Guide to Buying Older Corvettes

 

 

 

 

Written for the VetteNet Home Page and Email List (http://www.dcc.edu/vettenet/)

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by Mike "Doc" Cobine - Procrastination Racing
Last Updated November 11, 2004

Copyright 1996-2004  VetteNet and all authors as listed.

 


This section is under construction and will change as time permits.


Table of Contents

Intent of This Page

General Checklist for Buying a Corvette as a Driver

The Straight Axle Cars 1953 - 1962

The Sting Rays 1963 to 1967

The Stingrays From 1968 to 1982

The 1984 - 1996 Corvette

The 1997-2004 Corvette

A Dose of Reality

Need More Help?

 

Intent of This Page

This site is not intended to replace every car buying book ever written, nor is it intended to make you an expert at buying a Corvette. It is merely a guide to remind you of what you are doing and give a very general direction to follow.

If you want more information on a particular model, you should research it through other sections of the VetteNet Home Page, the many books available on Corvettes, and with other Corvette owners. The VetteNet Email List is a good place to go after you have already studied some of the many books available. After all, this is the ultimate type of test, as you will be on the firing line when you are looking at a Corvette to buy, without the ability to stop and look to VetteNet for answers or even a book without revealing your inexperience. You must know what you need to know to to determine the value of the Corvette in question with confidence or you will pay for your mistakes and lack of knowledge by paying too much or buying a car that requires much repair.

General Checklist for Buying a Corvette as a Driver

If you are buying a Corvette for its intended purpose -- driving -- then you should check it like any older car and be sure all of it is functioning. Here is a basic checklist:

  • Everything work?
  • Lights?
    • Headlights open?
    • Turn signals work?
    • Brake lights work?
    • Dash lights work?
    • Dash indicators work? (headlight, bright, turn signal, brake, etc.)
  • Brakes? Check for fluid leaks.
    • Drum Brakes 1953-1964 - drum brakes are simple and easy to work on. Normally they pull or don't work. Both are simple to fix.
    • Parking brake? In '53-'64, they are part of the rear drum brakes and simple. In '65-'82 they are a separate brake inside the tophat of the rear rotor and hard to work on.
    • Disc Brakes 1965 - 1982
    • Disc Brakes soft?
  • Frame? Check for soft spots on side and cross near rear of seats. Reach under with hammer and tap for a ring rather than a thud.
    • Frame rust is common as these cars were originally driven daily in all weather.  So determine the difference between normal rust and rust-out.
    • The rear section where the frame kicks up and the trailing arms attach is the most common bad areas.  Check from below and the sides. See the arrows on the picture of the rear frame section.

    • Tapping with a small hammer should produce a ring or metallic sound.  A thud indicates heavy rust or even flaking.  A dent indicates bad rust and of course a new hole means problems.
    • In a full restoration, you will be pulling the frame anyway.  As such, repairs can be made without too much difficulties or even full frame replacement.
    • The above picture looks really rusted. In reality, it is a very solid frame that only saw 7 years on the road.
  • U-joints?
    • There are six and time consuming to replace on the side of the road.
    • You can se four of them in the picture above.
  • Wheel bearings? In the '63 up models, they are special.
    • Rear wheel bearings require special setup.
    • They require special tools to get them apart.
    • They should be greased every 25,000 miles but few do it.
    • Odds are you will experience a failure if they have not been replaced.
  • Engine?
    • smoke?
    • noises?
    • what size?
    • general condition
  • Interior?
    • general condition
    • radio work?
    • heater work?
    • defroster work?
    • windows work?
    • carpet show water stains? Hard and crusty feel?
  • Body?
    • repairs?
    • repaint?
    • damage anywhere?
    • straight or crooked body lines?
    • sharp or rounded edges?
    • bumpers front and rear?
    • right pieces (correct hood?) or doesn't matter?

Get familiar with Corvettes like you wish to buy

You get the idea. Be sure to check out correct '66s before you look at a '66 to buy so you know what is right and what is wrong. A hood can look right even when wrong and often look better (which is why so many run a '67 big block hood). In the heat of passion, the car of your dreams inches away, the seller slowly seducing you, it is hard to remember that the hood support was on the other side, or the gas cap is for another year, or the seats are the wrong style. All of this can mean a difference in the price you should pay.

