How to Buy a Used Corvette

  • Have a Test Drive and use the Accessories
  • Matching Numbers if wanted
  • The Build Option Sheet. (Factory Extras)
  • Check For RUST
  • Use Common Sense

A lot of Corvette buyers are dreamers, most of whom have wanted a Vette since their first memory of seeing one or from the time they where kids, but have refused to pay the bucks for the right car. They are looking for a bargain Corvette, which in reality doesn't exist!

Here is what I mean. A first time Corvette buyer may find a project car, which isn't running, and doesn't have an engine. And he thinks are I can put a small block in this car for $500. And I've got a friend who has a 327 in his garage, and he'll give it to me, and we can put it in the Vette real cheap, and I'll have a Corvette to drive for less than eight thousand dollars! The project starts out with so much promise, but after the 327 is dropped into the engine bay, the new owner finds that the U-Joints are popping, the brakes are shot, the front end, the four speed transmission, maybe the electrical system is a bit dodgy. Let me tell you, you can spend and spend, and spend some more on this type of project car!

The truth is that this first time Corvette buyer would have been literally thousands of dollars, and months (sometimes years!) ahead to have bought a decent car in the first place, one that he could have driven first, that way he could have checked out all the components, the transmission (with the manual gearbox, second gear jumps out with wear) the rear end, the electrical accessories, the steering, the front end, all before he purchased the car. A badly smoking engine may cost dollars to fix but is still an original engine and would be much more preferred to no engine at all, and worth much more even though you pay a couple of grand more.

Try to stay with an Original car

Stay with a vehicle that is as original as possible. This tip is the most important for the first time buyer, stay away from those monumental projects! Don't buy one of those $16,000 to $18,000 Corvettes that you think you can fix up for a few dollars, because unless you are an expert on that particular model, year, and with lots of spare parts, or you are some kind of mechanical genius whiz, then the restoration will be far beyond your ability. And what's more important, you're going to spend a lot more than the original purchase price when the car is finally completed, compared to going out and buying a decent car for a few more dollars to begin with, and then to drive it down the road for the first time on that day, what a buzz.

Still not convinced? Well here's a more specific example. You can buy a 1979 Corvette, a good example, for around $27,000 that you can drive and enjoy the paint is shiny, the upholstery is passable, and it runs and drives excellently, with the air, radio and everything working on the car. With this buy, you are ten times better off compared to paying $15,000 to $16,000 for that project car, which will cost at least double when you are finished, and then you will probably be looking for an update on the car you already have!

Something like an engine exchange doesn't sound so monumental to you, OK, here's an example of how much trouble you can get into. A guy takes a 454 out of a 1970 Corvette, and then drops in a 350 from a Camaro. Now you come along, a first time Corvette buyer, looking for a bargain. The deal sounds pretty good, simply stick a 454 back into it, and your ready to roll with an original car! But those mechanics never put all the brackets back, now what happens is that you cant get the power steering, air conditioning, or alternator belts to line up properly, and the engine compartment begins to look like a plumbers nightmare under there. And you get discouraged, and start hunting in other 454 engine compartments, because you don't know exactly what they look like. Then you run into more and more problems, and that simple engine exchange develops into a major research and repair effort with lots of new parts to buy and more money to spend.

Check out the overall appearance

Okay, so you've found a Corvette for sale, the model and year that you like. So what do you do when you walk up to the car? First look at how the car sits. With the car on a flat surface, notice weather it leans or sags down, either in the front or rear, and how the body and doors fit.

On the rubber bumper cars, check to see if the front bumper has very many waves or ripples in the paint, which would indicate some kind of collision damage up around the front end, where the front bumper is attached to the fibreglass. Remember this is a fibreglass car, and panels are usually replaced not repaired! Obviously, you are looking for evidence of serious body damage that has been repaired, but which left hidden damage to the suspension, which is often difficult to detect by the untrained inexperienced eye.

A great many novices go the other way, and get really critical over minor details to show how knowledgeable they are, these people start picking the car to pieces over a little crack in the bonding seam, or a slight discolouration where the bonding seam was put together, which probably came with the car when it was new anyway. One way to spot an inexperienced buyer is to see them pick on the insignificant things and then pass over the important ones, which may indicate major damage! Keep reading.

Check the front A-Arm shims

One way for even an inexperienced eye to check for evidence of past major damage is to look at the shims in the A-Arms. The cars that have been hit really hard and have suspension damage, a cross member that has been bent, and not replaced, will have a whole bunch of shims on one side, and none on the other end. Or possibly very few shims on one side, and many shims on the other side, which in any case indicates that there is still something wrong and probably a little out of whack, since these shims are what you add or remove to line the front end. Of course, as the car ages, and the front end sags down onto the springs, the shims should be changed some-what to align the front end; If the A-frames have about the same number of shims on each end, that is a good sign.

Test drive the car and check out all the accessories

You need to check out every accessory, because if it doesn't work, and you want it to work, you're going to have to pay to get it to work. Try the radio, electric windows, central locking, the tilt wheel, power antenna, the rear window electric defogger, the air conditioning, and so what if it's summer and the temperature is 30? C in the shade? Try The Heater Too! You know why? Because you want to make sure the heater core is not leaking. On a factory air car, it's a big hassle to put a new heater core in!

