1958 Chevrolet Corvette C1: Reader Resto

By: Chris Larkham with Guy Allen, Photography by: Mark Bean, Chris Larkham

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Chevrolet Corvette C1 Chris Larkham Chevrolet Corvette C1 Chris Larkham
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With one big resto under his belt, Chris Larkham heads back into the shed for more punishment

 

1958 Chevrolet Corvette C1 Resto

This is number two of a series of cars I’ve recently restored. Between those and the motorbikes, it’s become a real habit. I love bringing stuff back from the dead. I can at least partly blame the project on Unique Cars mag, because that’s where I found the ad for the car.

It was sitting in South Australia as a part-completed project and the owner had to sell. Two were on offer – the other one had a 253 Holden motor in it. I reckon I ended up paying a lot less than the project would have cost to that point, so I was lucky. What it consisted of was a chassis, most of the bodywork and a few other items including a rebuilt original posi-traction differential that had already been powder-coated.

There was no engine or gearbox, which gave me a fair bit of room to move. The options were I could try stock (probably prohibitively expensive) or go wild. As with the 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air I tackled before this, I wanted to find some middle ground: something that looked pretty stock but with some subtle mods.

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As much as possible I did this car myself in the shed. I’m a toolmaker by trade – which teaches you patience – and I’ve never felt the need to rush a restoration. This one took near enough to eight years!

The first task was to get the body together and, to that end I bought another trailerload of parts including some doors. The trick with these fiberglass bodies is that nothing really fits at first – particularly the doors. You need to spend some time finessing them into shape. Fortunately this car came with a new front clip, which made the process easier, though it had suffered some damage. It’s worth doing properly as sometimes you’ll come across restored Corvettes that have the bodies starting to crack after a few years and that’s often down to poor prep.

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With the bodywork done, it was passed on to a spray painter. One area I decided to change early is I left off the big badge or lozenge off the front clip. I think it looks better without it.

There was no roof with the car, so I imported a soft-top and a used hardtop. The latter cost a fortune even though it was very second-hand. We’re talking a few thousand, plus the cost of shipping, which is substantial as they’re a big item. If you’re looking for a good one, don’t expect a whole lot of change out of $10k!

The next challenge was to source a decent engine and gearbox. I got someone to help me with this with the criteria that it needed to be a ‘tuned port’ (injected) generation engine with a manual trans. In the end I got a 305 V8 from around 1988 with a T5 five-speed gearbox out of the same car. The five-speed checked out fine but we decided to rebuild the engine as a precaution. The bloke who did this for me has worked on other gear for my cars and is just as likely to end up working on a high-end Japanese engine as one of these.

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Generally the mechanicals were straight-forward but the real headache turned out to be the electronics. Matching up a relatively modern engine to an old car has some unique challenges and I called in some specialist help for this. To give you an example, we ended up importing a gizmo out of the US that hooked up the electronic sender from the transmission to the old mechanical speedo to get them talking to each other.

The engine went in fairly easily and I ended up making new mounts for the gearbox, and shortening the tailshaft. Surprisingly, the shifter slipped straight in, despite the totally different set-up. A final touch was making up a unique set of exhaust tips, as I was never fond of the originals.

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The dash refit took a little work, as someone had started chopping away at the firewall for a right-hand-drive conversion, when I wanted to keep it as a left-hooker. Seat trim was done to a non-original pattern – I used a custom car out of the USA for inspiration.

It may seem odd, but I ended up fitting harnesses – I’ve got so used to seatbelts that not having one feels as though you’re driving around with no trousers! Getting the harnesses in was complicated by the fact the tops of the seats are a snug fit under the rear deck, so there’s no real clearance. A little head-scratching and we made up stainless steel loops to thread the belts through the tops of the seat backs.

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Rather than mess around too much, we made sure all the suspension was fresh, which gives it a nice tight feel, while the Cragar wheels look about right. I also fitted a front disc brake kit out of the USA, similar to the one that went into the Bel Air.

The shake-down run revealed we had a quick car on our hands, but there was a frustrating issue where it would suddenly die on the freeway. No fun. Wait a few minutes and it would restart, but something was clearly wrong. We’d fitted a Bosch fuel pump and return lines for the injection, but this wasn’t doing the job. It may sound crazy but we fixed the issue with a one litre stainless surge tank with a second Holley fuel pump. Now it’s fine. The only thing I don’t like is the whirring of the pumps getting up to pressure when you turn the key, but some people love it.

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We’ve ended up with a car that ran 218hp at the wheels on the dyno, which is plenty for a something that weighs around 1200 kilos. Once we got the little issues sorted, we ran it up to event in Queensland and won a trophy – so someone appreciates the work! 

THE RESTORATION:

BODYWORK

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The fibreglass in these things can take a while to get right, but it’s worth the patience.

DOORSLAMMER

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Apparently no two doors fit exactly the same way, which adds to the unique joy of building a Vette.

POWERPLANT

Chevrolet -Corvette -C1-chassis -before -2 

Going original would have cost a bomb, when a later 305 with T5 trans proved to be a very practical solution.

DASH AND CLOCKS

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Main clock is the original speedo, converted for an electronic feed, while the rest of the dials are populated by VDO gauges.

SHINY BITS

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Treat your chrome like gold, because increasingly it costs about the same!.

ALMOST COMPLETE

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All things considered, this was a pretty straight-forward build, the electrics proved to be the biggest challenge.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

1958 Chevrolet Corvette C1

BODY fibreglass
ENGINE 305 injected V8
Max power 163kW (at wheels)
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
SUSPENSION stock
BRAKES dcisc/drum f/r
KERB WEIGHT 1200kg

 

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