Ever Since the Age of 5, I Fell in Love With 1963-1967 Corvettes

 

To me it was the epitome of automobile design - the ultimate American sports car. I bought my first Corvette in 1980; a 63

convertible with a nice body, missing many parts and in need of an entire restoration. This was all I could afford.

 

What I did have was a ton of drive and passion to pursue my dream. I was always good with my hands and smaller projects, but this was going to take a lot more than that. With the guidance of the person I bought the Vette from, John Hibbert, I followed his direction and experience and soon had a Corvette with a beautiful body and we painted it Riverside Red lacquer. The interior work I was easily able to handle. My first Corvette, a 1963 convertible, needed every aspect of restoration to get back on the road. With not much auto experience, but a lot of drive and desire, at 20 years old. I was determined to restore my dream car.

 

About 10 months later I had a beautiful 63, red lacquer 340 HP 4 speed with red interior and Corvette America reproduction knock off wheels. I started buying other Corvettes and doing the basic paint and body work and cosmetic work needed to turn a buck. Soon after doing fiberglass work in the industry, mold making and working with more advanced plastics such as epoxy resins, Kevlar, carbon fiber, and expanding urethane foams. I started using epoxy resins for repairing my Corvettes because the material had the qualities of zero shrinkage and had memory.  I honed my skills to create the finest bodies on my Corvettes.

 

About that time people started noticing my work and I soon opened up my first Corvette restoration shop in January 1986. At this point in time there were many 1963-67 bodies around, but not enough frames. I realized the similarities in the basic frames from 1963 all the way to 1979. At this time it was easy for me to buy 1968-79 Corvettes at very reasonable prices. In fact the cost of a 63-67 frame was about the same as I could buy an entire 68 -79 Corvette that needed a lot of work and not worth restoring.

 

I started experimenting with sheet metal brakes, presses and other metal forming tools and recreated the critical rear 30" side section of the frames and the rear cross member and the other changes to get a frame to fit as factory on the 63-67s. Soon I was marketing these frames and had great success, at the same time building up a huge inventory of 1968-79 parts to sell.

 

Being in California with the rust free metal, it was easy for me to take over the frame and suspension market and became very successful in a short period of time. As time went on the parts available from GM dried up and the reproduction world for Corvette parts became big. I was able to restore cars, but found the quality level of the reproduction parts to be inferior to the original ones. Most parts would never qualify in the 3 critical areas to make a part viable; FIT, FORM and FUNCTION.

 

I decided to get into the reproduction world of parts besides the frames and seat belts which I reproduced for many years in Corvettes from 1963-77. I started using CNC equipment and having Dies made if we could not make them in my own shop and reproduced many parts with die stamping. I concentrated either on parts no longer available to restore my 63-67 Corvettes or ones that were already reproduced by other companies that were sub par in quality. There was a definite need in our industry.

 

As time went on the need for frame and suspension kept growing. Most Corvettes east of the Rockies were almost all compromised as far as their undercarriage was concerned. I kept reproducing more parts such as correct ball joints, tie rod ends, idler arms,  leaf springs, coil springs, correct oil filled shocks exactly as original Delco's, sway bars, brake shields, caliper brackets, bushings and more. Soon I reproduced all 4 A-Arms which basically were the same from 1963-82.

I redesigned the internal helical gear for the 63-67 vent wing regulator so that my gear can never go bad again, unlike the GM originals which was a flawed part in design. I reproduced the 63-66 knock of off wheel as a direct bolt on wheel and the 67 optional bolt on wheel where the starbursts and ornaments bolt to the wheel so they can not fly off when going down the road like the original KH Wheels did or the Corvette America wheels do still to this day.

 

My wheels are also made from modern casting methods and are far superior to the competitor wheels or the original KH Wheels. I reproduced my fiberglass panels using match dies, CNC cut from steel backed billet aluminum dies. These dies are pressed together with 50 tons of hydraulic pressure to squeeze out all excess resin, no gel coat needed and produce a perfect part. This is how GM originally made the panels, not like these pressed molded parts who claim to be equivalent as GM ones. They are made from fiberglass molds that shrink and warp over time, they use surfacing gel coat to cover up all the air pin holes on their surface and are the only vacuum bagged from the backside to produce a smooth backing. No real pressure to squeeze out all excess resin. Because of this they are resin rich and tend to crack and shrink.

 

These are some of the things I have accomplished and created over my 40 years in the Corvette industry. I am still driven with the passion and the love of the car. I was the first in the industry to do a C-4 suspension upgrade to a C-2, and still have the best design for any of the C-2 or C-3 conversions available. I will continue to provide the highest quality parts in the reproduction world of Corvettes  for years to come. The business has been a long road that continues to be exciting and we still have a great future ahead.

 

Keep your passion for your dreams and you will get there.

 

Michael Mermelstein

Owner of America's Finest Corvettes

corvetteUSA.com