DACC FEATURE CAR
Bill & Diane Preston
Flower Mound, TX
Bill Preston bought this 1957 Corvette in 1969. It had a well-worn medium blue paint job, with a carbureted 283 engine, Muncie 4-speed transmission and the removable hard top. He soon did a frame on restoration having it painted black with white coves.
The second restoration in 1975 was a complete frame-off with Bill doing all of the paint and body work in his own garage. He spliced in a new section of frame to repair damage done by a clutch that exploded while a previous owner was drag racing. The big change during the second restoration was replacing the carburetor with a stock fuel injection system. The Prestons bought a ’56 Corvette for $1200 that had a 4900 Series Corvette fuel injection system included that was stored in a chicken house in Manitou, Oklahoma. At that time a fuel injection unit was worth $500, but only a couple of years earlier you could buy one for $100. The injector was rebuilt by Jack Podell in Wichita. Then the chromed and rebuilt unit went on the 1957 that was under construction.
Preston’s 1957 Fuel-Injected Corvette did not change much in the next 35 years. It showed hail damage from a storm at a Corvette Club event in Kansas City in 1978. It had a damaged front right fender from a steel radial tire separating in 1989. The old lacquer paint was still shiny, but showed fiberglass age cracks. Every few years, J.C. Penny’s was still replacing the Lifetime Battery that Bill bought in 1975.
After retiring to Texas in 2004, Bill replaced the old points in the distributor with a new Pertronix electronic ignition. He had to use premium gas and a splash of 114 octane racing fuel, because of the additives in Dallas gas. Bill and Diane drove it regularly and enjoyed taking it to car events around the DFW metroplex, but it was WAY overdue for restoration.
The Third Restoration
After years of considering what upgrades Bill wanted to do to the 57, he researched the many possible ways to make it more comfortable to drive and enjoy. Bill and Diane made many trips to the swap meets at the Florida NCRS Regional in Kissimmee, to Bloomington Gold and similar events to visit with vendors.
Bill made all of the major engineering changes to the car in the summer of 2011, to make sure it operated like he wanted it, before tearing the car down for restoration. These included installing a Jim Myer independent front suspension with rack and pinion power steering using a generator-mounted 55-59 Chevy power steering pump, a shortened steering column, power front disc brakes. He installed a remote hood actuator, Rain Gear windshield wipers and Classic Auto Air. Some of these required extensive modification of the fire wall, hood, dash and other areas.
By February 2012 the car was apart and ready to have the paint stripped off the body.
A mobile soda blasting machine was brought to the garage. Soda is biodegradable and is safe to use anywhere. Unfortunately we found that this is not a good way to strip Corvette fiberglass produced prior to 1959, because it is not pressure molded. The soda blasting eroded the resin in the original 1957 body panels. The doors, hood trunk, etc. were not damaged, because they were later pressure-molded glass.
Bill does all his own fiberglass body work and made the hood, trunk, doors and deck lid fit properly. Bill used the Corvette’s own frame for mounting onto the rotisserie, but used 4” spacers between it and the body to allow access to do fiberglass repair on body mounts and finishing the bottom of the car.
There was too much damage to the fiberglass on the hood surround to repair. The old glass was cut away from the bonding strips from the dash to the grill. The old bonding strips and braces were carefully salvaged to put on the new fiberglass piece manufactured by Corvette Image, using the original Corvette molds they have acquired from Chevrolet. The braces salvaged from the old skin are added to the new part. Fitting the new fiberglass hood surround took three months. Then the body was taken off the rotisserie and put on a cart to adjust the grill opening to fit the grill ring.
June 2012, 14 friends from the Dallas Classic Chevy Club and Corvette Legends of Texas met to do the final installation of the hood surround. Everyone had a special job: mixing epoxy, applying epoxy with pastry bags, spreading it, putting in the screws to hold the piece in position until the epoxy set, timing the procedures, etc. The pre-measured epoxy and hardener had to be mixed exactly one minute. Then, by turning the garage air conditioner down to 65 degrees, we had 25 minutes to get everything done. Placing the new panel was done in 14 minutes!
Several months of body work were done, while on the cart. Then guys returned to put it back on the rotisserie. Why do the guys keep coming back? For Bill’s great beans and corn bread, of course!
