Theseus’s Corvette

 

IMG_0722The great Greek hero Theseus sailed to Crete to slay the Minotaur. Upon his safe return, his ship was preserved as a memorial. By ancient accounts, it was preserved for centuries, though the wear of wind and water began to rot the ship at its moorings. The citizens of Athens replaced the planks of the deck, the mast, the rigging, even the pieces of the hull as time ravaged the old vessel. This led philosophers to ponder a question: was the ship still the one Theseus sailed, even though nothing remained of the original vessel but its shape and memory?

I recently purchased a 1973 Corvette in Blue-Green, and the legend came sharply to mind as I probed its workings. I’m not sure how original this car is, much less how original it will be. I knew its previous owner had replaced the engine and the exhaust system, re-plumbed the radiator, rebuilt the steering mechanism, and replaced all of the shocks and springs in the rear end. He also replaced the differential cover, which — on this car — also holds up the rear leaf spring. But that was only the beginning.

I think that every buyer of an old car starts out thinking “Hey, I’ll just replace a few worn out items and be OK. Hmm… a few hoses here and there, fix that loose trim panel, work on those squeaks…” We’re good at telling ourselves little lies as we peruse the parts catalogs. The first item I ordered was a replacement adjustment knob for the clock in the dash.

Lies we tell ourselves… I had owned the car only eight hours when the first problem struck. As I gassed up, a man in a brand new 2014 Vette of identical color drove by, waved, and complimented my color choice. My chest swelling with pride, I got back in and prepared to rev-up. The engine would not start.

A car like this always attracts attention, but embarrassingly more so when it fails to run. I had several offers to help jump the battery and the first Samaritan soon pulled alongside and popped his hood. After attaching the jumper cables to his car, I clipped black-to-black, and orange-to-orange on my battery. Sparks flew. I knew that shouldn’t happen but — in my growing embarrassment — I didn’t realize the implication until after I’d tried to crank the engine a few more times and the other car had driven off. I then re-checked my battery cables and noticed something odd: the orange wire was hooked to ground, while the black wire was hooked to hot. The tow truck driver, when he arrived, also noted this.

So, ten hours after I bought the thing, it returned home a flatbed tow truck; it left the same way the following morning for a local garage. The alternator had failed, and this was right before what promised to be a weekend of perfect driving weather. I picked the car up on a Tuesday.

I drove then to work without issue, but a belt broke in the right-front tire on the way home. On Friday, I took it to a tire shop and had four new tires put on it. That weekend, I pulled the exhaust pipes to swap out the mufflers with something that wouldn’t give me tintinitis, only to find that the last owner had welded the “slip in” mufflers in place, so I had to replace the exhaust pipes too. Driveable at last!

Till the brakes gave out on Monday.

The brake line to the (again) the right-front had ruptured. I made the first of many trips to the auto parts store for brake parts. At home, I pulled the wheels and tried to swap out the rubber brake lines. They had corroded in place so badly that I broke the steel brake line. Thus began a month-long saga where I worked upstream throughout the brake system, eventually replacing or rebuilding almost everything.

As I spent so much time under the car, I created a growing wish list of other items to replace. The big-ticket one is the frame itself. I’d checked it before purchasing the car, but a steady rain of rusty dust on my face during the repairs has forced me to reevaluate.

Along the way I have made a number of other small repairs — replacing rusty bolts, dismantling systems to swap out old parts — and now I wonder: by the time I am done with this car, how much of the original will really be left?

If I replaced the frame, would the car still be vintage? The engine is new, the wheels are new, the brakes are new, the wiring will all eventually be new, and I plan to replace most of the dash gauges, including the clock. In the end, what will be left of the original? Perhaps the fiberglass body panels alone will remain, holding the shape in memory of what once was. Will the car still be “vintage” in any meaningful sense? I think I shall name the car Paradox, in honor of Theseus’s ship

IMG_0574Relatedly, my family visited the USS Constitution — the world’s oldest floating commissioned warship — in Boston this summer. I asked one of her crew how much remained from her 1790s construction. He said maybe 20% of the original timbers remained; the rest was of the ship was newer.