Decide What You Want in a Corvette

You also have to determine what your intentions are. A fun car can be anything you want but you may find the pressure to show or restore too strong and also find the one you buy to be much more expensive in time and dollars than if you buy one closer to what you want.

Or you may discover you only want to run hard and play, like with SCCA Solo II (autocross) or NCCC, in which case a restored car is NOT what you want or need.

Many buy a Vette because they want a Vette -- period. They don't know what they want to do with it. They don't know what year they want. They don't have any idea what they will use it for, but they want it. Basically, Corvettes fall into two categories today. That is oversimplifying, but somewhat true. Most fall into the restored category, either according to NCRS rules or Bloomington Gold rules, or in the Driver/Custom car category, where originality is not important. You could look at the Driver category as having many sub-categories, such as the drag racers, the road/solo/NCCC racers, the semi-customs, the full customs, the just plain fun cars, and the street racers. This entire group would be likely to have non-original engines, transmission, paint color, and even body work. Glance through this table to help decide where you wish to be.

 

 

NOTE

The prices shown here are from June 2003.  Prices have begun to climb again and from summer of 2004 to fall of 2004 have increased considerably. The prices were given not so you would know how much to pay, but so you could see the relative difference of prices of cars.  The idea was to show that a '67 big block coupe fully restored to NCRS standards could be double the price of a '64 convertible restored but never judged.  The intent is not to tell you all driver condition midyears would be $15,000.

This is NOT a a price guide.  If you want to see the prices of cars, check various magazines like Corvette Trader for asking prices.  Then check places like eBay to see the COMPLETED sales prices to see what the cars actually sold for.  This will give you a basis to determine value.

 

 

 

Intended Activity

Restored/NCRS/Bloomington Gold (Group 1)

Driver/Customized (Group 2 & 3)

Investment 
(see Corvettes as an Investment)

Good except that initial investment is high. If the car is fully restored, you will be in the $30,000 range or more for most, with the $40,000 - $70,000 for midyears and some solid axle cars, and $70,000 to $150,000 range not unheard of for some rare models. The cost to maintain is more, as only original or NOS parts can be used to maintain originality.

When the market increases, these cars increase much more than the drivers and you can get a very large return in a rising market. If the timing is right, the investment is better than any other such as stocks, bond, oil, and so on.

Only after work and expense. You can get into these much lower but the increase in price is not as high if the market increases. If you decided to buy one of these to sell at the restored price, you have a shock in store. You may need to fully restore the car, at a cost of as much as $20,000 or more. If you paid $15,000 and put $20,000 into it for restoration, you have $35,000 invested in a car than may never reach $35,000. 

However, if you are looking only to maintain your level in expense, these are good in that you can buy cheaper than the restored cars, drive for however long, and sell at about the same price while maintenance expense is moderate, since the use of original or NOS parts is not required.

NCRS Shows

Necessary. However, don't expect to buy, show, and win Top Flight unless you are willing to keep a maintenance schedule to keep the car in great shape. Driving will cost you points as you gain rock chips, dirt, faded paint, and so on, although, driving to an event will add points. NCRS has grown and has a large following. They have great events and you can have a very good time working for awards. There can be great satisfaction in doing the work it takes to return a car to factory original. There is something special about detailing the originality of a car and keeping it exactly that way.

Only after work and expense of restoring your car. If you start with a car that is far from the original condition, the work and expense to get back to original condition may be far too great. However, NCRS is a member-oriented organization, so the nature is to help members discover how to restore their cars and keep them in original condition. Even if your goal is not to restore a car to Top Flight status, joining is worthwhile for the information you can learn and the source of literature available.

Bloomington Gold

Bloomington and NCRS are both restoration organizations, but the rules are different. Bloomington is a commercial operation. Doing well in one doesn't always mean well in the other. Bloomington is once a year, the end of June, in Illinois. Driving will cost you points as you gain rock chips, dirt, faded paint, and so on. There is a tendency to have a lot of trailer queens at Bloomington.