Smaller problems can be overlooked. Often the windows will get loose in older Corvettes, and the glass will slip back and forth, and sometimes hit the body panel on a hardtop car, it's not a big problem, but sometimes you will have to go back inside the door and fix the window regulators. Bolts run through the glass and into the regulators, and they get loose and wallow out, especially on Tasmania's pot hole laden roads.

On certain model cars, popping in the rear end is an example of a more minor problem to watch out for. The clutches get glazed over, and they'll grab, and make a clunking sound, grabbing and chattering when you go around a corner. The 1978 / 79 Vettes are the worst for having popping rear ends. You can save the rear end by changing the oil and additive, even after the clunking noise starts; otherwise, it will cost you $$$ for repairs. It's probably not enough to kill a sale on a good Corvette but something you should take into account when discussing the deal.

Do the numbers match

The Black Book is or was published by Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers Inc. Obviously, to go through the whole procedure for matching Corvette numbers, 1953 through 1996, would take a whole book. But I can recommend to you the Corvette Black Book for obvious reasons as you will see by the cover, mine has taken some abuse over the years. This handy. Pocket size book covers all the options that you will ever need, original prices, colours, facts on design and hardware changes from preceding years, engine specifications and serial number spread for each year, and much more. Still, number matching is not the most important expertise you need to buy a used Corvette. The great majority of Corvette buyers are looking for a late model car anyway, which is usually, correct as far as numbers are concerned. It takes a real Corvette freak to match all the numbers which can get as detailed as checking date codes on alternators and blocks. Also, keep in mind that it is now widespread for experts to counterfeit engine block codes, so that they do coincide with the last six digits of the body / chassis number. But this is where the real Corvette devotee can spot a fake by checking out block and cylinder and head casting numbers, for date of production. It does get complicated, but to get you acquainted with matching numbers, here are three main areas to check for codes, and how to check them out.

  1. Every Corvette has a body / chassis number (sometimes called a Serial number or Vehicle Identification Number - VIN) On the 1953 to the early 1960 models, this number is stamped on a plate on the drivers side (left hand side) door pillar. On most 1960, 1961 and 1962 cars this number appears on a plate attached to the steering column in the engine compartment. On 1963 through 1967 cars, this plate with number is attached to the instrument support brace under the glove box. And finally, on the 1968 and up Corvette’s the plate is on the dash panel or windshield post, visible through the windshield. These plates should not be damaged in anyway.
  2. From early 1960 on, the engine block is stamped with a pair of alphanumeric codes, which appear on a boss in front of the passenger side (right hand side) engine head
  3. Before 1963, there are no paint ID codes on the Corvette body. However, for 1963 through 1967 cars, a plate on the support member under the glove box reveals the factory paint code. And on the 1968 and later models, this plate appears on the drivers side (left hand side) door post. How do you use these numbers? Well, the main thing you will want to check is the engine, to see whether it is original. To do so, check to see if the last six digits of the alphanumeric code on the engine block pad match the last six digits on the body / chassis number. They should match, or the engine is not original in this particular Corvette. Decoding this series of digits and letters will further reveal (through The Black Book) the cubic inches, horsepower, and transmission (if you have a 1960 or later car, as described in #2 above). And as a further check, from the 1972 model year on, GM began coding the engine type into the vehicle identification number (VIN) which appears on a plate on the dash panel, visible through the windshield.
  4. And finally, since the original exterior colour is so important, I mention that the ID plate, with various locations as described in #3 above, has the code for the colour of every Corvette made from 1963 up. Of course, matching numbers aren’t crucial to the enjoyment of/and drive-ability of a Corvette, but they do effect the end price and are extremely important for documentation in show cars.

As a further check on originality, the build option sheet for Corvettes is glued on the top of the fuel tank. This sheet gives complete information for options and accessories for this particular Corvette. If the car came with leather seats, the build sheet will say so, radio, tilt and telescoping wheel, electric windows, side exhausts, aluminium wheels, and right down the line. So it's a great way for the novice to check out a Corvette! The main problem is getting hold of the build sheet, since most of the time you have to drop the petrol tank to get this paper sheet out without tearing it. Sometimes you can reach down in and around the filler cap and pull out this sheet.

Checking for Rust

Yes, the body may be fibreglass but all Corvettes have steel chassis. Corvettes from northern America certainly do have some rust problems. So you do need to crawl under the car and have a look see at things like the cross members, and the frame area just ahead of the rear wheels as this is an unprotected part of the chassis, which is open to stones etc.

Use your common sense

Above everything else mentioned so far, use your common sense. Use the expertise you have gathered through the years in buying regular passenger cars. Use an Auto Club. Use or pay for someone with the knowledge and don't be afraid to look for yourself. Remember that if they want to sell the car they will let you or your mechanic have a good look. First time buyers are a bit to anxious, because they want a particular model and body style so badly that they will go against their better judgment, and in effect, have lied to themselves.

Decide whether you want a late model, a midyear (1963 - 1967) or 1962 or older Corvette, then if you've done your research for that car, and think your rights to go ahead and buy it then go ahead. Learn not to pass up a good deal, which is also a trait of an inexperienced buyer.

Spend that kind of money on a used car, especially a used Corvette can and always is a special moment. One thing is certain, if you are as luck as I was, you'd surely agree that a Corvette is one incredible sports car.

Safe driving and Good Luck.