The Red Devil Project

 

When I was 10 years old, a family friend came over to our house with his sister’s new red 1967 Corvette Stingray.  She had just bought it, but in the first month of owning it, had got so many speeding tickets that she lost her insurance and license.  So, she made a deal with him, that if he drove her to and from work, he could drive the car while she was at work.  He came over to show it off.  Don’t ask me how, but I talked him into letting me drive it.  I got it up to 120 mph, and it scared the piss out of me, literally.  Scared him so bad, he was vomiting.  At the same time, it made me fall in love with that little red car.  I wanted one ever since.  In the early 1980’s, I became the official historian for the WWII US 702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils, and wrote the book series “Patton’s Troubleshooters” about them and the 80th Infantry Division Blue Ridgers in World War Two.

 

On August 17, 2017, I came across an ad for a red 1984 C4 Corvette Z51.  It was badly neglected cosmetically, but mechanically it was very sound.  My wife and I bought it.  At first, I had planned to restore it to factory condition.  Then, I met my friend, Darrin Watts.  Darrin made me realize that restoring a C4 to factory condition was a waste of time and money, but what I could and should do, is restore it and remake it into the hot rod I had always dreamed of.  It was never going to be a great investment to turn around and sell for a fortune like C1 and C2 Corvettes, but it could easily be a fulfillment of my childhood fantasy of being a fast, great-handling, great looking car to have lots of fun in!  Being red, I decided to name her the “Red Devil”.  Thus began my project to turn this badly neglected old car into the stuff that dreams are made of.  Throughout this project, my wife, and my friends Darrin Watts and Mark Capozzelli have all be a huge support in this project, even if they sometimes think I am crazy (I am!).

 

Mark & Tressie Capozzelli and Darrin Watts

 

The car as I first saw it in the sale ad

 

Stopping to gas it up on my way home from buying the car

 

We bought the car about 7:30 in the evening, and I had an hour’s drive ahead of me to get it home.  About halfway home, on the interstate, it got dark.  I tried turning on the lights, but that wouldn’t work.  A tow bill would have been insanely expensive, and the rural interstate was too dark and dangerous to pull off and try to fix the lights.  So, I settled for having my wife follow me so no other cars would hit me from behind, and I used the lights from the cars ahead of me to see by.  After a long, grueling, scary-assed ride, I finally made it home alive and without wrecking!  When I got out of the car, my knees were weak and shaking, and my ass was killing me from the shitty factory seats and that extra-stiff Z51 racing suspension.

The morning after buying the car, safely at home!

 

In the light of day, I looked the car over and realized that it had a lot of problems.  The interior was trashed, mice had nested in it, and the list of things that needed fixed was very long.  The first thing I did, was start looking up videos, forums and Facebook groups to learn what I could about the specifics of this car.  The first thing I bought, was a digital factory service manual on CD-ROM.  It was not long after this, that I met Darrin Watts online.  He had also just bought his own 84 C4 Corvette not long before I had, and his was in even worse shape than mine, so he’d started tearing into it, and fixing it up.

 

Showing the production date of the car as August 1983

 

Besides those crappy seats, the idiotic previous owner made a console cover out of wood, held on with Velcro!

 

The center of the dash featured an ancient Pioneer stereo

 

With a very nasty, filthy steering wheel, the car still featured its Atari-like cluster

 

The filth in this car was disgusting!

A couple problems that cropped up immediately, was the car had a broken windshield, and the hood kept getting stuck closed.  The windshield had been broken by someone trying to reach under the hood with a tool, and release the hood latch.  The hood latch cables were all stretched out, and the handle of the cables was broken off.  In order to open the hood, you had to take part of the front wheel well loose, then reach up in there and manipulate the latch, on both sides!  Well, that shit wasn’t going to work!  Rather than replace the cables, the handle, etc., I decided to replace this stupidly designed system with a simple set of hot rod hood pins.  The best spot to mount the pins, was the rear of the lower factory latches.  I tried removing the latches entirely, but that allowed the hood to sit too low, pinching the wipers against the windshield.  So, I came up with the idea of disabling the lower latches, and keep the remainder intact.  That kept the hood elevated enough, but would prevent it from latching closed.

