While purists prefer to preserve the originality of their Corvettes, other owners want to make them better than new. That’s the case of David Davies’ 1978 Stingray, which can be characterized as a “restomod” since he improved on the original in a number of areas.
In particular, Davies had to deal with the urethane bumpers, which tend to fade, crack or discolor on the ’73 to ’79 models. He worked closely with J&D Corvette to correct this common problem, along with several other areas. The result is one sweet-looking Coke-bottle Corvette. But it wasn’t always that way, and it took some doing to get the recipe right.
When Davies acquired his Corvette in 1979, it had 33,000 miles on it, and was “powered” (using the term loosely here) by a factory 350 engine. Rated at a meager 185hp, this model didn’t have a whole lot of getup and go.
“When I found out that the catalytic converter was choking the engine,” Davies recalls, “it miraculously ‘fell off’ the car while going through an intersection.” When the muffler shop told him the cost associated with replacing it, he was able to talk the owner of the shop into installing the equivalent of a ’69 Corvette exhaust system. This change drastically improved the performance of the car (no surprise there!). Of course, he couldn’t resist the temptation to test its mettle against a few comers.
“On one occasion, my friend, who had a ‘71 Mach 1 Mustang with a Cleveland block, and I backed up to a wall in a parking lot at work to have some fun,” Davies relates. “Well, just as our tires started spinning, out steps our manager who dove for the shrubs. I haven’t seen a person hit the deck so fast since I was in Vietnam.” (As for who won this little asphalt skirmish—that goes without saying.)
The restoration of this car was an ongoing project for many years. Eventually the old 350 went south, so Davies had the car towed down to J&D Corvette. (Even in Vette’s dilapidated condition, the tow truck driver told Davies that he had received two offers to buy the car before it arrived at its destination.)
“Because of smog regulations in California, I was not able to install a 383 stroker and was stuck with a smog-legal motor. What a shame!” Davies notes, shaking his head. After researching various engine builders and warranties offered, he chose an Edlebrock Performer 350 crate engine rated at 310 hp and 375 lb/ft of torque.
“It was hard to locate headers that were legal in California,” Davies says. “I found a set of ‘91 LT1 Corvette headers that were ported and ceramic coated, which resolved the header situation. In order to improve the flow, I used 2.5-inch exhausts.”
The scope of the project required that it be accomplished in several stages, the first mechanical. After the old lump was removed, the engine compartment was detailed, and the radiator replaced with an aluminum one. In addition, the suspension was upgraded with new A-arms, brake rotors, Bilstein shocks, trailing arms, and neoprene bushings.
The second stage was to strip the original paint job, which revealed hidden stress cracks after a special spray was applied, along with body seams that required additional labor. Not only that, the original urethane bumpers (which look wavy even when new), needed replacement with aftermarket fiberglass pieces. It’s not possible to restore the thin, soft urethane, so fiberglass components are a better choice. (J&D’s retail price for the front cap is $285, and depending on the model year, the rear units go for $315 to $349.)
Noe Garcia, J&D Corvette’s shop manager, shared a few pointers on how he corrects this problem area, first emphasizing that this job is not an easy do-it-yourself, driveway deal. “It takes some time to fit them on properly,” he says. “Somebody doing it in his backyard might get scared.”
For instance, the factory retainers won’t hold the new pieces very well, so J&D uses 3/8-inch bolts. Also, Garcia says he removes some of the cushion absorber material underneath (but not the impact bar) for a better fit. Even so, he finds that some bumper openings vary in size, which might require a bit of body filler at the edges. Typically he starts in the middle and works toward the outside edges to ensure the body pieces line up.
While Garcia was taking care of the bumpers, Davies decided to throw on a Daytona hood as well to provide increased airflow over the engine, and for a more aggressive style. After all the body seams and parts were aligned, the body was sculpted smooth with block and power sanding.
The third and final stage of the project was accomplished in three parts. After a heavy primer coat was applied, a mist of black paint was sprayed over the body to define any body base-coat imperfections during the hand-sanding phase. Once those were eliminated, a sealer coat was applied, and the body already began to take on a shine. For the final color coat, Davies chose Corvette Torch Red, followed by two coats of clear paint.
“While the car has less than two hundred miles on it since the restoration was completed, I have had nothing but compliments on the car, from individuals gawking at it to a thumbs-up from the California Highway Patrol,” Davies says. (Good thing that’s the only thing the CHP has communicated to him.) And best of all, Davies says his restomod Stingray is now better than new.