21 March 2016

Corvette buyer beware

Tony Avedisian, the owner of Tony's Corvette Shop in Gaithersburg, Md., has been working with Corvettes for more than 30 years, so he knows what potential buyers should watch out for.

"My rule of thumb is to look at the body, the frame and the birdcage," he said. "If those things are good, the car is probably restorable or drivable."

Body: Check to see if the original composite body panels (called fiberglass on the early cars and sheet molded compound in later years) has been cracked or tampered with. Is the front clip original, or is it a one-piece aftermarket replacement?

Frame: Corvette frames do rust, but particularly where they kick up over the rear axle.

Birdcage: Many people assume that because Corvette bodies are not steel, rust is no concern. Not so, says Avedisian. The body panels attach to a lightweight metal frame – what he calls the birdcage – that can rust, causing adhesion problems. The best thing to do, as with any old car you're considering purchasing, is to get underneath the car with the flashlight and inspect it carefully.

"Repairing those things is very costly, so it's not a good idea to jump in without knowing what you're getting," Avedisian said.

Those are the basic things a typical Corvette buyer should know about, but Avedisian says that anyone looking for an investment-grade car has quite a bit more homework to do. Meticulous documentation is good, and is indicative of sellers who really know what they're talking about. Research by a potential buyer can go a long way: It pays to set aside passion for a moment and consider a car’s history and hard facts.

The thing to remember, he said, is that there are no absolutes. Cars were built by humans, so small defects and anomalies present themselves quite often. Cars from years when models were redesigned – 1963, 1968, 1984, for instance – are going to show differences between cars more frequently. That’s because GM was fixing problems that popped up as the assembly plant was gearing up for volume production.

"I talked to Tom Hill, who was an engineer for GM back in '63, and he said that he signed three engineering changes a day while they were building the car," Avedisian recalled. "That's a lot of changes."

The trick, he said, to finding a good investment, was to do enough research to narrow down the search to a car or two, then hire a marque expert to look more deeply below the surface. But even then, errors are possible, even likely.

"The stories about a car can get crazy, because someone had the car looked at by a former GM mechanic or something," he said, adding that mechanical savvy doesn't make one a historian, nor vice versa. "Today's evaluation is more forensic than ever. It's a very detailed look to establish the originality of the car, and that's what most collectors want. Not only do the numbers match, but is the grain and broach mark on the block correct, things like that.”

14 Reader Comments

  • 1
    ...GARYKEY west va March 21, 2016 at 18:10
    ...DOSE THE VETTES...IN THE 60S...HAVE THE TONAWINDA MOTORS...AND HAVE MORE HP...THE ANY OTHER...CARS OF THAT YEARS...THANKS...LOVE THEM CHEVYS...YESSS...
  • 2
    Mark NV March 24, 2016 at 20:39
    Does anyone have a recommended corvette expert to research and inspect a 63 survivor?
  • 3
    Harvey Cohen NJ April 11, 2016 at 18:21
    Any in NJ is the Nations most knowledgeable 63 Corvette person. He restored a 63 ZO6 and in addition to Top Flt and Bloomington Gold he won "best post war sports car at Amelia Island. It is rumored to have 1 million dollars in NOS 63 parts. Contact me with ypur info and I will forward it on to Andy (bigblock67@yahoo.com)
  • 4
    Jim Lyerla Spokane WA April 11, 2016 at 20:22
    I have owned my 1963 corvette since it had 16,000 miles on it. I am presently restoring it and am positive it is completely original. What should I do to document this. I have the title and my original registration.
  • 5
    John Arkansas April 11, 2016 at 20:48
    It would have been nice to see an example of a correct broach mark. Garykey: The place of manufacture (e.g., Tonawanda) had no effect on the horsepower, the high performance equipment it received had a lot of effect! Mark: join the NCRS, lots of experts there.
  • 6
    Jim Western Maryland April 11, 2016 at 21:28
    Good to hear what the collectors are looking for. I have a 1977 corvette and I can verify the mileage. I bought it six years ago from a Dr. and he kept records on everything that was done to it. And it was all maintenance. No restoration.. Still has the original spare tire.
  • 7
    Verle G Randolph Oklahoma April 11, 2016 at 21:59
    Garykey - All 1960s small block Corvette engines came from the Flint plant. All big block engines came from Tonawanda plant. They did not necessarily have more horsepower than some of the other cars but usually had a better power to weight ratio so the Corvettes were often faster.
  • 8
    Verle G Randolph Oklahoma April 11, 2016 at 22:05
    Mark, Many member of the National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) have the expertise to do a thorough evaluation of a 63 Corvette. There are Chapters across America. Go to NCRS.org and find one near you and contact them. Good Luck.
  • 9
    Jim Virginia April 11, 2016 at 22:15
    To GaryKey: Most of the engines that I know of in early Vettes were Flint not Tonawanda. There were more HP options available with Vettes. To Mark in NV: I would contact the NCRS. There are NCRS experts all oer the country that will do a comprehensive pre purchase inspection for a reasonable fee. Start with the chapter in the city where the car is located.
  • 10
    Derek Falmouth, MA April 11, 2016 at 22:44
    While Tony's comments and warnings apply to investment grade cars, unreasonable buyers are applying these high standards to condition 2 and 3 cars. I've had to tell buyers who rejected my car that they can't expect to get a $60K car for $45K. Also, too many buyers don't really know what "matching numbers" really means. It is so much more than the over-simplified "does it have its original engine". There are plenty of junky Vettes out these with their original engines. "NCRS Correct" is a much more robust and universal standard!!
  • 11
    Quentin NC April 12, 2016 at 09:06
    Mark, you are in Nevada, so I do not have a source for you in that state, but contact the NCRS and ask them if they have someone in your area. Here is an expert that did an inspection of my 63 Split Window several years ago. Have not stayed in touch with him, but hopefully his information is still correct? Bob Young: RLYoung63@aol.com
  • 12
    Bill Easton, MD April 12, 2016 at 10:19
    Call Tony Corvettes. He may not come to Nevada but he knows everyone in the country and can probably recommend someone. 301 987-0565
  • 13
    Dan chicago, IL May 12, 2016 at 11:48
    Through this effort, you can be assured that the prices we report are fully considered, exhaustively researched, and – most importantly – accurate. Is there a premium for "Bench Mark" cars
  • 14
    motorman Pa. October 22, 2016 at 11:35
    if a expert has made a statement about the car that was later proven wrong you are out of luck as the other experts in the field will back him up even if they have not seen the car. these guys make big bucks checking out these cars and don't want even the original owner showing up and upsetting their apple cart. been there had that done to me as a original owner and being told I did not know the original color of a car I special ordered.

Join the Discussion