Only after work and expense of restoring your car. Like NCRS, if you start with a car that is far from the original condition, the work and expense to get back to original condition may be far too great. However, the awards usually translate into the value of the car, rightfully or wrongly.

Club Shows

These always work out. Everyone enjoys a clean, original car, unless you have a red '63 coupe and there are 10 other red '63 coupes in the club.

If the club is not a restoration group, then you can do well in this area. The old saying goes "seen one restored '63 coupe, seen them all". So a slightly modified Corvette can be a breathe of fresh air that stands out. Still, don't immediately by some outrageous custom from the '70s because you got a good price. Customs tend to become run down very quickly, and take a lot of work to maintain a quality look.

Weekend Driving

Ok, but awkward. Original tires are expensive to use on the street, not to mention they are not nearly as good as modern tires. Comfort levels can be less, since original tires and shocks do not ride like modern tires and gas shocks. You need to avoid rain and snow and dirty roads. Rock chips devalue your car. The chance for an accident can risk you many thousands in repairs, with insurance being excessively high, since insuring a $50,000 restored car costs more than a non-original $15,000 car.

Driving pre-1971 cars requires high octane gas which isn't available.  Buying $5 per gallon racing gas or trips to the airport for Av-gas are a problem.  Detuning the car takes all the fun out of it and really isn't 100% safe.  Rebuilding the engine to lower compression for pump gas defeats the originality issue.

While NCRS encourages driving to their events, driving slowly destroys a restoration until you have to do it again to compete.  Bare parts rust. NOS shocks wear out. The supply of NOS parts is limited. Do you like the idea of spending $20,000 every 5 or 10 years?

Can be great fun since you can equip the car to make driving fun, like gas shocks, modern tires, and less worry that you lose show points by actually driving it and getting it dirty.

You can modify the engine to use today's pump gas.

You could use a standard 350 which has the cheapest replacement parts around, is a very good engine for driving with reasonable power and torque, and will work on today's gas.

Club Events

If they are shows, these are great. In road trips, sometimes they are at a disadvantage due to comfort factors and original tires.

In most club events like road tours, rallies, autocrosses, and local shows, you can have as good of time as anyone and maybe more due to less worry.

Rallies

Same as weekend driving. Rallies by rally groups can often hit some percentage of gravel or dirt roads which you may not want to travel with a restored car.

Same as weekend driving. You would not be as concerned over some roads that rallies could travel.

Autocross

The original tires and shocks are at a disadvantage. In the pure stock classes, you would compete against others like you, but you do increase the wear levels and risk pylon scuffs on the car.

This is were the drivers or the customs shine since you can modify your car to perform better and not worry if this devalues it. It doesn't devalue the car if it makes you happier with the performance, as these cars have value in how much you enjoy them.

NCCC

Not really a restoration group.

You are at home here since they tend to be more performance oriented and race oriented.

SCCA

While the racers will appreciate a restored Corvette, there isn't much you will want to participate in other than rallies. Solo II competition can be a bit hard on those vintage Redline tires and restored suspensions. Solo I is nearly racing in the equipment that is required to be added. The vintage racing requires enough safety equipment to be added (roll bars, fuel cells, 5 point harnesses, fire systems, etc.) that you no longer have a pure stock and/or restored car. My recommendation if you are into vintage racing, buy a real race car. There are plenty out there. Too many have wasted far too much money taking a street car and converting it to vintage racing.

You can have great fun since you will feel free to participate in most levels and actually feel as though you can compete. Depending on the year, you may have no chance at all of winning, but you can have a very good time. And while you may not have a chance at winning in heavy competition such as at a divisional or national level, many local events are such you could win as easily as the next guy.

Your Personal Driving

Many enjoy the fully restored for casual drives on the weekends. NCRS sponsors road trips, stretching several hundreds and even thousands of miles, and many enjoy this also.

You'll find that classic car insurance sounds great but often comes with lots of limitations.  Drive to the store to pick up that bottle of milk or that gallon of ice cream? Not anymore.

You will probably enjoy this more, as to most people, a Corvette is a Corvette and only Corvette people know a restored from an unrestored car. You may find you like the longer trips better and you will also find aggressive driving to be acceptable with these as you don't fear wasting your expensive Redline tires or loss of control due to 30 year old technology in tires, brakes, and shocks.

