Some years ago, I owned a 1963 Corvette coupe. Colin Comer, SCM’s muscle car expert at the time, decoded it for me from a “mystery tag” he had me find near the glovebox.

It was the correct color of silver and had been born with a 4-speed. However, the original 340-horsepower engine was long gone, and a 327 from a pickup truck or some other inglorious source was under the hood. It still had the correct tach for the 340-hp engine.

I had a partner in the car, Dave Stewart. We paid $35,000 or so for the car, and after having some minor rear suspension work done, we both drove it for many miles. I even took it on the Northwest Classic Rally, a four-day exercise in celebrating Oregon roads. The tour was especially enjoyable once I tossed the insufferable Time-Speed-Distance instructions into the trash can and just drove at whatever speed I wanted.

I figured if a podium finish and trophy meant that much to me, I could just order a trophy from a local supply house.

Like the 911, the Corvette is that rare two-seater that has copious space in the back for a dog, luggage or whatever you feel like putting there. Except golf clubs. Which, since I don’t play golf, was not an issue for me.

There was not a single moment where I thought the Corvette was deficient because it had the “wrong” motor. It had plenty of horsepower, especially considering the drum brakes.

On a recent Zoom call with a few dozen of our SCM contributors, SCM Senior Auction Analyst Brett Hatfield commented that, “You can’t touch a Split-Window for under $100,000, no matter what the drivetrain is.”

Both Dave and I have expressed regrets that we sold our Corvette. I think we posted it on eBay and got $45,000 for it. We were pleased at the time.

When we were producing Corvette Market and then American Car Collector magazines, we became fluent in the tribal language of NCRS (National Corvette Restorers Society) and Bloomington Gold. While their judging standards are not the same, both reward authenticity above beauty or functionality.

We wouldn’t have dared to have our ’63 evaluated by either organization.

Yet doesn’t that undercut the basic reason we own a car, which is the visceral pleasure we get from driving it?

While I appreciate those who want their old cars in “mint, uncirculated” condition, I maintain we should first evaluate our collector cars by how well they run and drive, and if they offer a fun experience when we are behind the wheel. I’ll leave discussions about whether a car has more value as a “one-of-one” radio-delete with power antenna to others who place a value on such minutia.

If I were to come across my old Corvette, still with its “wrong” 327 engine, I would buy it in a heartbeat. Just to prove I’m a player, I’d even double what I paid for it first time around.



  1. I have always said, in the end, these are just old cars and the point is to have fun! Drive ’em, wear ’em out, restore, repeat.

  2. Keith I totally agree. 1963 Corvette is a beautiful car. A 1963-67 coupe or convertible that is sorted out with new bushings, ball joints, wheel and axel bearings makes a great driving car. The parts availability and ease of maintenance
    means you can drive and enjoy these cars without the worry of damaging an irreplaceable part. A C2 Corvette (Mid-Year) is a car to enjoy, even if it had a heart transplant.

  3. When I purchased my Duetto 10 years ago from Alfa Parts Exchange, it was a cosmetic mess, but had a good solid body and what they said was a “solid running, good compression all around” 2 liter spica spider engine just sitting on the motor mounts, disconnected.

    I was never tempted to install the 2 liter, but instead went on a search to find a proper 1600 motor and the correct Weber carbs for the car to have the original feel and power as designed.

    10 years later, it all came together and the restored Duetto is a blast to drive and looks so good in my garage, or wherever I drive it!

    Is it a matching numbers car,? no. But it’s authentic in its build, which is what I wanted to do.

    I have a son who is a Japanese car “tweaker” and is constantly seeking more horsepower at the wheels, with a Lexus drift car that has a a turbo that slams you back in your seat and cooks tires in minutes doing donuts. He said “ Dad, give me one of your GTV’s and I’ll drop a 350 Chevy motor in it!” No way, that is sacrilege.

  4. As we all know parts wear-out and need to be replaced. This may include major components that have serial numbers associated to your car. The joy of driving a beautiful machine that runs well means a lot. For the serious collectors matching numbers are important. In many cases of collector cars this affects the value depending what type vehicle it is. Beginning of this year I purchased a very expensive British car to be unnamed. It was represented as the last produced car in the series. To my surprise, I have a identification tag that shows it is the last produced. In further inspection of the vehicle we have found that there are numbers all over the body components that do not match the identification plate sequence. From what I have been able to find out this car was probably earlier produced in the sequence. So what would you do in this case?

  5. Great perspective. Thanks

  6. I started motoring in the 1960s, not far from Detroit. And yes, Woodward Ave. was THE place to be, show off, be seen and take a risk or two on Friday evenings. If you were driving a late model car that looked and sounded fresh from the factory, everybody assumed it belonged to your mom or dad. That was almost embarrassing. So, in desperation, at least the air cleaner and hub caps had to come off. The players owned their cars and they weren’t stock. Players today insist mother knew best, strange. And oh, if daddy got lucky and brought a really fast car home to drive for six months, a “fresh” engine was a selling point when it became a “demonstrator.”

  7. Sometimes the original engine matters for both driving pleasure and value, and sometimes it doesn’t matter for either. I hope I didn’t state the obvious there.

  8. here’s an inverse and/or tangential situation: john cooper hisownself told me at tech for the ’86 historic mille that i had the last remaining cooper mkiv sports–produced as a cooper vauxhall but bought from brian classic in the mid-’70s with a non-crossflow ford engine; the vauxhall motor mount is still there. but the fiva inspector wouldn’t grant me papers even after i told him what john said. yet the car got to run in the goodwood revival because it was entered by a multicar entrant. i’m sure it didn’t hurt that it was an english car; and it’s also who you know, not what you know!

  9. 16 years ago in fact! Time (and values) fly. Here’s the decoding article from when you were a Corvette guy and I had a lot more hair, Keith:

  10. Matching numbers don’t get you home……….

  11. Good to see this perspective, which I share by the way. No one used to care about numbers matching which is partly why so many cars have had their engines replaced-it was cheaper and more expedient to just replace it.

    As a dealer I am constantly amazed how many buyers though just will not even consider such a car-they just run away if any little thing is amiss.
    Some guys won’t even consider a car that doesn’t have records back to new- like anyone thought of saving that stuff 50 years ago

  12. Thanks Keith, for expressing so eloquently what needs to be said in this crazy collector car market. If there’s any irony here it’s what I perceive as SCMs focus on cars as investments. That said, I again appreciate your blog post and know that your personal priority has always appeared to be driving and enjoying fine automobiles.

  13. I am with Keith, a 327 is a 327 (more or less) original or not. In the pursuit of taste, I feel as though a GM V8 is the way to go here and ideally a 327 vs the later 350 for historic alignment and not an LS or Ford or AMG…The over riding point is to drive and enjoy your classic, their primal character beats the hell of today’s appliances!