Story of Fiberglass, Pt. 1: Before the Corvette: 1880-to-1953

The Long Road to Plastic Fiberglass Cars

Note: This story was originally published in the November 2022 issue of Vette Vues Magazine: “Chevrolet To Make Plastic Cars Here” was the headline from St. Louis Post Dispatch on September 29, 1953. That must have been startling to the general public in 1953. Plastic products were not yet ubiquitous. Besides, from the beginning of the automobile era, cars and trucks had steel bodies. The earliest vehicles had wooden platforms and spoked wheels because those were carryovers from the wooden wagon days. Car bodies were made from stamped steel, period.

PENTAX Image

It is interesting how slowly technology progressed in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The early days of the modern American petroleum era started in 1859 with Edwin Drake‘s first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It took forty-nine years for Ford to start mass-producing automobiles. As scientists, engineers, and tinkerers, such as Henry Ford, slowly toiled away, much was learned about the uses of crude oil, besides kerosene for lighting. This lead to the petrol-chemical era and launched all manner of things that could be created with “Black Gold”, and “Texas Tea”. Continue reading “Story of Fiberglass, Pt. 1: Before the Corvette: 1880-to-1953”

Meet Mr. Bloomington Gold; Guy Larsen

Note: This story was first published in the ??? issue of Vette Vues Magazine. All photos from the Guy Larsen Collection: The Corvette success story is one of empirical accomplishments built on previous accomplishments. Joe Pike was Chevrolet’s National Sales Promotion Manager in the early days of Corvette and clearly saw the vision. Joe once said, “… the Corvette is more than a car; it is a lifestyle.” When Joe and his team launched “Corvette News” in 1957, they had no idea what the Corvette lifestyle would become.

Many years later in an interview with then-Corvette Chief Engineer, Dave Hill, Hill said something similar, “… We’re not talking about transportation here; we’re talking about a product that changes someone’s lifestyle, and that causes us (Dave’s design team) to be enthusiastic about our duty.” It is easy to forget such statements, but the sentiment has echoed since the mid-’50s.

Were it not for that sentiment, that ephemeral heart connection to Corvette, there’s be no Vette Vues Magazine or any of the other Corvette print publications over the years, no National Corvette Museum, no Corvette clubs, no NCRS, and no big Corvette shows; such as Bloomington Gold. It is not an overstatement to say that the foundation of the Corvette hobby, as we know and enjoy it, is Love.

Guy Larson Gets Bit By the Corvette Bug!

Recently we had a conversation with Guy Larsen, the current owner, and CEO of Bloomington Gold. What started out as a regional Corvette parts swap meet in 1973, quickly became a force of nature that added a depth of credibility to mostly-original Corvettes. When the event started, it wasn’t called “Bloomington Gold”, it was simply “Corvette Corral”, and was held in Bloomington, Illinois.

To put this into perspective, in our interview with Guy, he said, “People lament that the Swap Meet part of Bloomington Gold isn’t what it used to be. Well, of course not. Back then, if a Corvette owner was looking for missing parts, he had to hunt and scratch around at swap meets because it was the only way to find parts. Everything changed when the internet and eBay started and Corvette parts started to become available online.”

For those that are relatively new to the hobby; imagine traveling hundreds of miles to pick through parts at swap meets a few times a year, to finish your restoration project. Yes, the “hunt” was part of the fun, but it sure made restorations much slower than today.

A Novel Idea! Your Corvette Competing with Itself! Continue reading “Meet Mr. Bloomington Gold; Guy Larsen”

Corvette Engineer Mauri Rose

Genuine Unsung Corvette Hero

There are a few dozen Corvette heroes and arguably hundreds of unsung heroes. Most engineers are quite thoughtful people that do not seek attention. Of all of the Corvette heroes, Zora Arkus-Duntov was atypical, he loved attention, and that made him the perfect Corvette frontman.

