Interview with Jeff Williams

Simply put, Jeff Williams has a love affair with C3 Corvettes – just walking into his shop is a testament to that fact.

Roger: Jeff, tell us a little about yourself and your passion.

Jeff: I’m from a small town in North Dakota. I was raised on a 1400 acre farm about 5 miles from the nearest neighbor. When I was a teenager, my family moved to Birmingham, Alabama. What a culture shock! I went from living in a small farm house under the open sky to living in a condominium under a cast iron statue of a man in a skirt holding a torch.

Coming from a long line of farmers, I have always been one to fix my own stuff. I always took stuff apart to see how it worked. Unlike most, I was very good at putting it back together. I guess that’s what lead me to an Engineering Degree at UAB. While at UAB, I stared working for Trane, where I still work today. Over the past 23 years, I have done just about everything at Trane. I started out in the Parts department, went to equipment, then to controls, and now I am an Account Manager for Engineering and Contracting customers in the commercial sales office in Montgomery.

I have been married for 22 years to the same woman, Evie. Evie currently lives in our house in Alabaster and owns her own business as a vocal coach. She shares my love for Corvettes, but she is not quite so obsessive about them as I.

I first fell in love with the Corvette when I was 18 years old. Before that, it was muscle cars – primarily GM products. I had helped restore a 66 Mustang and a 71 Challenger, but never owned anything cool. When I was 18, I drove my boss’ 1982 Collector Edition. That was a turning point for me. The car was quick (for that day’s standards) and handled like a go-cart. I loved that car.

Fast Forward to 2005. Evie and I were talking about riding up the Blue Ridge Parkway and she refused to ride on a motorcycle with me, so we started looking for a convertible. We looked at Mustangs, Chryslers, Mitsubishis, Mazda’s, even a SAAB! Everyone we looked at we found something wrong with. Not enough power, not enough room, just plain ugly, the lsit goes on. I had seen a 1998 Indy Pace car at a local car lot and I mentioned to Evie we could probably get a used Vette for the cost of the new convertibles we were looking at. I was only about half-serious at the time. That started the ball rolling. She really did her research. A few months later we were the proud owners on a 2000 Triple Black C5 convertible. I had a couple hot-rod Infiniti’s so I told her this was her car.

Being a man, I had to modify the Vette as soon as we got it. You know, I started ordering stuff to personalize the car. Make it unique, different. I got the aluminum gas pedal to match the brake pedal, the Euro tail lights and side marker lights, the Lloyd’s floor mats, the carbon fiber air intake, the battery cover, the Hypertech tuner, and the list goes on and on. I started getting bigger and bigger with the modifications. Evie stopped me at the long tube headers and aftermarket exhaust system. She said “Get your own Vette”.

So I did.

The first one I got was a 1982. It was a basket case I found in Chicago, IL. Low mileage because the owner had run it through a fence in the rain. It still had the original tires from 1982. It has spent the majority of its life in body shops and garages, never really being fixed and never getting back on the road. I spent a lot of time rebuilding the transmission, brakes, suspension, and stalled out when it came ot the fiberglass work. Well, I have owned it for many years, and it is still sitting in the shop in pieces. I did drive it some, and some of you may remember it from the 2008 MACC car show in the snow at Barber’s Motorsports Park.

As president of the Birmingham club, I got a lot of emails about Vettes for sale. One in particular was a 1973 coupe a few miles from my house. My intention was to help him sell the car but ended up buying it myself. It was bright red and the paint was pretty good. I thought it would be nice to have something to drive while I worked on the 82. I drove it in a few parades and cruise-ins, then about a year later, it was damaged in a storm. The insurance company had it re-painted and it looked so nice, I was afraid to scratch it so I never drove it much again. The day I got it back, I took it to the Hooter’s show and won an award. The outside looked so good, I decided I needed to bring the interior up to the same level. I started on the interior restoration, but ran into fiberglass issues with the floor pans and that pretty much stopped the work. Right now, it sits in my shop under a flannel cover. I am learning fiberglass work and will be able to get back on it once I finish a few other projects going. While the 73 was in the paint shop and the 82 was disassembled, I got the urge again, and found the 72.

