One of the ironies of restoring classic cars is that they often come out far better than the day they rolled off the assembly line. Since these vintage collectibles are invariably worth much more than they were when new, it’s easy to assume that restoring every aspect of them to the highest possible standard is the logical approach. But in reality, organizations like the National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) deduct points for over-restoration.
Dedicated restorers who prize originality as much as quality put a lot of effort into emulating the build process that these cars originally went through, right down to paint overspray in select areas to sloppily applied glue on soft parts like rubber trim and window felt. It’s easy to forget that even cars as special as a Corvette Sting Ray were mass-produced—put together by workers who needed to complete their tasks quickly. Such assembly line manufacturing is a far cry from the unhurried attention a restorer can lavish on a single car.
“There is a lot to know when it comes down to restoring a car to the same standards as a 1960s UAW worker,” notes Rick Jones of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who restored the ’67 427 coupe pictured here. “There is a fair amount of sloppiness and poor fit that went into the assembly and building of these cars.” The word “sloppy” and the phrase “poor fit” seem odd after seeing Jones’ car in person, since by most definitions it looks perfect: The shut lines are uniform, the interior looks nearly brand new and the engine is so clean you could practically eat off of it.
When I look closer, though, particularly through the revealing lens of my Nikon, I see what Jones is talking about. In the engine bay, for example, there’s a bit of orange overspray on a coolant hose. The glue on the weather stripping for the doors is unevenly applied—again on purpose to match, rather than exceed, the original build quality. It’s such touches that make this Corvette so correct in the eyes of NCRS judges.
Like most Corvette enthusiasts, Jones tracked a predictable course when it came to his love of the model. “When I was a junior in high school in 1979, I dreamed of owning a 1968 or 1969 Corvette,” he says. It was, however, a dream that had to wait—until 1988. By that time, Jones had been working for many years as a mechanic. He wrenched on a variety of different makes and models, but focused mostly on GM products.
His first Corvette was a minimally optioned ’74 convertible painted Mille Miglia Red with a black leather interior. “It needed a lot of work and I was a mechanic, so it was a perfect match,” he says. After that initial purchase, Jones went on to own many more Corvettes from just about every generation, including a 2006 C6. “I would have to say the total number of them I have owned is near 30 by now.”
But of all the various iterations he’s owned, Jones has a particularly soft spot for the Larry Shinoda-designed second gen. “They may not have the handling capabilities of the later Corvettes,” he explains, “but they have style. And of all the mid-years, I think the 1967 has the best ergonomics and refinements, which is probably why it is the most popular year for Corvette enthusiasts.”
Jones acquired his 1967 big-block coupe in 2006. “I had been restoring mid-year Corvettes for five or six years when I came across this car,” he says. Originally, he had found it for a customer of his following a year-long search. After being sold new through Seip Chevrolet in Chicago, Illinois, Sting Ray number 7095 had spent its life in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. It had been sitting since 1997, but was all there. “It was a low-miles car that was in very good original condition, with a stack of documentation,” says Jones. “It was a perfect candidate for restoration because of its originality.”
The paperwork included items like the original sales order, a copy of the buyer’s deposit, all of the original glove-box info and even the original key envelope. In addition, the Corvette had left the factory with a bevy of desirable options. There was a 435-horsepower L71 V8 under the stinger hood, a close-ratio M21 four-speed gearbox and factory-installed side-exit exhausts.
The customer that Jones was going to restore the car for changed his mind after seeing a ’65 that Jones had just completed. “He decided he didn’t want to wait two years for me to restore the ’67,” Jones explains. A deal was struck, the ’65 was sold and the ’67 remained his. “It was a special car and I was not going to let it go away and possibly fall into the hands of somebody that would do a ‘half-way’ restoration.”
The project began on the outside. “The exterior of the car was not too bad at all,” he says. Before any paint work was actually done, Jones re-fitted the body panels for better-than-original fit. “This results in a few points being deducted in judging, but the end result is a much better-looking car,” he says.
