Reader Question: Is it Worth Doing?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

John asks: I am the proud owner of a 1978 Corvette Indy pace car which I drove into the ground. The main problem the last time I drove it was that everything in the undercarriage was worn out. So I parked it and that was 20 years ago. Now everything needs to be replace or repaired including the interior; everything. The paint you name it. Is it worth doing?

My reply: Only you know the answer to this question, but I can help you answer it.

How much do you care about this car?

I have immense emotional attachment to my ’76 Trans-Am; it is worth far more to me than what it is worth according to “the book” – i.e., classic car value guides. Even if I were offered twice its nominal value I would not sell it because there is no replacing that particular car, in which I spent most of my youth and had many good times. Another ’76 – even if the same in terms of options, color, etc. – would not have the same emotional value to me.

If you care similarly about your Corvette, the cost of restoring it becomes secondary. The question isn’t whether the cost is worth it – it may not be, in coldly calculated dollars and cents. You may be able to buy a similar car for significantly less than it will cost you to bring your car back to life.

But no matter how little – or a lot – you do spend, it will never be the same car.

The next question is: Can you afford to bring your car back to life? Answering this requires figuring out what it will cost – by getting some estimates – and then deciding whether you can manage it. The car may be in better – or worse – condition than you imagine. Finding out is the first step. Assuming you think you’d like to save it.

I’d find a reputable Corvette shop in your area – or even not in your area – and get them to evaluate the car’s main systems (drivetrain/suspension/brakes, etc.) as well as the integrity of the frame and body.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to commit to a concours restoration to have an enjoyable-to-drive car. A ’78 Corvette’s 350 is not a complicated engine and even if you have to replace it rather than rebuild it, a brand-new GM crate engine more powerful than the one your car came with from the factory can be purchased from JEGS or equivalent for about $2,000 (see here). A brand-new TH350 automatic costs about $1,000; if your car has the four speed, and it’s not ruined, it should be rebuildable for about the same or less.

Your car’s suspension isn’t exotic, either – and should be rebuildable to as-new for not-insane money.

The main potential money pit with Corvettes is the body and frame and trim/interior pieces – which can cost a lot.

But you won’t know how much until you do an inventory, which is the first step. This is a neat car and I think/hope worth saving!

PS: Here is some info regarding the history and current fair market value of your pace car Corvette from Hargerty, which is one of the most-known/solid classic car insurance companies.

According to Hagerty, a standard Corvette – not a pace car – in concours condition is worth about $27k; I would expect your pace car to be worth around $30-$35k and possibly more if it is an L82 four-speed car.

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. This may not be a help in determining the cheapest method but I’d use the original block and have a reliable engine rebuilder check the block and if its good, bore it, deck it and put some quality(not necessarily exotic)internals(maybe the crank just needs a 10/10 with new quality bearings. Get the rods(and this is cheap)stress relieved. Pistons now are better than pistons then and so are rings.

    Personally, I’d do some smoothing on the heads and port match them(easy, just take your time) and remove what you can(you can find examples of how much and where to remove material in each port. Of course I’d get the heads magnafluxed and decked too. If you want to increase your C.R. just use plain old stainless steel head gaskets and aluminum paint to get a bullet-proof seal(a trick my uncle the tractor mechanic taught me and damned if it didn’t work well). Everything else in the engine will be relatively cheap and better than original. I ALWAYS use a 22% over Mellings oil pump and a much better aftermarket water pump. Buy a torque wrench and a book with the torque pattern and specs for an SBC(I have one that was published by GM). New timing gears and chains are way better than old ones and cheap enough.

    A friend had the L 82 model and it ran better than the non-L82 model. Keep the old intake(for matching numbers should that ever come up)but install something newer that flows much better.

    I can think of the name off the top of my head(do a YT search)but there’s a guy who specializes in manual transmissions of this sort and replaces some of the parts with better parts. My plastic hammer flew away but I’d buy a new one to do a rebuild. It’s always good to swat the head bolts(unless you use studs…..which I would do)before final torque. It would be easier to get the machine shop to chase all the old threads(and cheaper since multiple thread chasers aren’t cheap).

    Be sure to stay with cast iron valve guides since the bronze jobs are notorious for failing… in right from the get go. Someone like Hennessy could guide you as far as suspension and steering parts go. If you can afford it, I’d go for it and have a unique vehicle that will trigger a lot of memories. Just stay out of town when driving it and watch for steep driveways(you may have forgotten how easy it is to ruin that front spoiler). BTW, I’ve tried the newer replacement carbs like Holley makes for Q jet….and they suck. It would probably be impossible to find but there were Holley carbs with GM numbers that ran great, started up and idled like a Qjet and go decent mileage. You’ll have to go to some old guy to find one of those. Holley even made the GM numbered intake for one too and they worked well. Good luck.

    • Hi Mark,

      A great deal – in terms of its market value. Even a perfectly cloned pace car Corvette isn’t actually a pace car Corvette. But, on the other hand, numbers are irrelevant if you just want a correct-looking pace car and do the necessary upgrades. This is often done with classic muscle cars. It is a lot cheaper to transform a factory-built base-trim ’69 Camaro into a Z28 than it is to buy a numbers matching Z28.

      • The “Numbers Match” thing is fine if you have DEEP pockets, as the supply of vehicles and parts are decidedly small. If you’re willing to dispense with being a snobby collector, just find a decent rebuilder and go at it yourself. Hell, for now the ’66 Fury is getting an ’85 360 LA engine out of a Ramcharger, just to get it on the road while we still can, as at some points the idiots at CARB will find a way to outlaw putting a ‘classic’ on the road again, but it’ll be hard(er) to deny renewal of registration to a car already deemed road-worthy. Besides, that 318 Poly engine will need some more TLC (and $$$) to become the 360 cubed monster my boy and I have in mind…we’re also forgoing the mint green paint, choosing instead to go all black (most of the inside being done with spray cans). Again, the idea is to not take forever to just get the beast on the road and ENJOY it. In time, when the poly engine is ready to “go home”, ‘we’ll re-purpose that 360…other projects are contemplated, especially when I “re-tahr”.


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