Roger: Jeff, tell us about your 1972 Corvette Coupe, how long have you had her and what have you done to the car since you bought it?

Jeff: Well, the cars’ name is “Michelle”. I have had her for only a few years now but in that short amount of time, I have had decades of fun. She came to me with a poor paint job and barely running. The tires were dry-rotted, and the hood was raw gelcoat. The car had a GM ZZ454 crate engine with a really lopey Comp Cams roller set-up. Definitely not a daily driver set-up. I bought the car off of eBay.

The pictures in the listing were from when the seller bought it years earlier. It looked shiny and new in the pictures, but when I got it, it looked a good bit rougher. It had been sitting in a car port for a couple years, and under a snow bank for a couple months. It needed some TLC for sure. The first thing I did was buff out the oxidized paint as best I could, spay some color on the hood, put new tires on her, replaced the brakes, and started driving her.

I learned quickly that a big block, 4-speed, side pipes, and a Holley 850 carb were quite a handful in traffic. The first upgrade I did was swapping out the M22 4-speed transmission for a Tremec TKO-600 5-speed . That improved my fuel mileage, but did very little for idle quality and her manners in traffic. The next step was deciding that I was not a carburetor expert, so I , got rid of the Holley 850 and added EZ-EFI. Believe it or not, it really was EZ.

While at a club track event at Montgomery Motorsports Park, I snapped off one of the axles in the stock rear-end. I strongly believe in the “Make it Stronger” philosophy when it comes to repairs, so I asked Gary Ramadei to build me a “Super10” differential. Gary has built quite a reputation for rebuilding steering boxes, trailing arms, and differentials for the C2 and C3 Vettes. He does something unique with the weak factory rear-ends on the Vettes. He takes 12-bolt 30 and 31 spline inner and outer axles, hardens them, and fits them into the 10-bolt carrier. He polished and blue-printed my case and carrier, installed the heavier 12-bolt spider gears, eliminated the springs on the clutches and put a 3.73:1 ring and pinion in. He says it is good for up to 500 rear-wheel horse power..

After a run at Talladega Superspeedway, I decided the suspension really needed some work, so last year, I ripped everything off, down to the frame and started with new parts. I sent the trailing arms to Gary for his magic touch, and replaced the tiny 2” half shafts with some beefy 3” half shafts. I pup all new shocks, springs, bushings, ball joints, and steering components. She drove much better on the 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour.

After getting in the 2010 Hot Rod magazine, I thought I would do something really cool for the 2011 Power Tour to maybe get some attention. I spent a few weeks working on a design that I thought would look cool. I knew I wanted a road-race tribute paint job and needed to stay with red & black to keep it low-cost and simple. My intentions were to re-do the paint this fall and winter and debut another paint job this year on the Power Tour. Right now, it looks like I will be debuting the new paint at the Vettes at the Village in October.

She has been through 2 Hot Rod Power Tours and part of a third. She has been on Talladega Superspeedway, Indianapolis Super Speedway, and half-a-dozen drag strips throughout the southeast. I also drove her to the 2009 NCM Corvette Caravan. I drive her anywhere, and everywhere.

Figure 1 – Jeff’s 1972 Corvette fresh off the delivery truck.

Figure 2 – A beauty shot after the hood repaint.

Figure 3 – Jeff’s car at Talladega Super Speedway during the 2009 Vettes4Vets Event.

Figure 4 – “Michelle” at the NCM on the 2009 Corvette Caravan.

Figure 5- Out with the Holley 850 and in with the F.A.S.T. EZ-EFI.

Figure 6 – 2010 Hot Rod Power Tour. (This is in the October 2009 Hot Rod magazine)

Figure 7 – Jeff at Mid-America in Effingham, Illinois.

Figure 8 – Drag Racing at Montgomery Motorsports Park.

Figure 9 – Busted axle from a sticky launch at Montgomery Motorsports Park.

Figure 10 – Installation of the new Tremec TKO-600.

Roger: Tell us about the 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour trip. What was done to the car to get ready for that road trip?

Jeff: I had a blast driving her with the satin road race paint job on the 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour. Everywhere I went, people responded positively to the look. All my friends loved it because if the authorities were to pick one of us to use as an example, it would be the one that is painted like a race car.

