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1966 Chevrolet Corvair homecoming – the turning point

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On the trailer going to the shop. Just love those narrow whitewalls! Photos by author.

I have come to and passed the turning point in the Corvair project:  More things are now going in or on the car than are coming off.

Getting to here has taken longer than I’d planned, and the project is now officially six weeks behind. I’d hoped to get the rebuilt drivetrain into the car by the end of February. I was generous with the time, and figured if it happened by the end of March, that’d still be OK. Now it looks as though this step will take until mid-April.

1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa convertible

This device keeps the IRS from splaying the wheels outwards while the drivetrain is out. Handy gadget!

So, what happened?

  • I can’t bore out separate cast-iron cylinders.  It’s just beyond my capacity, so I took those to a fellow in McMinnville, Oregon, to get them properly re-done.  However, he ended up getting sick and was in and out of the hospital for much of February. So that’s one delay.
  • I had two sets each of ’65 and ’66 four-carburetor cylinder heads, so I figured to combine the two. The earlier set had better springs and valves, so I figured I could use those in the later set. The guy with Corvair experience up in Battle Ground, Washington, said they’d be ready by the end of February. No, they wouldn’t – I didn’t get those till well into early March. Well, OK – I don’t have the equipment to do machine work, and these needed it. So, it takes however long it takes. (I did manage to sell the 65 heads to another local Corvair guy who is working on putting a twin turbo assembly on a four-carb manifold.  Surely do want to see THAT when it’s done and running!)
  • The local powder-coating shop and I are now on a first name basis. All the sheet metal around the engine and ductwork under the car is being media-blasted and powder coated satin black. In for a penny, in for a pound; might as well just do it now and not have to think about it again. I have a bunch of it stored carefully, and I think perhaps there’s only one more small batch to be done.
  • I took a close look at the wiring. Some of it was pretty good, some of it was all of 50 years old and painted over a time or two. I decided just to replace all of it, which would give me some peace of mind when everything started to go back together. Clark’s in Maine supplied the complete harness, headlamps to taillamps. That took two weeks.
  • I took the car down off the jack stands Friday. Nothing more I can really do with it while it’s on them. Put on the new 13″ narrow whitewall tires. They are 185/70-13 radials, and are acceptable, but I have sourced some of the 7.00 x 13s that look like bias-play, even though they are radials. Thinking about that.
  • If I do go that way, for show purposes only, then I’ll have to get another set of 13-inch steel wheels. Found those last week, and might pick them up tomorrow. Still pondering whether that would be worth it. But it might be.
  • A local fellow who’s a whiz at electrical wiring matters came by yesterday (the first nice day in two weeks) and trailered the car to his shop. I told him that while he was at it, to look at the brakes and if anything needed doing, just to do it. Sent him with the single pot new master cylinder (another decision, but may change my mind later) and told him just to replace the old one, which will be a little less expensive than having the old one rebuilt.Since he was going to have the car on a lift anyway, I also sent along a brand new gas tank to replace the old one, and a new sender. (But…it doesn’t seem to be the right one.  Another delay?) Three things done in one visit to the shop.  He says he might – maybe – perhaps – possibly have them all done by this coming Friday.  (Which is good, because Saturday I’m getting on the train to Whitefish, Montana to spend a week skiing with some old friends from my ski patrolling days.)  Worst that can happen is it’ll be done by the time I get back.
  • Unless, of course, the brand new gas tank, ordered under the correct part number (per the manufacturer), doesn’t fit. Such is now the case, and it means that either the tank currently in the car, or the tank ordered to replace it, is incorrect. Sorting this will require removing and photographing both tanks to determine the exact issue, and the best way to correct it.
  • I’m still awaiting the return of the instrument panel and gauges from Bob’s Speedometer in Michigan. That can’t go in till the new wiring is in anyway, so no additional delay there.
  • The whole radio thing has been a bother. This had an AM-only radio originally, and the original AM/FM rebuilt radios still aren’t all that good. I found a place that can take out the parts from an AM radio and replace those with an AM/FM receiver, along with some other bits (like an MP3 jack) that I’ll never use. Two of the selectors on the front will be changed from station setting to dealing with selecting which band I want to listen to. It will all, so they tell me, look just the same as the original. Which is good, because I’ve had all the faceplates and knobs rechromed. Those will go back on and, if all is well, it’ll still have that original look that I want. Better yet, I am also informed that the new radio will work with the rear-mounted antenna, which the original Corvairs of that era did not have with the AM/FM radio. (Something about tuning it through a 10 ft antenna cord.)
  • I took another inventory of the parts I’ve got that are still acceptable, and the NOS and new parts I’ve ordered. I think nearly everything is there. The correct fasteners are still a bother, but that’s a matter that can be handled.
  • All the newly polished stainless steel trim remains wrapped carefully on a shelf in the shop. That will be the second to last thing to go back on before the interior. In fact, if the interior were installed, then some of the trim can’t be.
  • The seats are still at the shop in Salem, having the properly matching new seat covers installed. I told them time would not be a problem, and the proprietor was surprised at that.  He said that most of the time, people with car projects come in and expect the seats to be ready tomorrow, “because there’s a show.” He found it interesting that someone would be thinking in terms of six or seven months ahead.
  • The only real parts collection now is buying some genuine NOS stuff, like trim pieces. I can find those in online auctions now and again to replace the originals on my car. Not many left, though.