Similarly, on the USS Niagara, in Erie, Pennsylvania, some wood from Perry’s real flagship was re-used to make doors for the officers’ cabins. Everything else (including the diesel engine) is newer.

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  1. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    I think the matter of continuity is significant. For example, have things been replaced or restored with an eye toward the car’s original state, or replaced (enhanced?) in ways the original designer would not have recognized?  How much of the replacement parts are new, and how much are recovered from similar old cars?

    • #1
  2. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    I can’t tell if this is a metaphor for transhumanism, or a bat-signal for other car guys to start finding you deals on replacement parts.

    • #2
  3. A Beleaguered Conservative Member
    A Beleaguered Conservative
    @

    Aristotle’s physics can help:  The matter of the car has changed, but, much more importantly, the form, or the final cause, remains.  And it is the form which gives the car its grace and spirit.

    • #3
  4. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    I was a purist when I had time and no money for my 1967 Mustang ($950 and top-end rebuild by hand, carburetor too).

    I was desperate when I had to sell a 1967 LeMans I couldn’t afford to fix.

    I was a pragmatist when I had money and no time for my 1986 F-150 ($1200 and another $5000 for new engine, electrics, brakes, tie-ends, ball joints, wheels, tires).

    I was mortified when I had to junk a 1980 XJ6 caught in the Japan car trap.  I’m still sick about it.

    My next project will either be a 1980 XJ6 (mourning my lost love), an old Ford pickup, or a 1980-83 CB900/1000C (or something else that tugs at my heart for the right entry price).  At that point, I’ll be dealing with vehicles old enough that any suitable replacement, of an acceptable reliability, will trump my sensitivity about ideological restoration.  Tubbing and chopping etc are sins against nature, but I have no problem with replacing points and condensers with better parts, cams, valves, springs, tappets etc with appropriately improved parts.  I’ll even accept a new replica engine as long as it’s not junk.

    The auto hobby has reached a point where the availability of old cars is increasingly driving a wedge between the restorations and the restomods.  The limited availability of authentic parts puts full resto out of reach for most mortals.

    Where I used to see the threat being people who restomodded as against the potential to later restore a car, I now see the teeth of time and government regulation as threatening to wipe out the cars entirely, as against the resto and restomods.

    Do what you gotta do to keep a beautiful car on the road.

    • #4
  5. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    The farmer’s hammer may be thrice replaced, but it worked every day, and was never lost.

    • #5
  6. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    A hot-rodder can explain this to you: as long as the VIN plate is attached to a piece of firewall from the original car, it’s still the same car under the law.  Even if that’s all that’s original.

    Enjoy. ;)

    • #6
  7. iWc Coolidge
    iWc
    @iWe

    For aircaft, only the serial number plate matters. You can build the entire airplane around it and be legal.

    • #7
  8. user_1938 Inactive
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    What can be done to upgrade a classic muscle car’s fuel efficiency? What are some modern standards that might be agreeable under the hood of an old Chevelle?

    • #8
  9. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Aaron Miller:What can be done to upgrade a classic muscle car’s fuel efficiency? What are some modern standards that might be agreeable under the hood of an old Chevelle?

    A light foot.

    Bright, clean fluids everywhere.  Fresh filters.

    Alignment and inflation.

    A 4-bbl kept in shape.

    A well-tuned classic high tension system, or a replacement high side.

    Vacuum hoses and any smog or O2 gear in good shape.

    The smog gear really only gets bad as other things become detuned.  And if you have to have, it there’s no going without, so keep it in shape.

    I was getting 21 MPG at sea level in a 1967 Mustang with a (transplanted) 351W (a 5.8L motor) with a rebuild 2-bbl and love poured all over the mechanics.  Exterior was rough, interior was fortunately (miraculously) in great shape.