Next, he turned his attention to the paint. The car had been painted white after a fender bender when it was about four years old, and Jones thinks that it was repainted in its factory maroon shade around ’77 or ’78. “All three paintings—the original and two repaints—were done in lacquer,” he notes. Jones stripped the body down to the original factory primer, but stopped there. “There was no need to take it off as it has had 40 years to cure and it was in great condition,” he says. The accident-repair work was visible in the inner fender, so this was redone. Other than that and a small ding in the left rear corner, the body was perfectly straight.
Sourcing the correct Marlboro Maroon lacquer paint was the next hurdle that had to be overcome. “It turned out to be almost impossible to find a paint company that would custom tint lacquer paint to the same color we found on the fiberglass under the windshield and rear glass,” Jones recalls. Paint from these areas—which had never been exposed to light, and thus offered the truest sample—was compared to paint from various manufacturers. “The only paint system I was able to get to match the color we found was a DuPont two-stage base/clear system,” says Jones. “The original lacquer paint has a dull finish that needed to be polished for it to look good.”
This presented a problem, because a modern clear coat yields a much more shiny finish, even without color sanding. “This paint was finessed to give a more accurate look in the final finish of all areas of the car that would not have been buffed to a gloss,” says Jones. When pressed to explain what he means by “finessed,” he goes mum: “It’s a trade secret.”
With the Sting Ray now wearing a fresh coat of maroon paint, Jones turned his attention to the inside. “The interior was special in this car, and what I mean by special is that it was all original,” he explains. So while a brand-new set of carpets and re-upholstered seats and interior panels are often part of a full restoration, these were not needed in this case. “I was able to take everything out of the car in its original condition and restore it with the exception of the headliner.” An upholstery person repaired some broken stitches on the seat covers, and fixed two holes that had been added to allow the use of aftermarket head rests. In addition, the foam was replaced and the seat tracks were rebuilt. After the covers were re-dyed and refitted, the repairs were completely hidden.
The rest of the interior needed even less attention. “The dash and all of the tan trim were just cleaned and given a coat of dye,” says Jones. The front carpeting was removed so that a small area where the driver’s heel rests could be patched and then dyed. The rear carpets were simply dyed in place. “It was a great pleasure working on the interior, because I just had to bring things back to a new condition and didn’t have to fight aftermarket parts to make them fit.”
This Corvette emerged from the St. Louis factory with the optional heavy-duty F-41 suspension, which included thick front and rear sway bars and stiffer springs and shocks. Thankfully, almost all of the original suspension components were still in place, so Jones could focus on the detail work of refurbishing them. “Special attention was paid to how parts were painted by the original suppliers and the sort of parts that were used originally,” he says. “Rivets were used where the factory used rivets, and bolts with the correct head markings were used where the factory used bolts.”
A lot of time was also spent tracking down the appropriate finish for the hardware, which was then sent out for replating. “The brake calipers were finished just as the original supplier supplied them, with all of the machined portions free of paint and factory inspection marks all where they needed to be,” Jones adds.
The Goodyear Red Stripe 15-inch bias-ply tires that the car had when new were long gone, so Jones mounted modern replica tires that exactly match the original rubber. And though he says he has loses points for having over-restored wheels, he couldn’t resist polishing the original trim rings to a brilliant shine to complement the freshly restored wheels. We don’t blame him.
Finally, Jones tackled the aging drivetrain. The 427-cubic-inch/435-horse engine was yanked out and completely rebuilt, with a few changes to make it more suitable for the modern world. The compression ratio was lowered from 11.25:1 to 10.25:1 using different pistons, and the heads received hardened valve seats and valve guides—both steps to allow it to run reliably on unleaded gas. According to the car’s documentation, the gearbox had already been rebuilt, and since it seemed to be in perfect operating condition, it was simply detailed before being reinstalled along with the fresh motor.
Two years after beginning the restoration, Jones saw his diligence and hard work pay off. At the 2008 NCRS National Convention in St. Louis, the ’67 was awarded a 97.3-percent score. To put that into perspective, a first-place finish is anything above 94 percent.
Jones feels a deep sense of satisfaction for receiving such an impressive score, but he finds the act of simply driving this vintage Corvette even more fulfilling. “The car has all the power you would dream of on those small tires, and you can stop at any quality gas station to fill it up,” he says. “The filling up part happens quite often, as it is hard to keep my foot off of the accelerator pedal!”