Time was running out during the re-paint and I had to cut a lot of corners on the prep work, the finish sanding, and the actual painting of the car. It was so bad, I decided not to clear coat the paint, and that is actually what made the whole thing be so popular.

All of this happened within 3 days. The car went from raw fiberglass in spots to Duraglass to Filler to primer to sealer to paint…

The white sealer under the base coat flashed very quickly (probably because it was 110 degrees in the carport/paint booth). It went on the car too dry, and we did not have enough for a second coat and did not want to take the chance of cutting through it to sand down the “dust” so the base coat did not lay well, and I did not have enough red to do another coat. I could not sand the red down and add another coat, so we left it as is.

I learned that there is more to painting than just pulling the trigger on the spray gun. I had to promise Terry that I would not tell anyone who actually painted the car.

Figure 11 – Saturday Morning, Cocoa Beach Florida, 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour

It seems that satin paint was “In” with the Power Tour this year. Hot Rod magazine are using my car as the banner page for the Cocoa Beach photo album, which is cool. They also showed it twice during the “Hot Rod TV” coverage of the Power Tour, which is also cool.

It drew a lot of attention with the fans as well. One of my running mates said it was quite possibly the most photographed non-professional built car on the tour. Considering that it went from raw fiberglass, to Duraglass, to filler, to primer, to sealer, to paint in the final 3 days before we left for Cocoa Beach, I couldn’t complain about a few issues. Mark Reese and I were bolting in the seat 30 minutes before we hit the road.

In addition to the re-paint, I had not driven the car very much after the complete rebuild of the front suspension, the rear suspension, and some modifications to the cooling system. I had also replaced all of the rubber brake lines and some of the steel ones the week before we left. This was truly a 4,000 mile road test.

Outside of Georgia, while running with Mark and Roger through traffic, I lost the bolts that hold the differential to the front mounting plate. That downshift was a real eye opener for me. It sounded like the driveshaft was coming through my seat! A couple starter bolts from the local parts store, and we were back on the road in a few hours. (It’s All part of the Power Tour experience in an old car.)

Figure 12 – How she looked on the Power Tour, decals added.

Roger: Looking around your shop, I don’t see the ’72. Where is she and what are you doing with her?

Jeff: Well, the plan was to do a re-paint when I got back home from the Power Tour and after the 2011 cruise season. The response was so positive on the paint theme and I had such a blast driving around in a car with a number on the door (I know how Bo & Luke Duke felt), I decided to give Josh at Custom Image Corvettes a call.

Since we had worked together on a few things, and “KAOS” had just left his shop on the way to Rob, we started talking about my baby. We worked out the details and in a couple weeks, I was trailering her up there. I picked up another project car for him in St Louis along the way. Here is a shot of me on the road where I had stopped for breakfast and to check the straps and shot a couple pictures.

Figure 13 – In South Dakota at Josh’s new shop, before new tires and wheels

I ordered new tires and wheels to fit the new flared fenders. The rears are 315/35/17 which is 12.4″ of tread on an 11″ wheel. They ought to leave some intimidating black stripes!

Figure 14 – With the new tires and wheels

The plan is to put on the KAOS flares, but with the ‘72 side marker lights and egg crate openings.

Josh’s shop is the ultimate fabricator’s heaven. He has a fiberglass work area, a paint/sanding area, a welding room, a couple lifts, a huge overhead crane on a swing arm, and lots of metal fabricating equipment. In his industrial park, there are all kinds of other business that cater to custom work.

Figure 15 – Out with the old rear fenders

Figure 16 – All that decal work – gone.

Figure 17 – New left front fenders with remolded egg crate section.

Figure 18 – Lay up of new rear fenders

Figure 19 – Right Front Fender

Figure 20 – Right Rear Fender

Figure 21 – Driver’s Side

I am super excited about the new fenders and wheels. Most of my inspiration came from cars on the Corvette Forum. I’m leaning heavily towards the same black/red combo with the number on the side and some slight changes/additions. Originally, the plan was Crystal Red Metallic and Black Ice, but that is a 3-stage paint and expensive, so I will probably stick with Mille Miglia Red and Black, then at least 5 coats of clear. I want this baby to shine like a new penny and the paint smooth as glass.

