How Much Would You Pay for this C3 Corvette?

I recently had a chance to inspect a 1976 C3 Corvette Stingray for sale by the owner.

It was advertised as a project and the classified ad made mention of a few of the missing parts, such as the seats, for example.

So I made an appointment to come over and have a good look at it, and on a warm August morning, I had a chance to give it a quick inspection.

I say quick since even though I had estimated an hour for this process, it quickly became obvious to me that there was no way I would purchase this vehicle.

But to be fair, and as I mentioned in a recent video about inspecting another '76 Corvette for sale by the owner, placing a dollar amount on anything is totally subjective. In other words, the "One man's trash is another man's treasure" axiom certainly applies when making a purchase. Any purchase, really.

So is it a good idea to buy a project Corvette?

Well, it all hinges on several factors, money usually being the driving force for making the decision, even though money should really be the last item on a long list of considerations.

In my case, I always try to buy the best car for the lowest possible price, but getting to that point is a matter of negotiation between me and the seller. And I always start a potential purchase by inspecting the vehicle.

Negotiation, if we reach that stage, always takes place at the very end.

The first thing to remember is to allow the seller to tell you as much as possible about the vehicle. For example:
  • The car's history
  • Previous owners
  • Accidents
  • Work done in the past
  • Car title
  • When was the last time the car was on the road
  • Why is he or she selling it
  • and so on.
Let the seller talk and pay special attention to things that are important to you. In the meantime, look the car over and, if the seller is okay with you taking photos and/or shooting video, document as much as you can, especially if you will need additional time to think things over before parting with your money.


You've probably heard that fiberglass cars don't rust, but that applies to fiberglass. The chassis of the car is made out of steel, as are the floor panels of '76-'82 Vettes, birdcage, and a thousand other components which, given the chance, will rust away until they are totally unusable!

This '76, unfortunately, had enough rust for two cars, and someone had tried to deal with that issue by adding sheet metal panels to the floor right over the rusty ones. And of course, they were not welded. Why weld when you can use Bondo®, fiberglass, and a ton of sheetmetal screws!

Fortunately, in this case, the "repair" was left exposed for all to see since there was no carpeting over it. But the questionable repair made me look under the car since the floor seatbelt retractors were missing. What I found under the car was not only ugly but scary.

Of course, most things can be repaired, and new replacement metal floor panels are readily available, but in my opinion—and based on the amount of rust under the vehicle—you would be hard-pressed to find enough clean metal suitable for welding on new panels.

And if—like me—you are not a welder, you would have to pay someone to do the job for you. Something that can be very expensive.

My guess is that this particular Corvette either came from a state with harsh winters or was stored, for a long time, underwater in the Gulf of Mexico.

I then inspected the condition of the driver's side door-hinge pillar, and that was the kiss of death for a potential deal.

There's a body-mount bolt under all that rust... I think, anyway.

If you are curious as to how this particular spot is supposed to look like, the photo on the right shows one in excellent condition.

By the way, this area of the birdcage is usually covered by a plastic kick panel which needs to be removed when conducting a thorough inspection. 

Removal of the kick panel, unfortunately, takes a few minutes as well as some basic tools so you can remove the door sill and, at least loosen the dashboard trim panel.

Some sellers may balk at the idea for fear of damage, but if they are not willing to let you inspect this crucial spot, you may be well advised to go look at a different C3 Corvette.

Anyway, after seeing all the damage caused by the rust this '76 was out of the running, It was not worth it.

Besides, the seller at that point casually mentioned that he had rejected a $3,000 cash offer. I am not sure if that was true or if that's how he "negotiated" but it didn't matter. The car was too far gone in my opinion.

Before I forget, the remaining body mounts I managed to look at, looked horrible, with rubber bushings that were completely ruined since they had never been replaced.

The original L-48 this Corvette left the assembly plant with, was long gone. In its place, a ratty-looking Vortec engine had taken up residence in the engine bay. I prefer classic cars with as much of the original equipment as possible, and an old, non-running Vortec does nothing to impress me.

The body of the car had some damage and the hood had delaminated in at least one spot. The rear bumper cover also had been partially loosened for whatever reason and was deformed. 

The interior of the car had a ton of missing parts and what was there had—at a minimum—surface rust or was damaged. And I am sure the wiring harnesses as well as all the instruments would need to be replaced. This thing was a mess from every angle.

So I thanked the seller for his time and for allowing me to inspect the car, and I left.

During the drive back home, I asked a C3-owner friend of mine who had tagged along to look at the Vette how much he would have offered for the car. He replied, "If I HAD to buy it, no more than $500."

I told him that was $500 more I would be willing to pay for it since the cost of a tow truck would be around $750 and whatever was salvageable would barely cover the wrecker charges plus the time required to take the parts off the vehicle.

And after all that, you are left with the task of selling used parts, shipping them if necessary, plus storing and then paying someone to take what's left to the salvage yard. Not my idea of a good deal.

To be fair to the seller, this car belonged to a relative who had passed away. He told me he did not know much about it and that he was not mechanically inclined. And I believe him. He was very open providing me with answers to my questions and I shared what I thought of the vehicle since he appeared to be interested to learn more about its condition.

Having said that, you owe it to yourself to learn as much as possible about a project car before opening your wallet. Any vehicle, really.

When something sounds too good to be true, step away from it and pay attention to the vehicle parts and components, or what's left of them. They usually have a different story to tell.

Thank you for following my 76vette Blog!

Product Links... (#sponsored)

Corvette Black Book | 1953-2018
1976 Chevrolet Service & Overhaul Manual
• Corvette 1968-1982 Haynes Repair Manual
• How to Restore Your C3 Corvette 1968-1982
• 1968-1982 Corvette Restoration Guide