But Duntov wasn’t the only player in Ed Cole’s dream team of specialists for the then-new Opel sportscar project. Riding on his success with the 1949 Cadillac OHV Cadillac engine and the soon-to-be-released small-block Chevy engine, Cole was promoted to Chevrolet chief engineer in the fall of 1952

Chevrolet Chief Engineer, Ed Cole Builds His Corvette Team

Cole wanted a team of engineers with chassis, suspension, and racing expertise for Harley Earl’s Opel sports car project. His hand-picked team included: chassis expert Maurice Olley, engineers Harry Barr, Russ Sanders, Maurice Rosenberger, Duntov, and three-time Indy 500 winner, Mauri Rose. Rose had the most racing experience and Cole told him, “You are the man to do the sports car.”

Rose later said, “There were no drawings, all I had was an 8-1/2” x 11” sketch.” (Olley’s sketch) Working in a sequestered loft with a sketch and basic dimensions, Rose started roughing out the frame with wood and Styrofoam. When pieces worked out they were then made from metal in the build shop.

While Rose’s three-time Indy 500 record loomed large, he only ever raced at Indy and was always a working engineer at the Allison Engine Company in Indianapolis. When Rose was preparing for a race, he would do his track testing on his lunch hour.

Rose raced at Indy a total of 15 times, won in 1941, 1947, and 1948 and had a reputation for being a hard-charging, fierce driver. After a crash in 1951 at Indy, Rose retired from driving at the age of 45 and quickly found work at GM. Continue reading “Corvette Engineer Mauri Rose”

Happy 70th Birthday/Anniversary Corvette!

What a very special day for lovers of Chevy’s “Plastic Fantastic”! The Corvette phenomenon was launched seventy years ago today. The car that few inside Chevrolet and GM understood and many wanted to see go away! What an amazing story! Seventy years later, not only has Corvette survived and thrived, it is one of a small handful of GM Flagship technology vehicles!

Our resident Corvette historian from Maryland, Mike Waal e-mail published the below photo essay. So, after you check out all the articles and YouTube videos about the new and amazing E-Ray Corvette, have a look-see where and how it all began, seven decades ago.

Corvette” is arguably Detroit’s greatest marque!

(Mike has had several essays and a feature article HERE.)

Take It Away, Mike!

On this date, January 17th, 1953, history was made when the Corvette was introduced to the world at the GM Motorama Show held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Harley Earl, the first Head of GM Art and Color [circa 1927], with a name change to The Styling Section [circa 1937], and finally VP of GM Design. Earl
conceived the idea for an American Sports Car while attending and being Grand Marshal of the September 14/15, 1951 Watkins Glen Grand Prix Races. The car that Earl brought with him was his personal car at the time, the Le Sabre Concept Car. Earl’s Le Sabre was also the Parade Car for all the races.

So impressed was Harley Earl with the ‘European’ sports cars that were racing; MG, Jaguar, Healey, Alfa, and Ferrari, he decided that America should have a sports car, and GM needed to produce it. About a month later, upon his return to Detroit, ‘Project Opel’ was initiated.

And we all know the rest of the story.

September 14/15, 1951: Watkins Glen Grand Prix Races, Harley Earl in his personal car at the time, the Concept Car – Le Sabre, front and center, curd-side viewing the race.

1953 Corvette Wooden Buck. (Beautiful!)

Continue reading “Happy 70th Birthday/Anniversary Corvette!”

Red Penske 427 L88 Corvette Racer in 1:24th Scale

Doug Whyte Replicates George Hadad’s “Re-Creation” 1966 Penske Red L88 Sting Ray

Greetings and Happy New Year.

I’d say it’s a pretty good guess that most of us that love Corvettes and cars in general, spent hours and hours building 1:25th scale model cars when we were youngsters. When you are ten years old, it’s a great way to learn about the various parts of an engine, drive train, suspension, etc. It was as if AMT, Revell, and Monogram were “teaching” us about real cars.

Regardless, it was big fun for me, and because I’m patient and have a steady hand, my model builds were pretty good.

But I Was Never This Good!

I’d like to introduce you to two “gasoline in the veins” kinds of guys. George Haddad, owner of Fabulous Restorations in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has been a hot rod builder for over 45 years. Doug Whyte learned his modeling craft through his work for The Danberry Mint. The die-cast, articulated cars, and trucks that Danberry Mint creates are well known for their extraordinary detail.