I have the interior out of the car and will be changing it from Dark Saddle to Black.

I sent the side pipes to Jet-Hot for a re-coat of the ceramic coating inside & out. They offer a lifetime unconditional warranty – not bad!

It is interesting what you find when doing this level of repair/modification to an old Vette. The passenger door is not original – it has a 1977 date code on it and it is maroon. It fits well, but does not match the 72 contour at the door handle so some work needed to be done. When the fenders were cut off a few old repairs were found. The passenger rear quarter had some aluminum and pop rivets on the front edge of it where it met the door jamb. It looks like all of that had been repaired (poorly).

Eric cut the fender off, then started digging in the filler and found the bad spot. He ground it out and did a proper repair when he put the new fender back on. Here are some pictures of that area.

All these little issues with 40 year old fiberglass add time to the job. Eric worked a bunch on the body lines and door jambs to get back the sharp factory edges. My Baby has been sanded so much, all the definition is gone. I love sharp defined body lines!

Here, he is matching the body lines by the door handle.

Here he is defining the door jamb edge. Check out all the layers of paint this car has on it.

He is working the body lines around the flares to mimic the factory C3 edges, but sharper, like the C6 lines. Here is the KAOS flare edge. Notice how the lip fades into the fender well. Eric and Josh are closing in the opening so that edge is the same width all the way to the bottom of the fender. The body line will fade into the fender, like the factory line. I wanted the KAOS flares the first time I laid eyes on them.

Figure 22 – Getting close to primer.

While working on my front valence panel, it literally fell apart. I know it was in bad shape. I had to add a bunch of Duraglass when I was working on it last year to fill in missing chunks, and it was cracked in a few places. Then, when loading it on the trailer after the River Region Car Show, I smacked the front spoiler. It broke in 4 pieces and cracked the valance pretty good. I figured it was a gonner, but I knew Josh and his dad were going to take care of me.

I ordered a new valence panel from ACI, and it shipped a few days.

In these pictures, the front valence is not on the car yet, but it looks like the body work is 90% done.

Nice wheel fitment, don’t you think?

This is my favorite angle. And what most people at the drag strip will see right out of the box!

The wheel arc body line is exactly what I wanted. Compare this to the previous pictures with the KAOS body line. These are truly custom and unique to my baby.

Josh had to do a little more work on the front fenders, but the lines are looking great. I might have to raise the car up another 1/4″ from here to get more of a gap above the tires.

I have 3 different front spoilers for Josh to try. The first one I broke into pieces, which I like, but probably won’t use. This was the one in the 2011 Hot Rod Power Tour pictures. Then I have one like the one Stan molded into his cars. I like it, but it has to be removable. I have spoiler issues and need it to be removable, or “break-away” as I call it. The third is the FGregg or FIA style that you see on most retro race cars. I like it best, but you have to cut the factory valence to fit it on the car, which means no more factory spoilers without some modifications. Josh is working on a solution.

Roger: Well, this car of yours is going to look excellent when finished. Do you have any idea when that will happen?

Jeff: Unfortunately, there won’t be much done to it over the next month or two. It will get the lower valence installed, the inner fender work finished, some engine pieces sent off for coating, and some work on the front spoiler and rear valence. Other projects will command some attention while this one does some curing.

I think Josh will be doing some molds once he is done. So, for all those ‘70-72 owners out there that want these awesome flares, you won’t have to spend a couple hundred hours blending them in. You can just replace the fenders and get back on the road.

I’m hoping to get up there to see how she looks in person now that the primer is on her and she is almost ready for paint. Eric will be working on her over the next week and I understand she will be finished and ready for the molds to be made of the flares.

Here are two of the most recent pictures of “Michelle” showing Josh working on the wheel well openings, body lines, and door fitment.

Roger: Well, thanks for giving us this update. I know our readers will be amazed at the amount of work, time, and effort you are putting into this project. I hope you will keep us posted on this project so we can update this article.

UPDATES:

A recent photo of Jeff’s car getting primer coats.

Stay tuned to this site for breaking news…….. Rumors abound concerning the reappearance of “Michelle”.