This Corvette question comes from Jo Ann who inherited a 1981 Corvette.
I am inheriting my brother’s 1981 Corvette and it has been sitting in the driveway for over 5 years. It needs a lot of body work and a new passenger seat. The tires are slightly flat and are probably dry-rotted. We have not tried to start it up yet. Before we do, what advice can you give me before we try to start it up?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions in the restoration hobby. The real answer depends on your intentions for the Corvette. However, whether you are looking to make it a nice driver or a show winner, these initial steps will help you start the car and determine what you have to work with. All of this assumes the Corvette wasn’t parked for some serious motor issue, if you are unsure follow these steps until you hit a snag or need additional help.
We would begin by removing all of the spark plugs (remember to mark the wires so you get the firing order correct later) and pouring a table spoon or so of Marvel Mystery oil, motor oil, PB Blaster or any penetrent into each cylinder through the plug holes. Let this sit for a couple of days before you begin to rotate the motor.
Before reinstalling the plugs, try and spin the motor over by hand. If the motor does not turn by hand, remove the V-belts to check for a frozen accessory (Power Steering pump, AC Compressor etc.). If it still doesn’t turn over you may have a serious internal issue requiring professional help. If it does spin freely, replace the battery and try using the key to engage the starter to turn over the motor. If this works, great; if not then you need to begin diagnosing the Corvette’s starter system. For the purposes of this article we’ll assume the starter motor works. At this point you could reinstall the plugs or you could perform a compression check, which we recommend. Again, if the compression check reveals nothing out of the ordinary, proceed as follows. If not, more diagnosing is in order to determine what the problem is.
Before trying to start the engine, change the motor oil and filter, check that the throttle works properly (from the pedal to the carburetor, all of it, you don’t want to start a car and immediately rev it to the moon). You can check that there is coolant in the radiator, but plan on replacing it in the very near future. For now we are focusing on the start-up, once we get past that then draining and changing the coolant and checking the condition of the hoses and radiator will be a priority. If it turns out there are problems with the motor there is no need to spend money on these items now. Continue reading