Enjoy tinkering

You will enjoy the restored cars as they are never perfect. However, you need to remember you are restoring, so your tinkering will be achieving perfection according to the rules of either Bloomington Gold or National Corvette Restorers Society.

You will enjoy the drivers and customs in that you can do whatever you desire. If you wish to try a TPI on your '59 or install a 400 cid small block, you are free to pursue this course. If your warmed over small block drinks too much gas, a Richmond 5 or 6 speed or a C4 ZF 6 speed can let you have fun with economy.

Options

You can find anything the factory ever offered, however, there is a price. That restored '64 coupe may only be $35,000 but the restored '66 or '67 coupe with a 427 could easily be $60,000 or more. The same is true with that fuelie

If you find the perfect car with everything just how you want it, it is a rare event. If you find the perfect car but you'd rather have a different color of paint or interior, you can't change it.

You are not as likely to find the rare options in the drivers, however, if you find a good deal on a '65 and you wanted to have a fuelie or big block, all you need to do is add it. You can buy fuel injection units for $5000 and bolt it on or build a wild 396 or 427 and set it in. If you buy the car for $20,000, you could have a big block or fuelie for another $5000 or so. You can add any option you want, such a color or interior, engine, rear axle, and so on.

When you get bored with it

You can park it for several months and then look at it again.  Hopefully, you will have regained your interest.

If you desire something different, then you need to sell this one, and find what you desire. 

Usually the value holds so you can sell at the same price or above.  However, if you don't know all the ins and outs of restoration, and have a truly NCRS or Bloomington judged car, then you may be in for a shock when a knowledgeable buyer comes along.

Why did you get bored?  Wrong color?  Not peppy enough?  You can change them.  That 283 that you have to slip the clutch on to get up the hill can be replaced with a 350 that climbs with ease.

That 327 that requires the lifters to be adjusted after every weekend run can have a hydraulic roller cam installed that will produce as much power or more and require almost no maintenance.

That burnt orange that looked good once can be changed to red, black, or whatever.  You can add some accent pinstripes to make the hood bulge stand out or the fenders. 

Basically, if you are not happy, you can make it what you want or desire.

If you can't find what you want, find something close and make it the rest of the way.

Personal Preferences

You need to decide which one you like best. Color, color combo, etc. Some simple shop for any Vette, while others really wanted a red one or a black one or whatever. To be the happiest that you can be, sit down and decide what you want. Go to some Corvette shows and see all of the different years and styles. Ask the owners what they like about their car, why they bought it, why they picked out THAT one over some other, and then use that information to help formulate just what you really are looking for in a Vette. And be prepared to change, as some with look great in one color and others will not in the same color.

Choosing your Corvette

 

Anticipated

Desired

Money to spend

 

 

- How much to Save for Repairs

 

 

= Price Range to Look At

 

 

Years Preferred

 

 

Coupe or Convertible

 

 

Color Preferred

 

 

Interior Color and Type

 

 

Engine Size

 

 

Transmission

 

 

Originality

 

 

Options

 

 

What I want to do with it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having an NCRS Judge or Bloomington Gold Judge Check It Out

The advice for NCRS and Bloomington Gold judges should be avoided UNLESS you are looking for an original or restored car. Some of them view anything less than restored as junk and worthless, which it is not. Most will judge it by restoration standards, and tell you it is not worth much. A daily driver with a 350, Q-Jet, and Borg Warner Super T10 painted '88 Competition Yellow may suit your desires perfectly but an NCRS judge would view it as terrible and to be avoided.

In reality, you may be looking for that hot rod, that car that screams "look at me", and this may be just the car. You may want to drive to work occasionally, leave some rubber across the parking lot as your co-workers climb in their Probes and Cavaliers to trod home.

Or you may not.

The Corvette above could be a perfect weekend (or daily driver) fun car, terribly dependable, and easily fixed by parts found anywhere from K-Mart to Pep Boys. A restored version, on the other hand, may not have nearly the right road manners or fun around town. The fact that cars like this still exist shows that they are fun cars and some still enjoy them very much.