 

The disabled lower latch

 

The perfect mounting location for hood pins!

 

In order for the hood pins to pass through the hood, I first needed to make some witness marks on the hood to see where the pins touched.  I did this by putting a dab of paint at the tip of each pin, then close the hood to leave a paint mark where they touched.  Since the spot was on the edge of where the hood was molded, I could not just start drilling, and had to use my Dremel tool to cut away the edge of the molded part of the hood.

 

The location for the hood pin to pass through the hood

In order for this to work, I needed to drill holes in the two upper factory hood latch halves.  To do this job, I bought a new Milwaukee 1/2 inch Titanium drill bit.  The date was September 6, 2017.  As I was tightening up the drill press on the drill bit, the chuck-key slipped, and my hand slid down the side of the drill bit.  All I felt, was the impact of my hand hitting the bit.  It took me a few seconds to realize, that I was cut.  Ignoring the cut, I continued trying to finish the job.  I went ahead and drilled out the two upper factory hood latch halves.  As I finished, I glanced down, and saw a very large puddle of blood at my feet.  Wrapping my finger in two heavy gauze pads, and two towels, I drove to the hospital.  Turned out, I had cut the middle finger down to the bone, and sliced through an artery.  $5,000.00 worth of stitches and bandages later, I was released.

The blood had soaked through both gauze pads and the two towels, and started soaking my jeans as I got to the hospital

 

 

 

For the record, new Milwaukee drill bits are very sharp!

 

The pin holes drilled through the upper hinge half and hood

 

 

 

As if slicing my hand open wasn’t enough fun, as I drilled the holes through the hood, left-handed, my drill bit hit and caught the edge of a piece of steel embedded in the fiberglass, twisting my drill and left wrist unexpectedly, giving me a bad sprain that hurt far worse, and took months to heal.  Needless to say, I was frustrated in the extreme.

 

The factory seats I hated so much

 

One of the first factory items I had to get rid of, were the factory seats.  This car came with the Z51 suspension, which is a race suspension, and thus is very stiff.  Chevy’s engineers had to be some sadistic son-of-a-bitches to put seats like these in a car this stiff.  That portion at the rear of the lower half, where your butt is forced to sit, feels like riding on a box of rocks.  Those raised bolsters at the front of the lower sections, force your knees up, which in effect forces your body weight down into that rear area, making the pain even worse.  Chevy got so many complaints about the car’s stiffness when the 84 Z51 came out, that starting the next year, they softened up the Z51 suspension.  That was really stupid!  The problem was not the stiffness of the suspension, which makes the car handle curves and corners like a dream, and was the secret why the 84 Z51 won every road race that year, but what they should have done was make better seats.  I sold these seats to a man who was trying to restore a Corvette to factory condition, and he paid me $200 for what I was ready to throw in the trash!  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

 

The badly rotted and broken sun-visors which were removed

 

The new steering wheel

 

One of the first items I purchased for the car, after the hood pins, was a new steering wheel.  The old wheel was about as nasty and ugly as can be.  The new one was a Grant GT Series wheel, and I bought a Grant adapter made just for this model car, with its tilt/telescoping steering column.  Another new item was a gently used factory console lid to replace that ugly and stupid pine board someone made, and attached with velcro.

 

The new console lid installed in place

 

Next, I removed the dash cover, the Atari video game-like instrument cluster, information center, “breadbox” and the ancient Pioneer stereo.  The “breadbox” was Chevy’s precursor to an airbag, and was put in the car because the government required them to do something about passenger safety.  Typical of Chevy, it was a half-assed, ugly thing, essentially a lump of foam covered in vinyl, in the shape of a breadbox attached to the dash in front of the passenger.

