As I write this, I'm making preparations to go to the winter regional NCRS meet in Florida to judge some beautiful, early Corvettes. The cars' scores will be based on their own merit and weigh heavily on parts or assemblies that don't appear the same way they did when they rolled off the assembly line back in the day. There will be deductions for over-restoration, paint materials that deviate in appearance from the original factory lacquer, reproduction parts that differ from the originals and generally reduce the scores on any car that doesn't appear to be as the factory produced it. The ones that will be awarded Top Flight are those that have few deviations from typical factory production but are no better and no worse. I think this is great stuff, and I'm pumped up. There's nothing like an early generation Corvette to get the heart beating.

By the same token, there's an effervescence in my soul when I pull down the shifter in my C5 from Sixth gear to Third gear on the highway and step hard on the long pedal as I take the connector curve on my way to work on a Saturday morning with the top down, the Corsa exhaust barking, and some classic rock in the 10-disc changer--especially if there's an M3 or a Shelby anywhere in the vicinity. On the way home, I may have the top up, the A/C on, and an easy-listening instrumental CD playing while I enjoy around 30 mpg. The difference between driving my earlier Corvettes and my C5 is certainly the level of comfort, but also that I might get a second look with a C5, but solid axles, midyears, and most sharks command attention wherever they go.

With your C4-C6, you can argue that this is your economy car with its impressive 30 mpg, has all the comforts you could ever want, and is just plain fast. With the early ones, though, you seem to rise to eminence when you're behind the wheel, which is something that can't quite be matched with the new ones. The downside is that they simply aren't as comfortable, they lack the amenities, the gas mileage sucks, and--I don't care what engine option you have that starts with an "L"--it's not as fast as the new ones that start with a "Z." If only there was a way to have it all, or at least blur the borders a little.

Welcome to Part 4 of my "Reconsidering Your Line in the Sand" series, written from the perspective of a longtime NCRS member. It's an exchange of information to describe and discuss possibilities that can be done through parts substitutions with your earlier Corvette to help you not only enjoy it, but to preserve it as well. It's written by someone who appreciates the historical significance of the Corvette marque but sees too many of them stored away like time capsules in germ-proof environments, with owners saying, "I don't want to risk the original drivetrain."

This is what inspired me to start writing about "bagging and tagging" the original large hardware so the car could be put back on the road, while at the same time eliminating the risk of losing an original engine. The "NCRS" in me has been performing these substitutions with one rule in mind: At any time, the car must be able to be put back to stock condition. This means we're seeking out the best engineered, least invasive replacement parts available to perform our substitutions.

We covered engines, transmission and chassis components in the earlier segments (July/Aug./Sept. '08), so now it's time to take a good look at the interior of your classic. How can it be improved? There are two seats in every Corvette, so jump in and take a ride with us.

Once upon a time there was a neat Rally Red/red interior Corvette convertible. It spent much of its life on day trips with the top down, so the bad ol' sun faded much of its pretty red interior. At some point, someone named Bubba saw what happened, so he dun got hisself some rattle-can "Red For All Occasions" interior dye and emptied four cans on the dashpads and carpeting. As the dashboard is fiberglass, he painted it with "Rosy Red" plastic paint, since fiberglass and plastic are the same--sort of. He didn't know what the rest of the interior was made of, so he left it alone.

Fast forward to the time this car entered my shop--the dash was "red," the dashpads were "just off red," the console and side covers were "just a little more off red," and so on. You get the idea. The gauge-cluster needles and colorings were faded, the steering column a little scratched, the console and quarter trim just a little more scratched. So, there was just one thing to do--gut it. We decided to start from square one with the dash removed and restore everything from the birdcage up, but with a twist. We're going to improve this car and walk it into the 21st century with some pretty cool hardware (and software) that is now available. We'll follow my rule of "burn no bridges," and we'll document everything in Corvette Fever.

As always, it's important to know where you need to end up before you get started. We listed all of the upgrades we wanted to do and added this list to the restoration operations list. Then we looked for any overlapping. For example, we won't restore a steering column that's going to be replaced. The same goes for the radio, kick panels and seats. Once the gauges are restored, they need to fit the needs of our current drivetrain, namely a voltmeter instead of an ammeter and an electronic tachometer instead of the original cable-drive. We want the clock to be quartz drive and a new face on the glovebox door. With everything listed on a spreadsheet, we knew how to proceed. Research into the aftermarket upgrades answered many questions before we got started, such as the kick-panel speakers from Custom Autosound. Having a four-speaker sound system in a convertible isn't easy to do, but Custom Autosound has the package. The tilt column was a no-brainer since we've used Flaming River components before, as was the case of the carpeting from Mid America Motorworks, and seat covers and foam from Al Knoch. But it's the smallest details that sometimes cause the most headaches. Finding the correct red interior paint was something of a challenge, but we were never tempted to give Bubba a call.