Having A Friend Check It Out

This is a very good idea, as many first time buyers become overwhelmed at actually being at this point. A good friend with a cool head can add stability to your emotions, which can be very high about now. If your friend is mechanically inclined, it is helpful in that he may notice something you miss. If your friend is the type to say "hey, this is a great deal!", LEAVE HIM HOME!   You want someone who will give an unbiased report, help make a decision, and hold his emotions in check. You need a poker player to help do the deal.

If you don't have anyone like this, then I am available.

Wrecked Cars and Paint Jobs

By now, almost every one knows how to check the fender lips on Sting Rays for repaired damage. Unfortunately, all those "experts" are unaware that many get whole new clips today, so the repair glob in the lip is not there. Check, but don't think this is final.

Also, a '56 Corvette is 49 years old now and a '66 is 39 years old. In all those years, the potential for what were essentially hot rods to have been wrecked by over-zealous drivers is extremely high. Don't fret the wrecks, but be sure they are back together right. Any car that has been restored should be like new so a wreck in its past is virtually meaningless.

If you are looking at one that is currently wrecked, be aware that Corvette repair is expensive and best left to those experienced in such. While anyone can slap fiberglass together, it is an art and takes a lot of experience to make it look right, as evidenced by the hundred of thousands of semi-customs in the '70s. Today a paint job you are not ashamed of can run from $4000 to $6000. So the "deal" that "just needs paint" may be much more expensive than the one with good paint.

If you have never done bodywork on a Corvette, then you need to understand it is not like a metal car. If you sand too much on metal, it may warp but it will never get lower. With fiberglass, you can create so many waves that you think you have an ocean. The hours on a metal car can be doubled, tripled, or more on a fiberglass car. Remember that time is money, even if it is your own.

Prepare to get dirty

It is easy to look at one from above or the driver's seat and fall in love.  But the real information you need is inside te engine compartment and under the car.  Take a pair of coveralls to slip into and craw under the car.  You should take a jack and jack stands as you can assume the owner won't have any and isn't willing to loan you his.  He may not even be willing to let you do it.  In that case, see if you can find a local service station that still has a lift and you can buys some lift time to examine the car.

Salvage Titles

In most states today, you find wrecked cars have salvage titles.  Once repairs are made, the car can be licensed for the street again after inspection.   However, the title is branded so that all future buyers know that this car was totaled in its past.  You have very few ways to get rid of this branding, and attempting to do so is viewed as fraud in some states.  So when you think you have found a great deal on a wreck, you really haven't.  You will most likely never get the same price for it as a non-totaled car because of the title branding.

The Straight Axle Cars 1953 - 1962

All of these were convertibles, although a surprising number were the hardtop convertible, or the convertible with no soft top and only the hardtop. In many ways, this was fairly practical, as the hardtop gave good all-weather protection but today when they are not the primary transportation, they create a slight hardship in forcing you to travel with the top or risking getting wet by leaving it home.

Overall, these were basic and sound vehicles, using mainly standard Chevrolet items. Unless you are restoring one, you can keep a driver running with only minor effort and expense.

What to Look For

Many were raced, as this was the era of drag racing and early road racing. In the late sixties, these cars were dirt cheap and often were abused due to the valueless nature of them. Many had the transmission tunnels cut for Hurst shifters or even Ford Toploaders and some had the X member cut to ease transmission changes. There were even some converted to a front straight axle, like a T-Bucket or hot rod, to lighten the front end for drag racing. Be sure to check those areas to get a clue to the car's history.

There were no body tags indicating the paint color or interior color, so originality can be deceiving. If done well, you may never know it is not original. So check this carefully if originality is a requirement.

Even if you are not into restorations, check it out as most selling these cars do so because of the "value" of these old cars and you will pay the price. So be sure you know the right and wrong, because your only chance to buy at a reasonable price is to know what is wrong, and call their price on it. The days of buying at any price and selling higher to cover your mistakes are long gone. If you make a $5000 mistake today, you just lost $5000 because most other buyers have educated themselves to avoid such mistakes.

