Whether attending a black-tie charity event, making a new professional acquaintance, or driving our Corvette to the local car show, we all like to make a favorable first impression. And while there's something to be said for a ratty-looking car with over-the-top performance, the fact is that most often our vehicles are initially judged by their appearance, not their horsepower. Such is the case with our most recent project car, a '71 Stingray we picked up on eBay for around $5,600. Granted, getting a running, driving chrome-bumper Stingray with an array of new suspension and drivetrain parts for this price was a good deal, so we didn't expect our purchase to be all that aesthetically pleasing-and we were right.

Though the car looked pretty bad when we picked it up, we knew we'd be able to improve it significantly with a little hard work and the right tools and products. Mechanically, the Vette was pretty sound, but we found several issues that needed to be addressed, in addition to some overdue maintenance tasks. Last month, we performed an overall vehicle inspection, took care of a few fluid changes, and corrected most of the electrical and mechanical issues so we could get the car back on the road. Now that our Stingray is a pretty reliable driver, we want it to be less of an eyesore while cruising the streets.

Although making our Corvette presentable seemed an insurmountable task at first, we could still discern considerable potential through the oxidized, over-sprayed, years-old paintjob. Under their own discolored, thinning paint, we also had a decent set of 15-inch GM Rally wheels to work with, albeit minus two center caps and all of the trim rings. The interior, meanwhile, was mostly complete, and the carpet, door panels, and dash cover were fairly new, having been replaced by the previous owner. The sunvisors were missing, though, and the red seats didn't exactly match the black color of the rest of the interior. Numerous minor defects littered the remainder of the cockpit. While these will make it tough to pull off a show-quality appearance, we'll do the best we can. The undercarriage, though rust-free and recently restored with new suspension bushings and brakes, was dirty and somewhat discolored, and it would benefit greatly from a fresh coat of paint.