Whenever a Corvette is brought into a shop for restoration, the owner has a big choice to make: Should the car get done exactly the same way it was on the '53-only line at Flint Assembly, the '54-'81 St. Louis Assembly, or the '82-up Bowling Green Assembly-or does it get done to an "insane level?"
Jeff Lilly says that his San Antonio, Texas, shop restored this '58 Corvette roadster for its current owner to the latter standard, knowing it could be point-deducted if it's judged at certain Corvette events. "Cars that are taken to national shows can have points taken off them because they're too straight," he says. "They want them to have the waves and shrink marks like the factory did, but we don't like to do that. I'm somewhat of an 'over-restorer,' so to speak." His shop builds to a higher standard than Chevrolet built Corvettes back then, which you can see in the photos of this finished '58.
The only way you'll see waves in this car's body is if you park it next to an ocean, or a large picture of one, even though it was far from smooth when it arrived at Jeff's facility. "Extremely rough" is the kindest thing he can say about the '58's before-work condition. "The car's original front clip was just plain wasted," he says. "There were thousands of cracks we had to repair all over the body." He says that most people would have said, "Forget it!" when a car is that bad. However, owner John Barker decided to build the car because when he first inspected it, he noticed yellow paint around the outer edges of the body. He wanted it because of its rarity even though its condition was so rough. But Jeff says it's best not to choose a car that bad when trying to build something really nice. "If you start with them rough, you can only get them so nice. If you start with a real nice car, you can make it outstanding, at a lot less cost, because it's already halfway there."
One reason why a car such as this was a good restoration candidate is its rarity. Only 190 Corvettes were built with the Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White color combination in 1958, out of a total production run of more than 9,100 Vettes (which was an increase of over 50 percent from 1957's production total).
Rare Combo: Out of 3,422...
Rare Combo: Out of 3,422 '58s that were optioned with the RPO 440 two-tone paint scheme, just this Vette and 189 others were finished in the Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White paint scheme.
Still, the challenges and revelations didn't end with the disassembly, as Jeff states that some of the reproduction fiberglass pieces he got weren't much better than what he'd taken off of it from a fit standpoint. "They were the best available," he says. "For instance, on the front driver-side fender, we had to cut out a section of the wheelwell, right down the center, because there was a large bow in it from the molds."
The original fiberglass body pieces had pinhole problems that had to be solved for the body to hold up after it was done. As Jeff notes, first-generation Corvette fiberglass body parts were hand-laid in molds that may not have been up to producing parts for 10,000 cars a year. That likely changed when the C2s entered production, which was when Chevrolet changed to injection-molded fiberglass with a larger-percentage glass count and fewer pin holes, which also looked darker than the earlier C1 'glass.
Underneath, the frame and chassis were another thing altogether. "The x-member in the frame had been butcher-cut in many places to fit different exhaust systems, so we had to redo all of those areas and make it look stock," he says. "There were lots of problems with this car."
Setting a Standard: Although...
Setting a Standard: Although there are plenty of other options on it, the '58 Corvette that Jeff's shop restored was built by Chevrolet, with the standard 230hp 283. Only that engine received painted valve covers, while optional engines were dressed with cast-aluminum ones with "Corvette" script.
Fins-Who Needs 'Em! Corvette's...
Fins-Who Needs 'Em! Corvette's rear quarter design from 1956-1957 carried over to the '58 model, with the exhausts routed through the rear bumper once again.
Crowning Each Corner: Reproduction...
Crowning Each Corner: Reproduction 6.70-15 radial-ply tires wear rechromed spinner wheel covers. Blackwall tires combined with painted wheels and "dog dish" caps meant there were wider wheels-and the optional heavy-duty suspension system-on the car.
Over a couple of years, Jeff's crew solved the problems that were in, on, and under this Corvette. Once the body was the way they wanted it, on went the original Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White colors, this time in modern basecoat/clearcoat urethane paint instead of acrylic lacquer. The original 230hp 283 and Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed were rebuilt to factory-fresh condition, as was the 3.55-geared rearend. Inside, the interior received a full-on restoration, with new Charcoal vinyl press-pleated/embossed covers wrapped to the seats. Original, Daytona-style loop-pile carpeting replaced the well-trashed piece the car had when Jeff got it.
When the job was done and the owner first laid eyes on the finished product, what was his reaction? "He said it was 'gorgeous,'" Jeff recalls.
Painless Dentistry: Corvette's...
Painless Dentistry: Corvette's facelift for the '58 reduced the number of grille "teeth" from 13 to 9, but the Corvettes wearing this grille were far from toothless.
Moral of the story: If you're looking for a Corvette to restore yourself or to bring to a shop like Jeff's, look for as complete and solid a car as you can find. "Bring me something that's really, really clean, and I can build you a diamond," he says. "In general, steer away from rough cars." He says that the body and its brightwork are the most expensive part of any project, especially "on a car like [the '58 Vette]because there's so much of it-fitting all those grille teeth and making sure they have a razor-blade gap between each of them, filing all the die-casting, and sanding all the copper to remove waves and fit to the body exact. Tweaking the stainless trim to fit to the panel edges. There's a lot to it."
