A Tale of Two Fuelies

Sleeves up and hands-on was John Farwell’s approach to restoring this pair of fuel-injected Corvettes

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 1
August 3, 2023

The circumstances that bring new enthusiasts into the Corvette fold vary, but family influence is perhaps the most common impetus. For John Farwell, his father, Jim, was the culprit. “My dad always had a Corvette,” he explains. “He was the one who got me into it.”

The elder Farwell enjoyed—and still enjoys—getting behind the wheel of a Corvette, and has over the years owned a number of different generations. Early on he had a ’62 and a ’70 parked in the garage, and both were frequently used to indulge in the Corvette lifestyle. And as his son reached a point in life that he could afford to do the same, Jim was instrumental in finding a suitable candidate for him.

“In 1999 my dad found a ’63 convertible in the local paper in Cleveland, and we went and looked at it together,” John Farwell recalls. “I really didn’t have much money to be buying up cars at the time, but he owned an early Corvette and I wanted one. That’s what prompted me to buy it.”

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 2

While father and son shared a common automotive interest, they differed somewhat in their approach to the hobby, as Farwell explains. “Dad didn’t really work on the cars himself—he wasn’t a wrencher. He just drove them, had fun with them, and took them to someone else for repairs. I was more hands-on.”

When the Farwells initially looked at the ’63, it presented as a very nice, if unexceptional, driver. The car was equipped with Riverside Red paint and a Saddle Leather interior, along with a carbureted 327 small-block and a four-speed. The trim tag, however, told a slightly more interesting story. Red wasn’t the original color—the car instead rolled off the St. Louis assembly line wearing Sebring Silver. Things were kicked up another notch when the two men inspected the stamping on the block and saw the “RF” code, which pointed to a 360-horse “Fuelie.” The combination of the optional extra-cost paint, interior, and fuel-injected engine all pointed to a Corvette that was special-ordered from the factory.

“The day after we looked at it, we called a few folks we knew…who would know what to look for on a Fuelie,” Farwell says. “There were no emblems on the car, but there were signs of the air-cleaner mount plate on the driver-side fender, a [high-performance] tachometer, and later on we found the solenoid for the tach buzzer.

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 3

“That combination really motivated me to put the car back to original. Going in, I knew that the engine, gearbox, bodywork, and paint [work] would have to eventually be farmed out.” The rest of the labor came down to Farwell learning what it would take to tear apart the Corvette, then put it back together in as close to original condition as possible.

He started out by taking restoration “baby steps,” so to speak. Depending heavily on NCRS restoration manuals for guidance and information, his first mission was to get the engine bay sorted and the 327 back to its factory specifications.

“I realized rather quickly that the heads, radiator, core support, exhaust, alternator, and starter were not original,” he says. That meant spending time online and also networking with people who were dialed into the Corvette restoration scene to obtain the correct parts.

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 4

Perhaps the most challenging hurdle was finding the correct fuel-injection assembly. Fortunately, Farwell was able to enlist the help of Rochester EFI guru Gail Parsons for the correct unit. Beyond that, he explains, “Finding the other correct parts was actually fairly easy. I would go to places like Carlisle, and also buy a lot of stuff on eBay…but had to pay a premium at times.”

When it eventually came to putting all the engine pieces together, he notes, “I knew that I couldn’t rebuild the engine and gearbox by myself, so I hired John Drahos, from Corvette Conspiracy in Cleveland, for that job. I actually met John when I was trying to find parts.”

After Drahos was finished putting the drivetrain back together, it was dropped back into the car and the first test drives took place. But the euphoria surrounding the Corvette’s rebirth was short lived: On one of those runs, a front tire delaminated, resulting in a fair amount of damage to the front nose. At that point the old flaws and repairs previously hidden under the red paint became evident, and the restoration took on an added dimension.

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 5

The new phase began with tearing the body down until it was just a roller to be transported to Intercity Auto Body, which was conveniently located across the road from Corvette Conspiracy. The plan at that point was to have the bodywork and paint done, while the frame went back home with Farwell for its refurbishment. The crew at Intercity started with media blasting to remove the paint, at which point more signs of heavy front-end damage became apparent.

“[That] showed that it had multiple repairs over the years,” Farwell explains. His solution was to have the front clip replaced as part of the restoration. While that was going on, he was at home working on the frame, but he occasionally spent some weekends at the shop prepping the car for the PPG base coat/clear coat Sebring Silver paint to come. The finished body was then stored at the shop while he continued to reassemble the frame. Both were eventually mated together, and the bulk of the trim, new Al Knoch interior, and convertible top were installed.

