Goal Oriented

Restoring this ’67 L71 convertible took nearly a decade, but the results were well worth the effort

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February 8, 2024

Tom Long came of age before social media, computer gaming, and other modern diversions occupied the bulk of the average young person’s spare time. Instead, like most of his friends, Long devoted nearly all of his teenage hours, money, and energy to cars.

“I purchased my first one, a 1968 Chevelle SS, when I was 15,” he says. “By the time I had a license, I had learned how to rebuild the motor, replace the transmission, and repair the rotted floor panels. When you are young with very little money, you have a way of figuring it out by reading and asking a lot of questions of people who know.”

While in high school Long worked at a place called ATV, which sold a wide variety of regular auto parts as well as speed and off-road equipment. He then worked at an engine shop during his college years. Through this period and beyond, the young enthusiast owned numerous Chevelles and Camaros that he drove on the street and actively drag raced.

These steel-bodied Chevys eventually led to his first Corvette, a 1964 coupe that was heavily modified for racing with a tube frame, parachute, and wheelie bars. More Corvettes followed, including both street and drag cars, and as his knowledge of the marque expanded, his desire to own a 1967 big-block convertible grew concurrently.

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As every Corvette enthusiast knows, the market values of vintage cars in general, and ’67 big-blocks in particular, have been climbing steadily since they briefly leveled off in the mid-1970s. Consequently, when Long began his search for a ’67 about 20 years ago, he found that he was always a step or two behind on the nice, “needs-nothing examples” that tend to be popular with the most serious collectors. With that in mind he shifted his attention to cars needing at least some level of restoration. And after looking at more than 20 examples, he finally found the right one.

“It needed just about everything,” Long recalls, “but it was a real, 435-horsepower car with side pipes, and it was produced on February 28, 1967, the day before I was born. Odd the way that worked out—or maybe it was destiny that brought us together.”

Though cosmetically rough, the car was completely roadworthy when Long bought it in August of 2004, so he drove it for the next two years while simultaneously planning a comprehensive restoration and accumulating the needed parts. The resto, the bulk of which Long did with his own two hands, began in 2006 and progressed as time and money allowed.

“I had small kids, so family came first,” he recalls, “and of course my career also took precedence. In the end, the restoration was an eight-year journey that resulted in every part down to the last nut, bolt, clip, and wire being rebuilt and refinished.”

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“A Pile of Parts”

As was common in the 1960s and ’70s, someone had installed fender flares at all four corners of the car to accommodate wider wheels and tires. Using the knowledge gained from restoring the bodies of two other Midyear Corvettes, Long cut and peeled off the modified parts and installed a new nose and rear quarter panels. For these jobs he used a combination of press-molded reproduction and NOS GM parts and bonding strips, following the process originally employed at the St. Louis factory.

Once all the required bodywork was done, Long removed the body from the chassis and mounted it on a rolling dolly. Then he enlisted Mother Nature to help out. “Whenever there was a sunny day,” he explains, “I would roll the body out into the sun so everything would dry, and the heat would cause the fiberglass to expand and contract and find its comfortable position. Having already done the other two midyears and experiencing bonding seams showing up through the paint six months after painting the cars, I learned my lesson.”

While the body was on the dolly, alternately getting baked in the sun and cooled off in the garage, Long turned his attention to the drivetrain and chassis. After removing the suspension, steering, and every other attached piece, he sandblasted and epoxy-coated the well-preserved frame. To avoid any corrosion problems into the indefinite future, stainless-steel brake and fuel lines replaced the carbon-steel originals.

Following disassembly, the front control and rear trailing arms were glass-beaded and painted the correct shade of gloss black. New bushings and ball joints for the control arms, along with new bearings, seals, and bushings in the trailing arms, completed the mechanical rehabilitation of those assemblies. The remaining suspension and steering parts, including the springs, tie rod sleeves, and related brackets and hardware, were similarly rebuilt and refinished.

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Next came the engine and drivetrain. The car’s differential and transmission received new bearings and seals, with the trans also getting fresh synchronizers. One of the few operations contracted out to others was engine machining, after which Long deputized his son Tommy to help assemble it. “I walked him through the assembly process, and that turned into a great father-son project that we will both always remember.”

The only major engine part that was significantly damaged was the car’s intake manifold. “It had some less-than-desirable repairs from the past,” explains Long, “so I found a good replacement.” With the undamaged manifold in hand, father and son were able to finish reassembling the L71 mill.

Once the Corvette’s engine, transmission, and rear end were all bolted into place on the chassis, Long took the body, still on its dolly, to Anthony’s Rods and Customs in Middle Island, New York, for final prep and paint. Owner Anthony Luca sprayed the restored body in its original Marina Blue hue, using two-stage urethane paint.

After transporting the newly painted body back home, Long lowered it onto its restored chassis, and from there it was a relatively simple nut-and-bolt operation to get it secured. With several years of diligent, and often dirty, work in the rearview mirror, the Corvette once again looked like a car, rather than a pile of parts. But there was still a lot of work to be done, including all of the exterior glass and trim, wiring, and entire interior.

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Finishing Touches

Following total disassembly, Long systematically restored every interior part and assembly one-by-one, starting with the job of re-dyeing dash and dash pads. After that, he tackled the instrument cluster, repainting the housing, installing new lenses, cleaning the gauge faces, and repainting the needles. Next up was the steering column, which was treated to a thorough cleaning, new bearings, and its own fresh coat of paint prior to reassembly.

Even the seats received a complete makeover. “I stripped [them] down to the bare frames, glass-beaded them, and installed a Heli-Coil [threaded insert] to repair damaged threads,” Long says. “Then I installed new foam and covers, and completed the seat restoration with new backs and chrome hockey sticks.”

Continuing to work his way through the Corvette’s interior, Long installed new carpeting in the front and rear, as well as new door panels and correct-dated seatbelts. The original emergency brake handle and assembly were cleaned and lubricated, and the assembly’s housing, which was cracked (as these items usually are), was replaced with a correct reproduction. Long’s meticulous attention to detail carried over to the door innards, where he ensured that the releases, locks, and window assemblies would function exactly as they were designed to.

As anyone who has ever done a comprehensive restoration knows, there’s still a lot of work to do after the car looks “finished.” By the time Long addressed all of the details and could proclaim his restoration “complete,” a full eight years had transpired since he began the process.

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“It was a…journey,” he reflects, “that I enjoyed every step of the way. I didn’t rush anything and stayed focused on doing everything correctly. I tried my best to reuse as many of the original parts and hardware [as] I could. I glass-beaded every bracket and little part I could. I even used a vibration tumbler to clean the hardware before replating it.”

Another thing anyone who has gone through a total restoration knows is that it takes the support and help of family and friends to complete the job successfully. “I definitely need to thank some people,” Long tells us, “starting with my wife for supporting my passion for Corvettes. I also need to thank my dad for teaching me the mechanical skills required for this kind of work.

“Two of my life-long friends, Craig Neil and Mike Giordano, were there for me when I needed them. And of course I want to thank my son, who helped with the engine assembly. The support, encouragement, and hands-on help from these people means a great deal to me and is reflected in the finished product.”

That product is indeed magnificent, in the way that only a big-block Midyear can be. Tom Long finally has the 427/435 hp ’67 convertible he’s always wanted, and in keeping with his intention from the beginning, he drives it every chance he gets. “I love everything about this car,” he tells us. “I take great pride in saying that I did the restoration myself, with some help from my friends. I love the way it looks, sounds, smells, and drives down the road.”

Also from Issue 168

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