The Restoration (and Rerestoration)
of my 1964 Corvair Coupe

1964 Corvair
(If you've already read the story about my Corvair, you can go directly to the section on the restoration as it takes place at Bruce Welch's body shop in Mountain City, Georgia. Click here if you want to follow along. Click here if you want to view the completed bodywork.)

In the beginning...

The photo above was taken in December of 1964, when I was 21 years old. I bought my 1964 Corvair 500 coupe in April of that year (I was 20, then). I was a recent graduate of the Armed Forces Air Intelligence Training Center at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. While there, I had driven the '63 Corvair that belonged to a friend of mine—I liked it—so about the third thing I did after I returned to Virginia Beach was visit my local Chevy dealer. Because I was just a third-class petty officer in the Navy, I could only afford the cheapest Corvair on the lot. In those days, cigarette lighters and side-view mirrors were options, and there were no safety belts for the rear seats.

The lovely lady seated on the trunk lid is my girlfriend, Lorraine (18 years old); later, to be my wife. We vacationed in that car, made out in that car, and brought home from the hospital a newborn boy, Todd, in 1967; and a newborn girl, Lori Anne, in 1971: both as teenagers drove the very car they first rode in when they were 2 days old. I can still remember trying to teach Lorraine how to drive that car. She just couldn't get that clutch/gas-pedal thing. The last straw was when she stalled in the middle of a busy intersection and got out of the car and started to walk away. I convinced her to get in on the passenger side. The very next day we bought a Chevy Nova with automatic.

Sadly, Lorraine contracted a rare form of breast cancer in 1976, and died in 1979 at the age of 32.

Twenty years after that photo was taken (when I was 41), I was still in the Navy; and I still had my Corvair. Because I had already arrived on-station in the Republic of Panama with the U.S. Southern Command without my Corvair (I shipped a different car to Panama), my friend, Web, said he would take it down to Hertford, North Carolina and store it in his father-in-law's barn, there. Web put the car up on cinder blocks, cracked the windows a little, and disconnected the battery cables.

I had remarried and was subsequently sent to Key West to do some more work for the Navy. (Really tough jobs I had.) By chance, a new coworker of mine, Billy Garrett, restored cars as a hobby. This was the starting point for my desire to restore my Corvair.

My wife all but kicked me out of the house to go the airport and fly up to Virginia Beach. There, my father, my brother Jerry, and I hopped into my dad's pickup and drove down to Hertford. We brought along a portable air pump and picked up a new battery on the way. We arrived at the farm. I knew no one would be home so we drove around to the back of the house to where the barn was located. We flipped the latch on the barn and swung open a creaky, wooden door. There she sat; my Corvair. Four years of dust and chicken poop*, and scores of pieces of straw covered her body. After chasing the chickens out we connected the air pump to the tires and proceeded to pump them up. They all held air. I jacked up one side of the car, removed the blocks, then did the same to the other side. We then pushed it out and installed the battery and connected the cable. We checked the oil and could smell gasoline in the tank. I had high hopes. I knew things were looking good when I turned the ignition key to 'On' and the generator and oil lights came on. At least no mouse had gnawed through that part of the wiring system. In retrospect, I felt like that space pilot who was trying to resurrect his wrecked spaceship in the modern version of Planet of the Apes. I turned the key to 'Start.' "Hmm," "hmm," "hmm," "hmm." (You know that laboring sound I'm verbalizing when a Corvair engine is trying to start, don't you.) Well, that didn't work so we connected a set of jumper cables and tried that. The "hmm," "hmm" sound just went a little faster. Well, there was one last hope. We hand-pushed my Corvair to the driveway and onto the country road that passed by the front of the farmhouse. My dad brought his pickup to the rear of my car and the bumpers lined up just fine. I asked him get me up to about 25 at which time, with my car in second gear, I would let the clutch out slowly with hopes that the fuel pump would suck some gasoline up into the carbs. At about 20 I turned the ignition to 'On.' At 25 I eased the clutch out, it grabbed. I let it out all the way. After one or two lunges my dad backed off quickly and with a bang and a sputter, the engine started. The generator and oil lights went out and I was now driving my Corvair after its being cooped up with the chickens for 4 years.

I drove for about a mile before returning to the farmhouse. Everything was working fine. I saw my father and brother off. I found a gas station and filled her up and cleaned the windows. I left and headed south to Key West.

When I approached Fayetteville, North Carolina, the generator light came on. I pulled off the interstate and found a garage and explained the problem. The mechanic walked off and came back with a piece of sandpaper. He told me to start the engine. He held the sandpaper against the armature of the generator where the brushes rested. In about 10 seconds the generator light went out. I asked him how much I owed him. He asked me if I wanted a receipt. I told him "no" and he said, "Five dollars." I decided to spend the night in Fayetteville and looked for a motel. On the way, a policeman pulled up to my right-rear quarter and checked out the temporary Florida tag I had placed in my rear window.

Early the next morning of December 31, I took off for Key West. By the time I got to the Miami area it was about 10:30 pm and I decided to spend the night at Homestead Air Force Base. I checked into the 'Q' just in time to call my wife and watch the ball in Times Square being lowered in celebration of the New Year—1988 had arrived.

On New Year's Day I arrived home.

Thank you for bearing with me on the introduction of the restoration of my Corvair.

If you are still interested, the following images and narratives outline the progression of the initial restoration.

I had to say 'chicken poop' because I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say 'chicken shit' on the internet.