Restoring my 1964 Air Convertible –part 3

 The story so far – in 2002 Tom Falconer, NCRS UK Judging Chairman, went to buy a very rough 1968 convertible that had been rotting away for ten years in a leaky roofed lock-up garage in Surrey. It turned out to be a 1964, so he bought it for his new project, got it running for the Road Tour and its first judging at Flight 2002, where it just scraped a Third Flight.

In part 2, Tom described the rebuild of the 1964 up to the point where the rolling chassis was fully restored and the rebuilt 327-250hp and Muncie trans re-installed ready for the Spring 2004 Judging school.

The next most beautiful thing to a fully restored Corvette has got to be the restored chassis before the body is dropped back on. It is completely functional, every nut and bolt exposed, each new bushing in place. The exhaust will never look so perfect again, the un-started engine has no leaks and no heat stains on its fresh Chevy Orange paint, there is no trace of road spray on the newly painted frame.  I love all the mid-year wheel covers designs except the 1964s, so my car now has a used set of P48 Cast Aluminium Knock-Off wheels, which came with some nice whitewall radials, and these really set off the rolling chassis too.

For the Spring 2004 NCRS-UK Judging School, Chairman Trevor brought along his official mid-year paint box, complete with brushes and rollers and assisted by other members and closely consulting the Judging Manual and Assembly Instruction Manual, my pristine chassis was stencilled and daubed in all the right places, including the prop-shaft and steering box. It was a most enjoyable session and offered members the chance to examine my project in detail. My 64 is built to drive all year round, rain or shine, so many of the components, especially bolts, have been zinc plated or painted when they should be bare metal, and these too were identified. It was still dripping Waxoyl on the floor from where we sprayed the rust proofing wax into the chassis the previous week. At about this point I at last found a buyer for the cherished number PBL 16 that was on the car when I bought it, so with couple of thousand towards the restoration from that, I spent a couple of hundred on a more appropriate number XIL 64 for my white beauty.

Pressure of other customer restoration work meant that my chassis was then put away until the start of 2005. In January we had a few spare days to work on the body and started on the myriad details like sorting out the door and window mechanisms, quarter light gears, wiper and heater motors, and the complicated a/c system. The AM/FM radio, time clock and all the gauges had already been restored by a specialist in Maryland, so these were installed together with a new wiring loom from Lectric Limited.

By early February it looked possible to that I could roll the car out for the NCRS-UK Spring Shakedown on March 6th, so priority was given to getting the car on the road in any driveable state. A rush of other work meant that the 64 was pushed into the workshop between other jobs, the seats had a set of old red covers pulled on them, carpets and door panels were left out, Lee was persuaded to restore the convertible frame and fit a new black top to it, Peter Jones refitted the screen with a new rubber and, at my insistence,  a gross excess of mastic to keep the rain out. The original wiper motor suddenly stopped working, and Dave successfully rebuilt it within two hours. The new rear park brake cables had still not arrived, so a later disc brake type cable was adapted just to get the car legal, but more of this below.

With just two days to go before the NCRS weekend my white beauty was started up and immediately driven over the road to the MoT station  -and passed first time. I drove it gently for two miles up and down the by-pass, and it felt great. The engine was tight, but super smooth and torquey and the car drove straight and rattle free, even with the top up, so I parked it up, satisfied. Next day, incredibly,  it snowed, so no more testing was possible.

The next chance to drive the 64 convertible was on the Spring Shakedown itself. While the participants enjoyed their coffees and studied the route in my shop, I did my third rebuilt mile driving to the Jet station and filled the new tank for the first time.  If you have just rebuilt a car from end to end with most systems still untried, would you test it for the first time on a 100 mile run in front of an expert audience? Not recommended, but I had said that I would do it and was really looking forward to it too. Having locked the shop and set the alarm, I set off down the road for my fourth mile, but immediately got a phone call on my mobile from our Secretary Jack, who had been taking a last minute rest break and was now locked in the shop.  The other participants in the run had parked to wait while Jack was released, and now, rushing to rejoin the front of the group my left rear wheel locked and immediately released when I crossed a bump in the road, throwing the car off line, alarming to those watching and deeply embarrassing and worrying for me. Was my Shakedown going to finish at mile 5?

From 1965 to 2005, no Corvette has had a parking brake that could lock a back wheel at speed, but until 1964 the full size rear drum brake is also used as the parking brake, and it was clearly this that had locked. I grabbed spanners, reached underneath and relaxed the front cable adjuster, and then drove back up the road and once again over the same bump. Thankfully, this time there was no brake grab and no squealing tyre, and we were off for our run.

The temp gauge went round to 200F within five miles but then backed off to an indicated 190F as the thermostat opened for the first time, and I took the rebuilt engine briefly to 3,000 rpm, remembering that I was running in a new cam and lifters as well as all new bearings and piston rings.  Contemplating the earlier scare, I realised that my ‘clever’ temporary rear parking brake cable was too short and no spare length in the outer cable when the trailing arm deflected. The next day on a hunch I checked a box of old cables in my Aladdin’s Cave upstairs and found a pair of perfect original 1964 rear brake cables, which we fitted immediately.

The rest of the trip was a joy, except that it was much to cold to put the top down. The idle speed raised by 300rpm as the motor freed up by the lunch stop, the brakes improved as they bedded in, and the Luk clutch was smooth as silk and incredibly light. It is amazing how much clutches have improved in the thirty-five years since I bought my first 1966.

Our Regional Director Mark Lincoln made the trip over the Atlantic to be with us on this weekend, opted to accompany me, and was commendably polite about my carpet-less 64 on its first run.  It was great to be joined too by Steve and June Irons, who flew in from their new home near Le Mans, and Rob Musquetier in his black C5 all the way from the Netherlands. For me it was an unforgettable trip, the first run in a restored car is very special and it was great to share it with NCRS friends.


Since the Spring Shakedown, I have been driving and finishing the car. MechSpray have now cured the minor marks we put on the car during body drop and after, and the one big scrape from a wind driven garage door. Carpets and door panels are now installed, the 1963 seats, which the car came with, have new 1963 red covers, and I have now done more than 300 miles.  All the A/C parts are now fitted, including a perfect and original compressor with all the right markings, which I also found upstairs, and it will soon be time to make that all work. Now the big decision is – do I take this or a C5 convertible to Le Mans?

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