    Every few days I would peak the timing (falls off rapidly) and the mixture (rarely needed adjustment).  You can do both of those with a single screwdriver and a good ear.  Performance cars excel at getting performance from fuel: if you drive gently, you can express a good deal of that as mileage instead of adventure.

    • #9
  10. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Once I saw new frame rails, floor pans and firewalls for sale in the Mustang Trader, I figured that you could build five Mustang from scratch and with the VIN plates and a little velcro, drive a “different” car each weekday.

    • #10
  11. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    I may be wrong, but my sense is that the Porsche group treasures originality more than other brands. You go to a Corvette show, and you see any number of neat cars – that have been modified substantially from original. Often to the improvement of the car.

    Originality is hard to maintain. Some items just require replacement as part of life – tires come to mind. Certainly one would never consider the “original gas” as realistic. The ultimate result is how much of important things remain original. So replacing discs and calipers isn’t an issue, but upgrading a drum system to discs is.

    My garage queen is a 73 Porsche 911T. It has original paint, interior, and engine, although the engine has been rebuilt. But it was done to original specs, and with original parts. So cylinder sleeves were replaced, as were bearings, pistons. But heads were original, only properly cleaned and spec’d. I replaced the original heater boxes with stainless steel ones, which is generally considered acceptable for an original car.

    Ultimately all that is important is that you enjoy the car. I don’t get mine out often enough (600 miles in the last 10 years, via maintenance records), but I DO enjoy having it out now and then. I also have a ’79 Triumph Bonneville that has been sitting under a cover along the garage wall for more than 15 years. While I would like to clean it up, I sort of suspect I ought to sell it and let someone else do the carb disassembly and cleaning, etc. I “refurbished” an ’82 Honda CB1100R a couple years ago and wound up replacing most of the brake system, including one of the master cylinders, and all the pistons in the calipers. Plus taking down the forks, removing the wheels and replacing the tires, cleaning the chain. Took months. Great bike, though.

    • #11
  12. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    In my view, the question of whether it’s original or not is really only important if it’s a rare collector car and you’re hoping to make some money when you sell it.  If you bought it for your own driving pleasure, who cares what’s been done to it as long as it makes you happy when you drive it?

    • #12
  13. user_512412 Inactive
    user_512412
    @RichardFinlay

    Mythologies evolve.  First thing I thought of was the Low King’s Axe.

    • #13
  14. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Aaron Miller: What can be done to upgrade a classic muscle car’s fuel efficiency?

    A new motor.

    You can get a GM crate motor for surprisingly little money, and there’s a thriving business in the aftermarket of putting these in classic cars.  Adam Carolla has covered a number of these in his CarCast podcast.

    • #14
  15. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Devereaux: I may be wrong, but my sense is that the Porsche group treasures originality more than other brands.

    LOL.  Buying a Boxster and joining the PCA (for access to track days) made me realize that Porsche owners, as a group, are nuts. ;) CoC violation, I know, but now I’m part of the group. (OK, not according to my 911-obsessed friend, who thinks anything that isn’t a rear-engined Porsche isn’t really a Porsche.  He’s apparently never heard of the 356/1.)

    I once spent 1.5 hrs at a PCA meeting listening to a guy explain how to wash a car.  They were fascinated. Morbid curiosity kept me from leaving.

    I proposed putting a modern stereo in my car to one of my Porsche-collecting friends and he looked at me with horror.  “Can’t you just use earphones?”

    LOL.

    I try to keep everything with factory parts and reversible, where possible.

    That old stereo is in a box that will be provided to the new owner if I ever sell the thing.

    • #15
  16. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Tuck: Buying a Boxster and joining the PCA (for access to track days)

    Careful, that is potentially a dangerous step.

    Once you drive your car on the track for the first time, you will either become hooked or never do it again.

    Unfortunately, I’m in the former days.