The Sting Rays 1963 to 1967

Coupes

Coupes in general are tighter than convertibles, both in the feel and in the weather-proof areas. The solid section of roof stiffens the chassis and makes them handle better. The chassis has less flex. As such, door seals and window seals tend to stay tighter and keep the elements out better. For everyday driving in northern climates, the coupes have the edge. If you live in a warmer, Southern climate, try to find one with air, although Corvette air conditioning was never that great and is less now that all you can get is the R-134 to charge it with.

 

 

Urban Legend Alert!

For some unknown reason, a magazine printed an article that said many 1963 Corvette owners disliked the split so much they cut it out and used a GM kit to install a '64 style rear window. According to the article, there are only a few thousand original split windows left.  As such, many have begun spreading this in their ads and auctions to promote their '63 coupe as "rare".

While it is true that some did cut the split out, it is not true that most did.  And with the restoration that goes on, most of those cars that were modified have been restored back so you can never tell. 

This is not a basis for "rare". This is salesman hype.  Ignore it and tell the seller to can the garbage.

 

Convertibles

Most convertibles do leak, true. Much of it is due to top alignment and the condition of the weatherstripping. My '63 conv. leaked around the rear of the top but nothing got wet except the deck lid. My '68 doesn't. It did for a short time due to sealant between the trim and the pillars going bad. But none will be perfectly sealed. Almost all leak like crazy in a car wash.

There were wind leaks at most corners of contact, like the vent window tip and the back of the door glass. Again, alignment can solve some, and you can live with the rest.

Of course, the first day you cruise home from work with the top down, the first evening you slide under a canopy of stars, the first time you hear as you roll through town the comments about "that 'Vette" will more than make you think that a convertible is the only way to own a Vette.

General

The electric headlights can be problems since the parts are so exposed. Be sure they work fine as the parts can be expensive to fix. Check the headlight warning light on the dash when the lights are on but closed. Coupe doors may not seal along the top if alignment is wrong. Parts on these cars have been swapped from year to year so much that unless it is restored, and you know it, you may never realize all that is incorrect. If this concerns you, take someone who knows restored Corvettes. If it doesn't, at least know what is incorrect and what is correct so you don't pay for something you don't get.

Much of what is true about the 1953 to 1962 is true about the '63 to '67. During the early '70s, you could buy some of these for under $2000 as running, working, decent looking cars. As such, their value was low, and they were raced, beaten, thrashed, and in general used to the fullest. Often they lived many lives, through engine replacements, body customizing, and so on. Unlike most old cars of the '60s, Corvettes are very unlikely to have all of the original components still on the car. If you find an old Chevy Impala or Buick or whatever, odds are the engine, transmission, and other major components are the ones that left the factory on that car. With Corvettes, that is the exception, not the rule. The safest way to be around Corvettes is to be suspicious and skeptical.

Corvette Disc Brakes 1965 to 1982

People have been running into this problem for 25 years. The brakes get air in the lines and go soft. The common fix is the stainless steel sleeved calipers. Yet many do this and still have problems. Want to know the answer? Want to know how to prevent it? Brake Problems

 

The Stingrays From 1968 to 1982

Yes, only '69-'76 actually had Stingray on the side, but they are still all the same body. Most of what was said for the Sting Rays holds true, except that the coupe of these years can leak more than the convertible, due to the T-top design which can let water leak in the center of the roof.

The vacuum lights can have problems, along with the vacuum powered wiper door. Be sure to check these for smooth operation. If you have problems, or expect to, the place to go is Chris Prow's Corvette Vacuum Home Page. Chris wrote the book, literally, on the vacuum systems on Vettes.

Fiber optics were advanced for the time, too much for most to repair. Non-working Fiber Optics could indicate past body damage so check them and then check that area. Often body shops thought they were wires and would cut them, do the repair, and then tried to "solder" them together. If you are handy with such things, Radio Shack probably has enough fiber optics supplies to help you fix what you need.

The 1984 - 1996 Corvette

Electronics

Electronics have entered in a big way and has had their problems. This has not slowed the more enthusiastic fans as they have ways to repair anything. The dashboards tend to have problems so check them carefully for intermittent or missing displays or lights. This is typically a $300 repair that is available from most Corvette vendors. Some of the injection controls like the burn off relays have regular failures. VetteNet is a good source of what are common problems so ask around before looking. Then check these out.