George has carved a unique corner for himself, besides being a custom car builder and painter, he’s the Master of Re-Creations. George’s shop, Fabulous Restorations has been building and painting hot rods, street rods, customs, and race cars for over 45 years.

The Roger Penske 1966 L88 Corvette Race Car

The Penske 1966 L88, the Sunoco Blue with “Sunoco” livery, is currently owned by Kevin Mackay, in Valley Stream New York. But, the Sunoco Blue livery wasn’t the car’s first livery. When the Penske team first raced the car with just “Sunoco” on the car’s front fender at the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona, the car was factory Rally Red, with obvious racing modifications. This configuration and livery won its class at the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona.

Sunoco was happy with Roger Penske’s success they granted another “one race” sponsorship, but with one change. Sunoco wanted the Rally Red Corvette to be painted “Sunoco Blue”. Penske said, “No problem!”

The car was repainted Sunoco Blue, race prepped, and won its class at the 12 Hours of Sebring! The Penske 427 Corvette proved that a big-block Corvette could win races! This was a major turning point in Corvette’s racing history Continue reading “Red Penske 427 L88 Corvette Racer in 1:24th Scale”

“70 Years / 70 Stories” by Mario Brunner!

Corvette Man, Mario Brunner from Germany’s new 70th Anniversary book to be out by June 2023!

I met Corvette Man, Mario Brunner in December 2020 through Vette Vues Magazine. The magazine regularly gets requests from readers to publish stories about their Corvettes. Editor Bonnie Wolf sends me the photos the owners sent to her and their contact information. I reach out to the owners, interview them to get their stories, and work with the photos they send to me. These are what I call, “Reader’s Rides” stories and they’re a lot of fun for me to write.

Mario’s story was especially interesting.

Mario grew up in the small German village of Enzweihingen, just northeast of Stuttgart in southern German. His home was close to the Porsche factory and museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Mario’s Dad was into American muscle cars, hot rods, and motorcycles; so it’s no surprise where Mario’s passion for cars came from. After his Dad passed, Mario’s Mom suggested that he get the car of his dreams because that’s what his Dad would have wanted.

Mario Finds a Sweetheart of a Corvette!

For years, Mario felt that the Corvette was the ultimate American muscle machine. Corvettes are outstanding sports cars with muscle car grunt and thunder. C2 Sting Rays were Mario’s favorite generation (mine too!), so he started looking for something Sting Ray sweet.

One day while scanning Facebook-Colorado for Corvettes, Mario found his dream Vette. Everyone’s “dream Vette” is special to them, but Mario’s find was a loaded small-block 1966 Sting Ray Convertible “Pilot Line Car”. These are pre-production cars built for evaluation and to be used for magazine testing. Afterward, Pilot Cars are sold through Chevy dealers as “Used Cars”. Each year, perhaps a dozen or two are produced, making them unique. Continue reading ““70 Years / 70 Stories” by Mario Brunner!”

The Larry Lipsitz Classic Performance Corvette Collection, Pt. 2

A look-see of Larry’s Big-Block Sting Rays and his C3 ’68 427/435 L89 Big-Block

Dateline: 12-9-22 – This story was first published in the October 2022 issue of Vette Vues as part of their ongoing “Reader’s Rides” series of stories. Last month we told you about Larry Lipsitz’s beautiful collection of vintage performance Corvettes. When Larry Lipsitz started planning his Corvette collection, he wanted the best of the best “performance” optioned Corvettes. Each of the four Corvettes in Larry’s collection represents, from a performance perspective, the Best of that year’s offering.

This month we’ll look closely at Larry’s 1965 L79 396/425 big-block Corvette Convertible, his 1967 427/437 L71 big-block Corvette Coupe, and his 1968 L89 427/435 big-block Corvette Coupe with lightweight aluminum heads. Let’s start in chronological order.

1965 L78 396/427 Corvette Sting Ray Convertible

1965 was the end of one era and the beginning of another. From 1957 to 1965 the Fuelie was the toughest stock Corvette you could buy. But in 1962, Chevrolet started work on a replacement for the W-Block 348/402/427 truck engines. The new Mark IV engines were bigger and stronger than the small-block engine. Although Duntov didn’t like the added weight, he sure liked the horsepower and torque.

