Restoring my 1964 Air Convertible

In 2001 I sold my Top Flight Daytona Blue 63 split window coupe.  It was a heartbreaking moment, but I sold it for enough money to not only buy patch of  land two minutes walk from my shop, but to also to build on it  a  twelve car garage and separate two-car workshop.  I know I made the right decision but how I missed that Coupe! I put a tremendous amount of myself into, and built it to last me for a lifetime of serious driving.

I had known about that 63 for more than twenty years, barn stored on a Welsh mountain,  I finally managed to buy it in 1996, dropped the bare body onto the restored frame for the UK Chapter Flight 98 and nearly got a Third Flight  with no interior. At the next two annual NCRS UK events, it achieved Second and then Top Flight,  with me driving the car all the time.  It was photographed and tested for  major articles in both  Classic Car and Classic & Sports Car and was the featured car in the ‘Restoration’ chapter my Original Corvette 1963-67, published by Bay View Books.  It was in that chapter  that  I wrote:

“The compulsion to restore the artefacts of former times is very much a late twentieth century phenomenon.  Previous generations were happy to delight in the new when they could afford it, and discarded the old when it was no longer useful.  Now we research, discuss and spend time and money collecting and restoring almost anything ancient, from books to firearms, jewellery to buildings, farm machinery to swords. 

“Restoring a badly deteriorated car  is particularly  time consuming  and expensive, but unlike a  sword, a car  holds out a magnificent promise at the end of the process, the joy of turning the key, energising the starter and feeling  the dead bought back to  life,  to experience the impossible.    Then there is the anticipated satisfaction of driving,  an anticipation so great that hours of frustrating setbacks can be sustained by the dream of powering  over that crest or taking those favorite bends flat out in third gear.”

I was actively looking  for another split window 63 coupe to restore when I fell onto my 64 convertible. As so often happens it started with a phone call,  offering me a ‘very rough’ red 68 convertible stored for more than ten years  in a leaking lock-up garage in Ewell, Surrey.  My sight unseen offer of  was acceptable to the lady who had been the left the car in a will. Normally I would send a truck and a driver with a draft , and  take a chance, but it was close enough to be worth a look so I went to inspect my 68.

It was fortunate that I did because when the wet mattresses had been heaved off, the 68 turned out to be 1964!  It was imported and first registered here in 1968, hence the confusion.  I doubled my offer, which was even more acceptable and at the same time assuaged my guilt, and that afternoon the car was back in Snodland.

Close inspection revealed that I had bought a matching numbers 250 hp 327 4-speed originally finished in Ermine White with Red vinyl interior.  I love low horsepower mid-years because they are so nice to drive but  this car was also originally air conditioned.  Air conditioning is a mixed blessing for NCRS judging – it means lost points instead of no-deduction diagonal lines in those boxes on the judging sheets, but it opens the possibility of finally doing a US road tour without fainting in the heat. Even as I bought the car I had promised the tearful vendor, who had clearly loved the deceased previous owner very much, that I would be doing a long term restoration for myself and I now knew that this would replace my Daytona Blue split window as my long term personal car.  At that moment it was a non running wreck, but I was determined to get judged the car judged at Flight 2002 in three weeks time and then drive it in the Road Tour . 

We freed off the cylinders after an overnight soak with thin oil through the plug holes and next morning the engine started with a filter and oil change, a battery and eight new plugs. After a quick and brakeless drive round the block, four brake hoses and new fluid , two front lower ball joints and some welding of the exhaust,  the car was sent for an MoT test on wheels borrowed from a 1967 and with its headlights wound open manually because the motors were seized to my satisfaction and surprise it passed.!  Now we stripped out the mice infested carpets, fitted a set of old 63 seat covers to replace the shredded originals, re-fitted the 1969 rally wheels with their twenty year old XJ6 Dunlops and I had my driver.

The engine ran OK, the clutch slipped a little, the brakes and steering were fine though the wipers never worked after the MoT tester turned them off, and I started to use my 64. This is the essential first stage of restoring any car, get it on the road and drive it. The paint was horrible, the bumpers rusty, the engine leaked oil and smoked, but if you haven’t done a few hundred miles like this, how can you truly appreciate the same car after restoration?

Tom Falconer

More next month!

Reprinted from Corvette Torque, the Quarterly Magazine of the NCRS.UK, the United Kingdom Chapter of the National Corvette Restorers Society.