    FWIW, the PCA members you will meet at track-days are the exact opposite of the type you will meet at the 90 minute session on how to wash your car.

    I like to hang out with the track guys, not the car washing guys.  They are much more fun.

    • #16
  17. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    iWc:For aircaft, only the serial number plate matters. You can build the entire airplane around it and be legal.

    There a number of very expensive race cars that sold for millions that have done exactly this.  Though, if the gearshift is salvageable, they will often keep that to keep preserve the patina.

    • #17
  18. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Asquared: FWIW, the PCA members you will meet at track-days are the exact opposite of the type you will meet at the 90 minute session on how to wash your car. I like to hang out with the track guys, not the car washing guys.  They are much more fun.

    One of my business partners is a track guy.  Has a high end 911, but been through 5 different ones in the last 10 years to find the ideal.

    • #18
  19. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Asquared: FWIW, the PCA members you will meet at track-days are the exact opposite of the type you will meet at the 90 minute session on how to wash your car.

    It was the same bunch, in fact.  It was held at the garage of one of the big Porsche race-car mechanics, so that may be it.  My PCA instructor (who now runs the club racing program) was there as well, too. ;)

    All nice folks, btw.  Just nuts. :)

    I did two PCA Driver’s Education track days, and then bought a racing motorcycle.  Now I do track days on that.  Cheaper, and faster.

    • #19
  20. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Randy Weivoda:In my view, the question of whether it’s original or not is really only important if it’s a rare collector car and you’re hoping to make some money when you sell it. If you bought it for your own driving pleasure, who cares what’s been done to it as long as it makes you happy when you drive it?

    I remember reading some time ago that flawless synthetic diamonds cost a fraction of the price of (flawed) mined diamonds, because buyers strongly prefer “real” diamonds that were formed in the earth over millions of years. I guess most people assign real value to an item’s history and pedigree, even though those qualities are somewhat mystical.

    • #20
  21. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Tuck:

    Asquared: FWIW, the PCA members you will meet at track-days are the exact opposite of the type you will meet at the 90 minute session on how to wash your car.

    It was the same bunch, in fact. It was held at the garage of one of the big Porsche race-car mechanics, so that may be it. My PCA instructor (who now runs the club racing program) was there as well, too. ;)

    All nice folks, btw. Just nuts. :)

    I guess I wouldn’t know, I’ve never been to the detailing sessions :-)

    On Rennlist, the Porsche equivalent of Ricochet, the track guys and the guys who don’t drive their cars in the rain are two separate and distinct groups.

    • #21
  22. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    skipsul:

    One of my business partners is a track guy. Has a high end 911, but been through 5 different ones in the last 10 years to find the ideal.

    I’m not sure the ideal exists.  It’s always a compromise of some sort (unless you have ungodly amounts of money)

    Tuck:

    I did two PCA Driver’s Education track days, and then bought a racing motorcycle. Now I do track days on that. Cheaper, and faster.

    Cheaper until you hit a wall (which I hope you never do).

    • #22
  23. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Asquared: Cheaper until you hit a wall (which I hope you never do).

    Yeah, they don’t have walls on motorcycle race tracks for just that reason.  The track I took the Porker to (Lime Rock) did, however.

    The other track was the astutely-named New York Safety Track.  The perfect place to tell the Mrs. you’re going to.  What could be better than a safety track, after all? ;)

    • #23
  24. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Asquared: I’m not sure the ideal exists.  It’s always a compromise of some sort (unless you have ungodly amounts of money)

    Well, it was his ideal anyway, which is why he had 4 prior ones.

    • #24
  25. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    skipsul:

    Asquared: I’m not sure the ideal exists. It’s always a compromise of some sort (unless you have ungodly amounts of money)

    Well, it was his ideal anyway, which is why he had 4 prior ones.

    Understood.  I jumped in headfirst into the deep-end, skipping over the intermediate steps.  I love driving my car on the track, but the cost of consumables (tires, brakes, fluids) is killing me, so I keep looking through the spec-miata ads thinking about going backwards.