 

 

The box behind the information center, shown here, was not even attached, and was one reason the car squeaked so much

 

 

The underside of the dash cover had two tiny stereo speakers that were dry-rotted and had the wires torn loose

 

 

The Instrument Cluster

 

The information center

The ridiculous “Breadbox” that I seriously doubt ever saved a single life in a crash

 

The LCD instrument clusters in 84 Corvettes were notorious for having problems, and going bad.  They may have looked futuristic and “cool” in 1984, but they were so bad, that before the year was over, Chevrolet was getting lots of complaints of them failing, and the next year, they made changes for 85.  They continued to be problematic, and changes were made again in 86, and in 87, and in 88, and in 89.  In 1990, they gave up entirely, and switched to another problematic (albeit less problematic) cluster design.  The cluster in my car worked fine, but it was a replacement, and not original to the car.  God only knew how long it would continue to function, and I was not about to spend the $300-$400 for a rebuilt one with a probable short lifespan.  I sold my cluster and information center to the same man who bought my seats, for another $200.  By this point, I had recently made friends with Darrin Watts, while searching for dash cluster solutions.  I’d seen a couple others, where someone modified an existing cluster taken out of a different make and model car, and fitted it to a C4 Corvette.  But quite frankly, they looked like hell hacked up with a hacksaw (literally).  Darrin had started making his own cluster using the factory bezel, with a sheet of polycarbonate attached to that, and some excellent gauges fitted into that.  Something like that was exactly what I wanted to do!  And in the process, I began a great friendship.

 

Another thing that needed to go was the 3rd Brake light

 

At some point, someone had added a 3rd Brake Light to the car.  When the 84 was produced, they were not mandated by the government yet, so it was not original to the car.  Later, they did become mandatory.  It was a bad design to begin with, where you could not even change a burned out light bulb without pulling the fixture off the car.  This one was in such bad shape, that just trying to remove it, caused it to break.  I didn’t like it anyway, and under Missouri law, if it was on the car, it had to work.  So, it had to go.  The next issue that had to be addressed, was the non-functioning right headlight motor that causes the headlight to raise up when on, and rotate down when the lights shut off.  At first, I looked to buying a new one.  All I found were rebuilt ones for $175.  Then I came across a listing on eBay for a new one made in China for $39.99.  I bought one.  What arrived was not even close to being able to fit a 84 Corvette!

 

At top, is the Chinese motor, and the bottom is a 84 Corvette motor

 

My 84 headlight motor

 

Not wanting to spend $175 for a rebuilt headlight motor, I decided to rebuild the one I had.  I’d read that the plastic gears in these motors was usually what went wrong with them, and replacing those gears and repacking with grease usually solved the problem as long as the electrical part of the motor was not burned out.  I could hear this motor trying to work, so I believed that the electrical portion was probably okay.  I ordered a set of gears, and took the motor apart to rebuild it.  Sure enough, I found that the prongs that engage the black gear had not been fitted down into the gear properly, and stripped out the gear.  So, I replaced the gears, and made extra sure those prongs were fitted down into the black gear properly.

 

The stripped out black plastic gear

 

Another thing I wanted to do, was replace my original incandescent headlight bulbs with newer LED headlights.  LED bulbs burn brighter, last longer, and use much less power, making life easier on your car’s alternator.  I found a set of LED headlight bulbs on eBay, for $20 with free shipping.  When they arrived, I discovered they were wired wrong for this car, so I rewired them to the proper positions for ground, low beam and high beam positives.  They were indeed much brighter than the old yellow incandescent bulbs, and gave a nice white light.

 

LED low beam

 

LED high beam

 

Low beam at night

 

High beam at night

 

Another couple new things I wanted to add, were a rear spoiler and some LED taillights.  This was when I discovered yet another of Chevy’s major fuckups on early C4 Corvettes.  Rather than make the taillights accessible from screws outside, they made them mount with screws on the inside of the body.  Later on, they did correct that in later C4’s, but stories abound of guys trying to simply change burned out light bulbs, and either cutting up their arms or even being physically stuck with their arm in the car and needing to be rescued by firefighters.  I got my arms all torn to hell trying to get my old taillights out, all of which had broken mounts.  The only ways to get to them, were to try reaching them from below, squeezing between the body and inner bumper, or reach your arm in through the license plate hole, or through the gas-filler-door hole.  Needless to say, I was cussing every single C4 Corvette engineer to no end.  I found a spoiler, made like the ones Chevy had as an option, and bought it.  It was just primed, and needed painting.  Luckily, a local hardware store had a cheap paint that was an almost perfect color match for the car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also found some new factory style wipers that would clear the hood