Interiors

Many find the pump up seats to fail. There are fixes for these on VetteNet. The Bose stereo is not compatible with normal stereo systems so if it isn't working, check on why or do some bargaining.  

Bodywork

The body is not fiberglass like the years before. A special repair procedure is required, although some have no doubt bought K-Mart fiberglass kits and "fixed" them. Be sure to check for any damage.

The 1997-2004 Corvette

These have a few problems and a few bugs. But then, what Corvette doesn't? They are being discussed constantly on VetteNet and I'd recommend anyone wishing to buy one of these used to spend a month on VetteNet to see what problems have arisen and how they are handled.


A Dose of Reality

Clearly the market today is pushing the restored or original Corvette.  However, the email lists show that there are three groups of people basically buying Corvettes.  There is the restoration group and there is the modification group.  The third is a group that falls in the middle.  

The first group is easily enough to determine, as they want to buy restored or original Corvettes.  They enjoy keeping them original and their goals are to get awards for the originality or the restoration. These people usually belong to NCRS and have a lot of fun going to shows.

The second group tend to care less about originality, and occasionally despise it.  They modify their cars to be their way, in looks and in performance.  Often there are body modifications and engine modifications.

The third group is a confused group, trying to take the lead of the first, because they see the prices go so high on restored cars.  But often, they are not financially well-off enough to play in that game.  As such, if they do get a restored car, or they try restoring one, they often have a less than ideal time.  They also want the more powerful versions, but find they can barely afford the basic ones.  And after a few years of trying to keep and enjoy a restored Corvette, they find it is too hard.  First, they like to drive them, and pre-1971 Corvettes do not like modern gasoline.  They are high maintenance, as solid lifters tend to require adjustment quite often.  Replacement parts are very expensive.  They really don't ride or handle as well as they could.

They also usually do not have the expertise to buy a restored or original car, and frequently buy one that is less than original or less that correctly restored, yet they pay the higher price.

So step by step, these owners want radial tires, gas shocks, slightly lower compression so they can use pump gas from any corner station, and bigger cams and heads to get a little more horsepower.  They have now destroyed the restored value of their car!

There is nothing wrong with Group 3, but confusion.  They have believed that they want to be in Group 1.  They have shunned Group 2 as "destroying" Corvettes.  And now they have turned to the same game.    

Corvettes as an Investment

These cars are great and tend to increase in value, but a dose of reality.  If you bought a new '66 Corvette with all the goodies for $6500, today that car may be worth $50,000 in perfect condition.   That original price increased 7.7 times over 35 years.  Sounds great, until you realize that is .21 times per year.  Still sounds great, but to be perfect, you have garage costs and maintenance costs.  To be perfect, it has probably been restored at $20,000 or more.  You will find that $6500 in a 5 percent account that same amount of time would have drawn $35,854 and not had the costs.

Buying an original or restored '66 Corvette in 1991 would have probably cost around $40,000.  Today that same car is worth around $40,000 or less.  If you had bought 2000 shares of Cisco Systems stock in 1991 (approximately $40,000) , you'd be a millionaire several times over today.

Corvettes are only an investment when compared to other cars.  When compared to real investments, they are sadly lacking.

 

Restored or Original Corvettes (Group 1)

To stay in this group, you need to keep the car original all the time.  Many cannot, because of practical limitations of gasoline and replacing the original parts.  These cars are best left to those who collect and drive very rarely. They are good for shows, but for Saturday night cruises or weekend trips, you are killing your investment.  This means you do not add sidepipes to your Corvette, even if you do like them, especially if it is a '64 or older or a '70 or newer.  You do not chrome anything that wasn't originally chromed.  

Modified or Custom Corvettes (Group 2)

This is where a large portion of the Corvette enthusiasts lived in the '60s and '70s.  Make the car your own, however, often you find it is hard to get others to like it.  If you want to have a car that is unlike every other one on the road, this is your home.  They usually are cheaper, and you have little stress worrying about devaluing the car.  You can do what you want, and enjoy.

