Twenty-year rebuild yields blue beauty

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressThe original motor was upgraded with 10.5:1 compression pistons and a 365-horsepower mechanical camshaft.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

The original motor was upgraded with 10.5:1 compression pistons and a 365-horsepower mechanical camshaft.

First introduced in 1953, the Chevrolet Corvette was based on the 1952 EX-122 show car. Created as an economical sports car for young adults, it featured a low-production fibreglass body, as well as running gear borrowed from other General Motors models — which made it cost effective to produce.

Marketed as a performance image builder, the Corvette was subsequently produced with a steel body and V-8 power. Sales were slow, and it would be 1955 before the Corvette saw the optional new 265-cubic-inch V-8 engine. 1956 saw a dramatic rise in sales, thanks to new body styling and improvements in performance. With minor tweaks, the Corvette would continue with the same body-on-frame platform until the debut of the new Corvette Sting Ray in 1963.

The Sting Ray looked like nothing else to ever leave Detroit.

A new frame with four-wheel independent suspension and fibreglass body styling which looked like it was developed in a wind tunnel, captivated the North American sports car market. Now, not only did the Corvette deliver on looks, it had a frame with the necessary steering, suspension and brakes to handle the road course as well.

The styling was cleaned up a bit for the 1964 model. Roof vents were restyled, and the fake hood vents were deleted. Another feature often lamented by Corvette enthusiasts was the elimination of the ’63 model’s rear window divider. A hindrance to rear vision, it gave way to a safety concern, but the unique split window coupe’s charm lives on today.

For Greg Conway of Winnipeg, he knew little about the Corvette, but he knew he liked them. In the spring of 1986, he visited a Manitoba Public Insurance salvage auction to look at a 1964 Corvette. Equipped with a 327-cubic-inch V-8 and four-speed manual transmission, the coupe also came equipped with an AM/FM radio and power brakes. A theft recovery vehicle, it exhibited little actual damage, but did need some mechanical work to make it roadworthy. As the successful bidder, Conway hauled the silver-blue Corvette home and began looking to find sources for parts and expertise to get the Corvette up and running. He found Denis Gautron at Canterbury Vette Centre, and had them rebuild the master brake cylinder and install a new rear leaf spring and new trailing arms.

In October 1997, Conway and friend Joey LaRue secured a small garage which enabled them to strip the Corvette down for a full, body-off restoration. Over the next two years, the frame and components were replaced or rebuilt, and the body received several fibreglass repairs and base preparation before receiving a coat of primer. For final body prep and application of the original Daytona Blue paint finish, Conway chose Kenny Lang Auto Body to give the Corvette it’s original lustre. “During the restoration, we found that under the silver-blue paint, the car actually came from the factory in Daytona Blue, so we matched it to the data tag,” Conway says.

The original L75, 300-horsepower, 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine was sent to Winnipeg Engine. Rebuilt with 10.5:1 compression pistons and upgraded to a 365-horsepower mechanical camshaft, 600 CFM Holley four-barrel carburetor and electronic ignition. It’s closer to 350 horsepower. The four-speed manual transmission and rear axle remain after being serviced and carefully checked over. The car rolls on factory-correct, cast aluminum knock-off wheels, shod with Michelin X tires.

With Conway working many months in Northern Manitoba, trips home to work on the car became fewer and the project sat for several years at a time with little progress. To finally get the wheels moving and have the Corvette back on the road, Conway had Nancy and Paul McLeod at Red Bearing Automotive Service & Restoration work on getting the Corvette into final assembly.

Mike Sardinha at Red Bearing installed a new carpet and full, blue leather interior upholstery. A deviation from the original black vinyl upholstery the Corvette left the factory with, it’s an upgrade that’s hard to argue against and looks great.

“It took 20 years off-and-on to get it to this state, and there’s a few more things to work out,” Conway says.

“But I’m happy to say I’ve got about 700 miles (1,126 kilometres) on it since it’s been back on the road, and I’m really enjoying it.”

The Sting Ray would continue to receive styling enhancements and performance upgrades until a major restyle in 1968 would again give buyers a totally new look. That look would remain for the next 14 years and to some appear long in the tooth, which cemented the future of the 1963 to 1967 Corvette as the one to captivate Corvette collectors and enthusiasts.

Even after all these years, Corvette is still America’s favourite sports car.

57ford@mymts.net

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press The 1964 Corvette came equipped with manual steering and AM/FM radio.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

The 1964 Corvette came equipped with manual steering and AM/FM radio.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressGreg Conway worked on restoring his 1964 Chevrolet Corvette — purchased at a salvage auction in 1986 — off-and-on for 20 years.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

Greg Conway worked on restoring his 1964 Chevrolet Corvette — purchased at a salvage auction in 1986 — off-and-on for 20 years.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free PressWhile the car was purchased in a silver-blue colour, its original paint was Daytona Blue.

Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press

While the car was purchased in a silver-blue colour, its original paint was Daytona Blue.