So the order of things is assured.

NOS remote control rear view mirror. Generally made of unobtainium, but oh so shiny. Those are my legs in the reflection.

Things might have gone just a little bit faster, but the never-to-be-sufficiently-damned weather has been unremittingly awful for the past six weeks. Cold and rain, followed by more cold and rain day after endless day. My shop is not insulated or heated, so that’s put the hurt to anything I might have wanted to accomplish. Then there’s the spring chores of dealing with weeds, rapid grass growth, pruning and hauling, and all that other stuff that goes with owning a small farm. On the three or four days when there’s been decent enough weather, I’ve had to put those things ahead of the car project. Weeds never sleep.

But…even in the face of other time constraints, there continues to be progress.

1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa convertible

Dashboard removed awaiting the new wiring harness. The crack in the plastic “wood rim” steering wheel will be repaired.

It is now my sincere hope that the drivetrain will be done and ready to reinstall by mid-April – only six weeks behind my original schedule. I figure once the drivetrain is back in, then getting the rebuilt carburetors (now sitting on a shelf in the shop) and linkage back on should be straightforward enough. The ancillary bits are yet to come; I’ll probably either pick up a rebuilt alternator or have mine rebuilt. It not only must work properly – it also has to look right.

At the moment, the objective is to have the car running by May 1. That will leave two and a half months to do the final touches before its first public showing at Forest Grove.

1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa convertible

When the radio is replaced, it will look just like the stock AM-only unit.

As the weather warms and the time gets closer, and I get more of my outdoors chores here at the farm done, I figure I’ll be able to focus more specifically on getting the car itself reassembled and dialed-in.

With a bit of self-indulgence here, I find myself thinking about what will happen after the car is done. The Corvair’s restoration is being carried out with an eye toward not having to tinker with it much afterwards. I just want it to work. I don’t care to “improve” it over what it once was, unlike the Black Pearl, my old 1978 Datsun 280Z. I just want a good, solid, dependable convertible to enjoy on a nice day, to take to some shows or cruises, and not have to worry about something overlooked or not done properly.

1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa convertible

The old door handles are perfectly serviceable, but have that fine haze of scratches after 50 years on the car. The new ones are pristine and also perfectly mirror smooth.

I know – that’s a luxury in the car hobby. Most others I know think about this stuff endlessly, and I just don’t care to do that. The car is the vehicle to the memory, and it’s the memory I want to revisit.

It’s coming around the corner turn and heading toward the final stretch. If all goes well, it shouldn’t be too long now.

PS:  The guy who now owns the Black Pearl says he is most happy with the car. He texted me about how he enjoyed driving it through the redwoods. That pleases me. That always was the point of it.