The new 396 big-block arrived in the spring of 1965 and was the performance option of the year! The L84 327/375-horsepower Fuelie was a $538 option, whereas the L78 396/425-horsepower big-block only cost $292! Engineers discovered that cubic-inches were the least expensive way to get more power.

By the close of the year, Chevrolet sold 2,157 396 Corvettes. Big-Block 1965 and 1966 Corvettes all have the revised hood design with a large center bulge needed to clear the taller engine and functional vents on the sides. In all, the big-clock weighed about 200-pounds more than the small-block Corvette.

Larry is only the car’s second owner and says, “It’s a keeper!” The 396 Vette was originally purchased in 1965 in San Luis, California by a doctor. The car was originally Silver Pearl, but the doctor had it repainted red. When the doctor passed, in 1984 his widow sold the car, and for four years was exchanged between dealers, but untitled.

Dealer Steve Shambaugh, from Indiana, did a full restoration and returned the paint back to Silver Pearl. After the restoration, the Sting Ray made a few more rounds with dealers. Finally, in 1988 Larry Lipsitz became the 396 ’65 Corvette’s second titled owner. Continue reading “The Larry Lipsitz Classic Performance Corvette Collection, Pt. 2”

Z06 Review, Pt. 8 – Dave Matlock’s NCRS Heritage Award 1963 Z06 Tanker Sting Ray

One of 63 “Tanker” 1963 Z06 Corvettes Saved From Oblivion!

Dateline: 10.5.22 – This story was first published in the June 2020 issue of Vette Vues Magazine Restoring old cars is a long, arduous, and expensive enterprise. When the car being restored was once a race car, the owner has an important decision to make; does he restore the car back to its factory original condition or to its racing configuration? If the owner chooses the race car life of the car, it had better been a championship car, otherwise, the owner will probably never see a return on investment.

Restoring Back to When?

Two excellent examples of this at both ends are the 1960 Cunningham Le Mans Class-winning Corvette and the John Greenwood Widebody Sebring ’75 race car. The Cunningham #3 Corvette is estimated value is in the millions. In 2015 the Greenwood Corvette auction stalled at $300,000. Why? The Greenwood car is a beautifully restored racer, but it was never a champion car.

Dave Matlock’s 1963 ZO6 Corvette Sting Ray tanker was indeed a racer, but it was only raced regionally and didn’t win any championships. The car was sponsored by Star Chevrolet in East Orange, New Jersey, and was raced for only one season. In the car’s last race the front end was bumped and rubbed, but the car was not seriously damaged.

Skip Sofield was Star Chevrolet’s “Mr. Corvette”; spearheaded the racing effort and drove the car, along with Martin Krinner and Tom McNeil. “Racers” are not “collectors”. Back in the day, typically if a car is damaged or outdated, it was sold off or put into storage. Sofield’s ZO6 went into storage for decades.

As the years rolled on, the ZO6 was just a damaged old racer that was no longer competitive. No one wanted it. The only interest the car received was from vandals. The theives broke into the storage facility and helped themselves to the seats, seat belts, door panels, radio, and other small parts that they could steal quickly.

Despite the front end damage and some missing interior parts, the car was mechanically sound. Eventually, someone decided to put the car back to running condition, repair the body, and fix the interior, just to get rid of it.

One of 199 1963 Z06 Corvettes

From the factory, the Z06 was Sebring Silver with a red interior and had several juicy options, including; N03 36.5 Gallon Fuel Tank (the “Tanker” option), Power Windows, and an AM/FM radio. The build was in February 1963. The Z06’s suspension was rock hard and not a car one would like to drive on the street, especially on rough, potholed North Jersey roads. And the exotic fan-cooled brakes were almost useless until they were hot from heavy braking on a race track. We’ll get to Dave’s one-time-only harrowing experience driving his restored Z06 at the end of this article. Continue reading “Z06 Review, Pt. 8 – Dave Matlock’s NCRS Heritage Award 1963 Z06 Tanker Sting Ray”