 

After a week’s work, and some seriously torn up arms, I had the old, broken taillights out

 

My original intent was to buy LED bulbs for my old taillight housings.  Since they had broken mounts, they too needed replaced.  I found some LED taillight fixtures, with the bulbs built in.  By this point, I was not about to ever go through having to deal with the ridiculous methods available to get access to the taillight mounts again, or anything else located in the back of the car again.  I decided to cut myself some permanent access ports.  I took a lot of crap from various Corvette people about this, but I didn’t give a rat’s ass.  I measured out, and cut two ports in the top rear deck.  Initially, I had planned to make covers for these ports, that could be screwed down.  Then, the more I thought about it, I scrapped that idea in favor of adding vents, which would allow air that would otherwise get trapped in the rear of the body, to escape, reducing drag somewhat, and increasing downdraft somewhat.  As it turned out, the access ports have turned out to be handy, as I have made use of them six times so far, working on the car.

 

One of the new LED lights

 

Cutting the access ports

 

Access to the taillights, power antenna and all rear wiring is now a breeze!

 

The new LED taillights installed (not yellow looking in person, red)

 

Another new part I was thrilled to get, a radiator coolant overflow tank

 

The access port cover vents

 

My friend Darrin made these awesome speaker pods for me (two on right are rear, two on left doors)

 

I found the last set of four Bilstein Z51 shocks on the shelf in the US at the time

 

To help vent the engine compartment, I got a 4 inch Harwood Cowl

 

Cutting the hood for the Harwood Cowl

 

Stripping out the nasty, smelly old carpet revealed the original color of the car

 

According to the records, the only color of red in a 1984 Corvette was Bright Red.  However, in between the 82 C3 Corvette and the release of the 84 C4 Corvette, Chevy actually used a wine colored red paint, that you won’t find mentioned in the records anywhere.  My car was built in August 1983, and was one car that was painted in that wine colored red.  At some point before it was sold, Chevy repainted it to bright red.  Stripping out the nasty, mouse-urine smelling old gray carpet revealed the true color underneath.

 

 

 

Before installing new carpet, I insulated with all new 10mm heat/sound barrier, both of which really benefit a C4 Corvette tremendously due to all the heat and noise that comes through the cabin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next item to get installed, was a LeMans type gas filler.  The original gas door tended to collect dirt and leaves.  The day I bought the car, the gas door was packed solid with dirt and leaves.  I always liked the LeMans type gas filler as a clean, quick way to fuel a car.

 

 

 

 

To connect the LeMans filler to the gas tank with a hose, the lip of the tank filler needed cut off

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The center of the gas door is offset slightly from the tank filler, but works perfect with gas nozzles at gas stations

 

 

My first attempt to replace the crappy factory seats with something better

 

Unfortunately, with my being tall, these seats wouldn’t work for me

 

A trial fit of my racing harness bar after installing carpet

Removing the brake master cylinder, revealed it was full of gunk

 

The brake vacuum booster was rusted through

 

Comparing the old booster to the new one

 

New booster installed

 

New master cylinder installed

 

My new “used” console bezel with all new components installed

 

Beginning the process of reinstalling the console

 

Trial fit of my new 96 leather sport seats

 

Perfect fit!

 

Removed the plastic box where the information center used to be (outlined in red)

 

To make my new double-din stereo fit, I needed to make cuts in the areas marked, to remove that strip at the back

 

To fit the stereo, I needed to make cuts in the dash bezel as well

 

My race harness bar, repainted, and installed

 

My racing harnesses installed

 

My old rear brake rotors and shocks removed and replaced

 

I bought this removable panel to cover the inside of the Targa top to block the sun on hot days

 

The sun beating down through the Targa top glass

 

The Targa top panel installed, blocking the hot sun

 

Starting to remove the old front shocks and brakes

 

Someone had literally glued the old rotors on, so the glue had to be chiseled off

 

The new Bilstein Z51 shock installed

 

 

New shock, and all new brake components

 

Last (drivers) brake and shock to remove

 

Front driver shock and brakes installed

 

Ready to bleed all the brakes