With all of the hard interior pieces prepped, primed, and laid out in the paint booth, we set out to repaint them. We didn't have enough '65-'67 interior red on the shelf to do this job, so we ordered another quart from the same supplier of our dashpads. We began dusting the color on each piece, and once everything was in good color, we increased the feed of the gun and laid out one more "cover-coat" to melt in the overspray and remove any texture. It looked great. The next day, we gathered all of the interior parts for the job and put them on the shelf together--when we noticed a problem. The newly painted red parts had a "brickish red" look to them when they were next to the new red dashpads. And this wasn't just the dash; this was the dash, console, side covers, quarter trim pieces, speaker bezel and screen, and the new kick panels. "Do you think he'll notice?" asked one of my guys, referring to the car's owner. "Naw, he won't notice," I replied. The next day, the car's owner came in to check on our progress. "Did you get the interior painted?" he asked. "Yes, it's in the other room on the interior shelf. I'll go get it," I answered. When we brought out the interior pieces and laid them all out, he said to us, "That's all nice, but it's not mine." Damn, he noticed.

As always, it's important to know where you need to end up before you get started. We listed all of the upgrades we wanted to do and added this list to the restoration operations list. Then we looked for any overlapping. For example, we won't restore a steering column that's going to be replaced. The same goes for the radio, kick panels and seats. Once the gauges are restored, they need to fit the needs of our current drivetrain, namely a voltmeter instead of an ammeter and an electronic tachometer instead of the original cable-drive. We want the clock to be quartz drive and a new face on the glovebox door. With everything listed on a spreadsheet, we knew how to proceed. Research into the aftermarket upgrades answered many questions before we got started, such as the kick-panel speakers from Custom Autosound. Having a four-speaker sound system in a convertible isn't easy to do, but Custom Autosound has the package. The tilt column was a no-brainer since we've used Flaming River components before, as was the case of the carpeting from Mid America Motorworks, and seat covers and foam from Al Knoch. But it's the smallest details that sometimes cause the most headaches. Finding the correct red interior paint was something of a challenge, but we were never tempted to give Bubba a call.

With the aesthetics now handled, the comfort level of this classic midyear interior was enhanced through the addition of high-back bucket seats from a '96 Corvette, but they would be the same chairs from '94 to '96. We opted to stay with the manual version, as the power seats with their controls and bladders would not only require more wiring to be integrated into the existing harness, but would have a greater potential for failure since used Corvette parts don't come from perfectly good Corvettes--at least legally. Once we mocked up the seats where they needed to be, we relocated the stock seat reinforcement plates and sectioned some metal out of the forward '96 seat tracks to correct the seat angle. Installed without modification, the seat cushions would've had a "nose-up attitude" that didn't give us much room between the seat cushion and the steering wheel. Lowering the front of the seats corrected that, and with the "tiltability" of the seat backs, they can be put at any angle desired.

These seats were installed over sound and heat-barrier material, and fresh, new carpeting from Mid America Motorworks. It's funny how the old carpeting doesn't look that bad until you compare it to new carpeting--then you're wondering how you lived with it. We opted for the Flaming River tilt steering column to come to us in "mill finish" so that we could paint it to match, which in this case was semigloss black. Polished stainless has its place, but we didn't want to overstate it in our interior. Flaming River's "waterfall" steering wheel is beautiful, and provides just enough brightwork to the driver side of the interior to balance the new glovebox door that the car's owner provided for us. It's brushed aluminum with scalloped lines and crossed flags.

Finally, technology took a quantum leap in the replacement of the original AM-FM mono radio with its single in-dash speaker. Out with that and in with Custom Autosound's Corvette USA-6 stereo with C/D controller and optional iPod interface. Four speakers drench the cabin with sound instead of one speaker trickling. The difference can be summed up with the visual impression of Nipper the fox terrier, his head cocked while listening to his master's voice through the trumpet speaker of the cylinder phonograph, which later became the RCA Victor trademark. That's how the old AM-FM radio sounded.

Always prioritize your goals, research the aftermarket parts, and lay out a logical plan for any project you want to do with your Corvette. Make sure all ingredients will work harmoniously together and move you toward the direction of your final goal. And read Corvette Fever, where you'll learn that just because someone says it's '65-'67 red interior paint, it might really be rebranded "Red for All Occasions."

Difficulty Index - 2 Wrenches
Anyone's Project: no tools required1 Wrench
Beginner: basic tools2 Wrenches
Experienced: special tools3 Wrenches
Accomplished: special tools and outside help4 Wrenches
Professionals Only: send this work out5 Wrenches
SOURCES
Custom AutosoundRick's Restoration
(800) 88-TUNESJoppa, MD
www.custom-autosound.com800/651-1270
Sound systemGauge restoration
  
Flaming RiverThe Restoration Station
866/812-0507937/743-3007
www.flamingriver.comwww.restoration-station.com
Steering column and wheelCorvette restoration
  
Mid America Motorworks 
866/866-9741 
www.mamotorworks.com 
Carpet and insulation 
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