Try to get your doctor to do that! For details on the engine resto, click on the attached photos, courtesy of Milton Lewis and the author. For info on the chassis and bodywork, see the second and third installments in this series.
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