Months of spraying gray primer. Then sanding it off. Then spraying gray primer. Then sanding it off... The garage is gray. The house is gray. Bill is gray! February 2013: It’s finally in black primer! Then sanding it off... you know the drill!
April 2013: Real Paint! Single-stage black for the wheel wells and undercarriage. Two-stage black for the engine compartment. The dash has it’s final paint, three-stage white with gold pearl over.
Off the rotisserie again, to separate the body from the frame. Each time we used body jacks that the club owns. The frame is free from its duties as part of the rotisserie and back on the rotisserie for final repairs and a new cross member. The body is on the cart and finish work is done on the front compartment that was inaccessible on the rotisserie.
Back from being powder coated, frame and suspension parts are assembled. The 283 ci small block engine had been bored 0.40 over in 1975. Now it was refreshed, balanced and blue printed and painted red. Brake lines are added to the frame and Tremec 5-speed (600 series) transmission and engine installed. Lower fan shroud, fan, generator, oil cooler, exhaust, intake manifold and much more are installed. The finished chassis is wrapped in plastic to keep it clean while finishing the body work and painting the body. Here come the guys again to put the body back on the chassis!!! More beans!
The doors, hood and trunk are fitted again. Dynamat is applied to inside of both exterior and interior door skins as well as the floor, fire wall, gas tank area, and under the dash for insulation and sound deadening. The side coves are painted White with Gold Pearl over. Bill had to do them five times due to operator errors and unusually cold temperatures in December 2013.
Black sealer is the first coat sprayed on final paint day. Then two coats of DBC 9700 Black Base Paint by PPG. Then two coats of DCU 2002 Clear by PPG. A very long day of painting.
The body is all painted and unwrapped. What a Christmas present on December 21st! Doors, hood trunk, etc. waited in the living room for paint a few weeks later. Bill had to do lots of sanding on the body due to paint bubbles caused by the cold weather.
A local windshield shop had dented the top and bottom stainless pieces while putting the new glass in. The bottom piece had to be replaced and the top piece had to be sent to Glassworks in Pennsylvania to be repaired. Three months later all the repaired windshield stainless is back from Pennsylvania. It takes lots of straps and hands to gently put the windshield in the frame. Ken Dobbs, Tom Entrekin and Don Andre help Bill get the glass in and installed on the car. It took all four guys eight hours to get this done.
Bill detailed all the parts and assembled the fuel injector. It is an original Rochester 4900 series injection unit for 1957-58. Lots of chrome, plus “Spray Chromed” dog house, with all new gaskets, seals, diaphragms, etc.
Don Andre was the wizard who helped Bill figure out the wiring. The dash has original-type gauges, which were rebuilt by Clocks by Roger. The tachometer was changed to electrical and the ammeter was changed to a volt meter. The air conditioner vents are in the center of the dash pad and on each side. The A/C takes up all the space of the old radio. A mount for the Garmin replaces the radio face and retractable cup holders are below the dash.
Everyone on was on hand to see it start on May 12, 2014. It didn’t happen. They found lots of small problems with wiring, ground and injector adjustments. They tried a lot of things. Even went back to the original distributor. Just kept trying. It started a week later, but it wasn’t running right. After lots of adjustments to the Fuel Injector, Tom and Diane said Bill just had to drive the car around the block! 109 octane leaded fuel helped! Final adjustments to the injector were done by Rich Kohler at Corvette Corner in Rockwall.
Bill did his own color sanding. Then Josh Ottman started the paint rub out on Monday, June 16. He finished on Friday as Bill and Tom followed him around the car installing chrome.
New headlights are Truck-Lite LED lights developed for use in military vehicles. They draw only 3 amps, which was needed to offset the electrical draw on the generator that the air conditioner pulls. The light they provide is a GREAT improvement over the stock T-3 head lamps and require only minor wiring adaptation!
The first drive was 27 miles to Headliners Customs in North Richland Hills, for carpet in the trunk and interior. From there it was 27 miles across town to Richardson to have the top put on. Several weeks earlier, Jason at Motorcars Made Mint had repaired the old top frame. Then Bill sandblasted and painted the frame.
The remote controlled hood raiser had to be re-engineered for the third time after tearing the hinges out of the hood. The grill had to go in last because all of the electrical connections for the hood raiser are there. The last touch was finishing the tool compartment in the trunk.
Bill built this car to drive and enjoy! Within the first three months it had been driven 2,000 miles.
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