Drivers (Group 3)

This is where the majority of Corvette enthusiasts were in the '60s and '70s.  Buy the low performance Corvette and then modify it to run faster, smoother, and longer.  The guys who think they are restorers and purists but have dropped a 383 small block in or run the gas shocks or had added the optional sidepipes really belong in this group.  Many of these people today worry about matching numbers, when they really have no need of matching numbers.  They should really forget it as it is only important for judging in the restoration groups.

This is where people had fun before worrying about originality and restoration.  Here, you could buy a Corvette, and do most things you wanted, and still have a car that looked original.  Many cars for sale fall into this group.  They look original, but they have the wrong interior for the year, the wrong wheels for the year, the wrong hood for the year, and so on.  However, they look original to anyone who doesn't know Corvettes.

And these cars you can buy at nearly half the price.  Why pay $40,000 for a '63 convertible only to realize you'd love to have the disc brake conversion on it or the 250 hp 327 isn't as fun as you thought and would like to do a 383 instead?  The smart person would buy a non-matching numbers car for $25,000 and put a couple of thousand into engine work so he could have his own fire-breather.  Why pay $50,000 for a fuelie when you could buy a NOM car, add a $6500 fuel injection to it, and look like a fuelie for $32,000?  Why pay $60,000 for a big block when a 502 crate motor will do as much or more for $6000 and it has a warranty?

Most Corvettes for sale today are really drivers, but the owners are trying to pass them off as Group 1. 

Restoration Costs

Most places through this page I have referred to the cost of restoration as $20,000.  This is a number that was an average to restore Corvettes a few years ago.  It was based on a complete, in good condition Corvette.  An average of $20,000 would pay for restoring it to look like an original new Corvette.  However, if many parts were missing, or were needing replacement, or if the parts were rare, then the price also went up.  So while it may be possible to restore your mother's '64 convertible that she was driving up until two years ago for $20,000, the '64 fuellie that was dragged out of a barn and missing a few parts could easily cost $30,000 or $40,000 to restore. A very rare factory race car or special order could cost $50,000 or more to restore.  Likewise, if you are experienced at restoring and do your own work, you may restore a car for less than $20,000.  However, it is still a good ballpark figure to remember.  It is not a guarantee that you can drag in any old Corvette to any shop and expect to walk out with a brand new Corvette for only $20,000.

Classic Car Insurance

While many go to this as the answer for the traditionally high rates Corvettes have, you need to read all the conditions carefully, you you will find you may not get any settlement or you may get cancelled.  Most run a 2500 mile restriction. While many figure that is fine, as they don't drive much, that 2500 miles is to be on club activities or shows or parades.  Some do not consider an afternoon's drive through the country to be in line with the coverage.  So you find a beautiful summer day and you want to run over to your relatives in the next town or across the state, do it at your own risk, as many companies do not view this as normal use of a collector car.

The $100 per year coverage as opposed to the $600 a year may be really inviting, but the loss of your car and getting a cancellation record with the insurance can make it all not worth while.

 


 

Need More Help?

If you don't know what you are doing, it can be very costly to discover how little you don't know. As such, getting help is a wise idea. Some are lucky enough to have friends who have learned a lot about Corvettes and can help. If not, you have a few options: hired appraisers, Corvette judges (NCRS and Bloomington), Corvette club members.

Unfortunately, many of the appraisers are connected to a dealership, so they always have a biased interest. They may be perfectly neutral, but how do you know they are not steering you away from some private sale and to one of their dealership.

Judges have one interest normally, and that is in restored cars. While most are attempting to buy a restored car, most do not need to have a restored car. Unfortunately, some judges thus look at only restored cars as being valuable and non-stock or custom Corvettes as being worth much, much less.

Corvette club members can be a real unpredictable group. Some are experts; some know less than you. However, at least they know how you feel and can help you try to be objective. Usually they do know the "experts" in the club who really do know their stuff and can help you.

My services are available. However, quite frankly, they are not financially feasible for many, as you would have to provide transportation to your part of the country. If you want advice on buying, contact me for the email advice fees. If you wish me to check a car out in person, we can discuss the costs for that.