Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1967 427/400 HP Coupe: David Burroughs' Last Restoration

As collectible Corvettes go, it is rather unassuming in appearance. Its Rally wheels are devoid of hub caps and trim rings, making it look even unfinished. But there truly is nothing lacking in this 1967 Corvette Sting Ray coupe. Indeed, it represents all the knowledge and experience of Bloomington Gold founder and Corvette expert extraordinaire David Burroughs, who in 1993 completed a five-year restoration of the car for owner David Painter.

First, the specifics: the Silver Pearl coupe was sold new in Evansville, Indiana, where it has resided ever since with a series of three owners. It is well equipped with the L68 427/400 HP Tri Power big block engine, transistorized ignition, a 4-speed manual transmission, telescopic steering column, air conditioning, power steering and brakes, power windows, headrests, AM/FM radio and tinted glass. But according to Burroughs, the main story is “the insane detail that differentiates this from any other Corvette.”

That “insane detail” is the result of decades of devotion to the ideal of preserving history, one that led David Burroughs to his association with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s restoration center, where he learned their preservation and restoration techniques, and to the Corvette factory itself, where he spent years studying and mastering Corvette production processes.

“My trademark has always been that I’m looking for historic perfection, not cosmetic perfection. They’re two different things. I refer to most restorations as ‘novels.’ When you are writing a story to come out the way you want it, that’s different from journalism, in which you report the story as it is, not the way you want it to come out. Most restoration shops do ‘novel’ or cosmetic restorations; my restorations are ‘journalistic.’ That’s the big difference between what this Corvette and the other 99.9 percent of restored cars represent.”

The car literally showcases Burroughs’ insistence on translating that philosophy into a finished piece whose minutest detail is true to factory production.

For example, the Silver Pearl finish was applied by a painter specially trained by Burroughs in factory paint processes. The finished paint was lightly buffed out, but only above the beltline, the factory having decided that since the area below the sharp break was typically in shadow, it therefore did not require the extra attention.

Similarly, checking under the seats reveals the presence of two-inch square pieces of carpet, typically cut out by production workers to expose the mounting points for bolting the seats in place. “Sometimes they would throw those little squares on the factory floor and they’d get swept up,” says Burroughs, “usually they would leave them on the carpet under the seat, so that’s what I did - those little pads of carpet are still there.”

The reproduction wiring harness came wrapped in tape that was too shiny and narrow. Burroughs had a supply of the original tape, so he rewrapped the wiring harness in that to make it more accurate.

Scratches in the undercarriage are anathema to a cosmetically perfect restoration, but they are present on this Corvette in all the places they would have been fresh from the factory - the transmission rear pedestal, for instance, a stamped steel piece painted black. Shipped in bulk, they typically arrived in less than ideal condition. Look under this car and you will see the shipping scratches on the pedestal. Not to make it look pretty, but again, to make it authentic.

The results are not always evident, but Burroughs applied that same unrelenting approach throughout the restoration. “There are a lot of things on this car that you would never see unless someone pointed them out. The wheels for instance: three are restored, one is not, and I would defy you to pick out which is which.”

The same is true of the factory air conditioning compressor. It is original to the car, but even the most seasoned judge would be hard pressed to determine whether or not it has been restored. Burroughs comments, “A lot of the things on the car I did not restore. I just rehabilitated them. Other things I restored and then deconstructed so that everything was back in sync again.”

Even with all that attention to a mass of arcane details, the car remains very original.

“Fortunately, the big thing is, this car had not even a nick in the fiberglass, it was pristinely perfect. The frame didn’t have any rust on it; this was a great car to work with.

“Probably 95 percent of the components are original to the car. And I’d say that 95 percent of the nuts, bolts and washers are not only the accurate ones but also were put back in the same holes they came out of. I learned that at the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum restoration shop. That’s one of those secrets I keep, like how to tell a real L88 from a fake; there are a couple of things I learned at The Smithsonian and from the restorations I did that I’ll never tell. You’ve got to have a secret recipe or two to use now and then.”

Because David Burroughs knew this Corvette would be his last restoration, he committed to using every one of those secrets in returning the subject to its present state: exactly as it would have arrived at the dealer, including hold-down hooks and chains from a factory transporter.

Oh, and the missing wheel trim pieces: they're on the carpet behind the rear window, where the factory locked them away to prevent their theft during transport. The silver-painted wheels authentically remain without scratches.

This masterpiece restoration is being offered at the Bloomington Gold Corvette Auction, held by Mecum June 24-25, 2011