All told, the process spanned about six years. “For me this was very much hands-on,” says Farwell. “I learned quite a bit as I went along [by] reading, looking at websites, talking to people, and doing detailed research. In the process I took a lot of things apart and put them back together—and then did a lot of repeat stuff because I didn’t do it right the first time.”

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 6

Just as Farwell was wrapping up the ’63, a ’59 model materialized on his radar screen. “This was a car that I had known about for a long time,” he says. “It belonged to my 10th grade typing teacher, [who] had it for many years. I was at a family function and she was there, and we ended up talking about the ’63. She knew what I had been doing with it, so she asked me for help to sell [the ’59].”

The woman had owned the Corvette for around 20 years. It had previously belonged to her nephew, but he needed cash following a run-in with the law and impending jail time. She lent him some money, and in return received the title to the car. At the time it was in the process of being repainted at a shop in Florida, so her son drove down to retrieve it and bring it back to Ohio.

What she ended up with was far from a complete car. There were no bumpers installed, most the interior was gone, and many other items were stripped off, shoved in boxes, or simply missing. The car, such as it was, was backed into the garage, where it ended up sitting for just over two decades.

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 7

Having agreed to help the woman sell the car, Farwell went to look at it to determine a price, taking Gail Parsons with him. Their initial assessment of the body and frame was that they seemed to be in fairly decent condition. Underneath all the dirt there was an unknown shade of red, but all indications pointed to the Corvette having originally been painted Roman Red with a black interior. And though very little original remained under the hood, there were some clues still in place that shed light on the origins of the powertrain.

Farwell explains, “Gail quickly detected the signs of a Fuelie car, with air-cleaner brackets and a tachometer grommet in the firewall.” As with the ’63, the fuel-injection unit was also missing, but in this case the correct “CS”-stamped 283 block and everything associated with it were also gone. Still, the two men’s overall evaluation convinced Farwell to make an offer on the car himself, which the woman accepted.

Having the ’63 makeover under his belt, Farwell expected his latest project to rely on most of the same resources to help get the work done. The missing Fuelie engine did present a challenge, but being able to rely on Parsons and his vast knowledge and network of contacts for assistance proved to be a game changer.

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 8

“Gail helped me in finding an engine and fuel-injection setup that aligned to the correct date codes,” Farwell says. After that hurdle was surmounted, the rest of the restoration kicked into high gear with the separation of the body from the frame.

“I took the body off the frame myself,” Farwell notes. “It was really solid, and had only had a few repairs here and there, so I made a frame for it and had a rolling dolly to move it around.”

The crew at Intercity was once again tasked with the body repairs and paintwork. Departing from his previous approach, Farwell’s elected not to return the ’59 to its original color. Instead he turned to his wife, Holly, for inspiration. After reviewing the combinations available in ’59, she chose a Crown Sapphire exterior with a Turquoise interior.

Photo: A Tale of Two Fuelies 9

As the restoration moved forward, Farwell found himself repeating many of steps he took with the previous build. He once again tasked Drahos with preparing the engine and gearbox, after which the body and frame were rejoined. And while he used as many original items as possible during the reassembly process, he notes that, “A lot of the parts were there but couldn’t be restored, so I had to buy new ones.”

The restoration was a seven-year project that wrapped up in 2015, but Farwell’s work on his Fuelie duo was not finished. About a year after the ’63 was completed, paint bubbles started to appear on the front end, an issue he believed to be caused by defective fiberglass. At the time he was busy working on the ’59, so the needed repairs were put on the back burner.

When his C1 project was finally complete, Farwell sent the ’63 to a friend who specialized in correct front-clip replacements. “He ended up replacing the nose and also stripped all the paint again, which led to another Sebring Silver repaint.” That ended up being another two-year project.

Farwell’s efforts with both cars have since resulted in an NCRS Top Flight certification at a chapter meet, a Second Flight at a regional meet, and Bloomington Gold with CCAS Certification for the ’63. The ’59, meanwhile, has been awarded a chapter NCRS Top Flight. As for the motivation that fueled it all, he states, “I bought a bunch of tools and it became my playtime and my passion. I wanted to rebuild and restore them back to original.”

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