    • #25
  26. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    skipsul: If I replaced the frame, would the car still be vintage?

    Back on topic, when I was a teenager, my Dad bought a ’61 Vette.

    I still remember the time we were jacking it up and we noticed that the car wasn’t starting to rise when we thought it should.  We looked underneath and the frame was so rusted, it was just bending.

    It was a fun car (and sounded awesome even though it only had a 283 engine) but I feel like we spent more time underneath than in it.

    • #26
  27. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    Son of Spengler:

    Randy Weivoda:In my view, the question of whether it’s original or not is really only important if it’s a rare collector car and you’re hoping to make some money when you sell it. If you bought it for your own driving pleasure, who cares what’s been done to it as long as it makes you happy when you drive it?

    I remember reading some time ago that flawless synthetic diamonds cost a fraction of the price of (flawed) mined diamonds, because buyers strongly prefer “real” diamonds that were formed in the earth over millions of years. I guess most people assign real value to an item’s history and pedigree, even though those qualities are somewhat mystical.

    Right.  And if we’re talking about something really rare – something that was built in very limited quantities like a Ferrari 288 GTO – you would want to keep it as original as possible.  But I don’t think Skipsul’s Corvette is in that class of collectability.  My assumption is that this car was bought to be driven, not as an investment.

    • #27
  28. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Randy Weivoda: My assumption is that this car was bought to be driven, not as an investment.

    That’s how I treat my cars.

    I plan on using them up by driving them, not preserving them so I can get an extra 10% on resale.

    Now, having said that, when I go to buy a car, I’m more than happy to pay the 10% premium to avoid buying cars from people like me.

    • #28
  29. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Asquared:

    Randy Weivoda: My assumption is that this car was bought to be driven, not as an investment.

    That’s how I treat my cars.

    I plan on using them up by driving them, not preserving them so I can get an extra 10% on resale.

    Now, having said that, when I go to buy a car, I’m more than happy to pay the 10% premium to avoid buying cars from people like me.

    Heh.  This one is a driver.  I could have paid double for a “correct” NCRS restored model, but then I’d be afraid to drive it.  Don’t have room in the garage or budget for  garage queen.

    • #29
  30. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Randy Weivoda:

    Son of Spengler:

    Randy Weivoda:In my view, the question of whether it’s original or not is really only important if it’s a rare collector car and you’re hoping to make some money when you sell it. If you bought it for your own driving pleasure, who cares what’s been done to it as long as it makes you happy when you drive it?

    I remember reading some time ago that flawless synthetic diamonds cost a fraction of the price of (flawed) mined diamonds, because buyers strongly prefer “real” diamonds that were formed in the earth over millions of years. I guess most people assign real value to an item’s history and pedigree, even though those qualities are somewhat mystical.

    Right. And if we’re talking about something really rare – something that was built in very limited quantities like a Ferrari 288 GTO – you would want to keep it as original as possible. But I don’t think Skipsul’s Corvette is in that class of collectability. My assumption is that this car was bought to be driven, not as an investment.

    Heh! Well, I bought my 911 because a good friend of mine said I had to buy it. It was clean, straight, and in good shape. I bought it about 1988 or so. Never considered it “collectable”, but it has become so. Indeed, it is now worth a WHOLE BUNCH – mostly because examples of it are generally gone, either to the “flared and chaired” group or turned into race cars, the frame being about 300 lbs lighter than later ones. So now ’73 and earlier 911’s are a lot of money, especially original ones like mine. My friend had gotten an original 356, and THAT went for tons of money. Again, nothing special, but you can’t find those any more.

    Rarity occurs when things disappear. Whether Corvettes will every become “rare” may be open to question, but as the total number of examples of something decreases, their value increases, especially to the degree they are still “original”. Mine is now almost to the point of me being afraid of driving it, since a wreck would destroy its value, even if I got it repaired.

    • #30
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