And when you finally pick a car, Jeff recommends you get an appraiser to inspect it. "Spend the $300-$400 to have a professional look over the car, because they know certain things to look for," he says. This way you'll have a clear understanding of what you're getting involved with."
That way, you'll end up with a car that's an attention-getter like this '58 Corvette. But it won't take as long to finish.
DATA FILE ::: '58 Corvette
|Owned by John Barker; Restored by Jeff Lilly Restorations, San Antonio, Texas |
|TOTAL ||’58 Corvette production 9,168; in Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White two-tone 190 |
| BODY |
|Restored production ’58 Corvette |
|CHANGES ||Quad headlights, new nine-tooth grille, fake louvers on hood, and longitudinal chrome spears on trunk lid; Reproduction/replacement parts used in restoration, front body clip forward of doors |
|PAINT ||Panama Yellow/Snowcrest White, factory two-tone option (RPO 440), car’s original color scheme (Urethane basecoat/clearcoat paint used instead of OEM acrylic lacquer). Paint applied by Jeff Lilly Restorations, San Antonio, Texas |
|Restored production ’58 Corvette |
|SUSPENSION ||Front Coil springs with upper/lower A-arms, antiroll bar and hydraulic shock absorbers; Rear Leaf springs, hydraulic shock absorbers |
|BRAKES ||SSBC disc brakes at all corners replaced the OEM drum-and-shoe brakes and 11-inch-diameter drums |
|WHEELS ||15x5-inch steel, with factory wheel covers |
|TIRES ||Reproduction 6.70-15 whitewalls radials (to eliminate bias ply’s rough ride) |
'58-The Elongated Vette: ...
'58-The Elongated Vette: The '58 redesign added nine inches (and four headlights) to the Corvette's overall length.. but 1958 added more than 50 percent more Corvette sales than the year before, in a year when total new-car sales were down.
All New... All In View: Chevrolet...
All New... All In View: Chevrolet redesigned the Corvette's dash for the '58, putting the tach on top of the steering column. Seen here is the 0- to 6,000-rpm tach that came with all but the two solid-lifter 283s (which got 0- to 8,000-rpm tachs). All '58 Vettes received 0- to 160-mph speedometers.
|Overhead-valve V-8, Gen I small-block Chevrolet; Induction One Carter No. 26669 four-barrel carburetor |
|DISPLACEMENT ||283 |
|COMPRESSION ||ratio 9.5:1 |
|HORSEPOWER ||(Chevrolet rating) 230 @ 4,800rpm |
|TORQUE ||(Chevrolet rating) 300 lb-ft @ 3,800 rpm |
|CASTING /FACTORY |
|• Block: 3737739 • Cylinder heads: 3748770 • Carburetor: 3746384 • Distributor: 1110890 • Generator: 1110243 |
|Original Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual transmission (RPO 685) with console-mounted shifter |
|REAREND ||3.55:1 rear gear ratio |
|Restored production ’58 Corvette |
|CHANGES ||’58 new dash design with 0- to 160-mph speedometer, tachometer relocated to top of steering column (0-8,000 rpm for optional solid-lifter 270 and 290hp engines, 0-6,000 rpm for all other engines), passenger-side dash grab bar in front of anodized trim insert |
|SEATS ||Restored ’58 buckets, upholstered in Charcoal vinyl |
|SOUND SYSTEM ||Optional (RPO 102) GM/Delco signal-seeking AM radio |
|HVAC ||Optional (RPO 101) heater. For A/C, lower the top and windows, then accelerate rapidly, as appropriate for the day’s weather |
Be Thankful it's not a '58...
Be Thankful it's not a '58 Buick: The '58-only chrome spears on Corvette's trunk lid added far less weight than the 75-100 pounds of chrome trim that same-year Buicks were burdened with. The convertible top was another carryover from the '57 model, as was the optional hardtop.
How Bad Was It? The '58's...
How Bad Was It? The '58's body forward of the doors was in such bad shape that it was discarded and reproduction pieces were used. At the other end, here's what the original 'glass looked like in and around the trunk, after 20 coats of paint were plastic-media-blasted off.
Rust-Clad Rarities: With...
Rust-Clad Rarities: With original 283 blocks in short supply, the '58's original block was reused after de-rusting and a thorough rebuild. The same went for the original heads (right).
Welcome In: Jeff Lilly Restorations...
Welcome In: Jeff Lilly Restorations refreshed this '58's interior with new Charcoal vinyl seat covers and Daytona-style carpeting. Note the new-for-'58 dash, with gauges in front of the driver and a passenger-side grab bar.
More Four-On-The-Floors: ...
More Four-On-The-Floors: Nineteen-fifty-eight was the first full model year that the RPO 685 four-speed manual transmission was on Corvette's option list, and 3,764 Vette buyers-including John Barker, this car's original owner-checked it on the option list. Jeff made sure the original-style "skinny stick" shifter handle was part of the restoration.
Within Reach: Along with...
Within Reach: Along with centering the gauges in front of the driver, the new-for-'58 Corvette dash placed the radio and heater controls within reach of both the driver and passenger, and put a clock where the tach used to be. Note the CONELRAD logos at AM 640 and 1240 on the radio dial-where to tune back then in case of a national emergency.