Possibly the ONLY factory-custom Corvette for a non-executive Chevrolet employee.
The last two days we’ve been telling you about the two factory-custom Corvettes built for Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen. As if the customized ‘64 Roadster for Semon wasn’t enough, Mrs. Knudsen may have asked, “Bunkie, where’s my Corvette?” This is total humorous speculation on my part, but one “could” imagine such a conversation. Regardless, they are stunningly beautiful cars and actually, there’s another Knudsen Corvette we’ll be sharing with you soon.
The special custom cars for GM’s top honchos has been for decades a low-key topic and were it not for several of these cars going to auction, we most likely wouldn’t know about them at all. But it seems that not all GM customs were for executives. Of course, we’ll never know for certain how many customs were built and for whom, but here’s one that went to the top Corvette salesman back in the mid-’60s. In the world of Chevrolet sales, Bob Wingate was known as “Mr Corvette” because he sold more Vettes than anyone else. This is an amazing story of achievement, reward, loss, recovery, and a beauty of a restoration. I covered this car in my VETTE Magazine Illustrated Corvette Series No. 158, back in Winter of 2010. Enjoy! – Scott
Here’s the story…
Illustrated Corvette Series No. 158 – 1967 FS&O 427 Corvette: “Bob Wingate’s V.I.P. Special”
In the ‘50s and ’60s, GM had a system for taking care of its top people. Presidents, VPs, high-level managers, and other VIP types often got new cars that were specially made vehicles. These were generically called “SO” – for “Special Order” or “Shop Order” – cars. Another term was “F&SO,” for “Fleet & Special Order.” About 25 to 50 or so of these cars were made each year. However, it was unusual for a car salesman to get one. But Bob Wingate of Clippinger Chevrolet, in Covina, California wasn’t just a good car salesman. He was “Mr. Corvette.”
Wingate started at Clippinger Chevrolet in 1955 as a prep guy – the fellow who cleans the cars prior to delivery. His favorite cars to prep were Corvettes. After a few years, he worked his way into sales, and before long, he was selling more Corvettes than anyone else in California. What got Chevrolet sales managers’ attention was when Wingate ordered 100 ‘62 Corvettes for the dealership. Chevrolet had only sold 10,939 Corvettes in ’61, so they wondered, “Who is this guy?” Upper management was reluctant to send that many cars, but Chevy’s Joe Pike believed in Wingate and was not disappointed. Wingate became the highest volume Corvette salesman in ‘62 and by ’66 had sold more Corvettes than any other salesman. Chevrolet thanked Wingate by giving him the Legion of Leaders award. His reputation even got the attention of Ford’s Lee Iacocca, who offered him a job doing the same kind of work for Mustang and Cobra sales. He declined, and when Joe Pike found out, Wingate got a raise and an F&SO Corvette. He was told, “Pick what you want.”
Most people know about the car shown here, but there was actually car before this one. In the fall of 1966, Bob got a pearl green ’67 427 Coupe with fender flares, a chrome tube grille, wide Goodyear tires, American Racing mags, and a custom interior. The car was a looker, and Wingate’s soon customers began asking if they could get their Vettes tricked out like his. The car was a bit of a problem in this regard, so it was replaced with something a little more tame.
Still, the replacement car was stunning. Painted Greenwood Green, it had a white stripe that started on top of the 427 hood scoop and ran over the top and back. Six taillights adorned the back, and the front bumpers were removed. Torq-Thrust mag with Goodyear Blue Streak tires and white brake calipers filled the stock wheelwells. The hood had hand-applied “427” numbering, and a Nardi steering wheel dressed up the black interior. Factory options included the L71 427/435 engine, power windows and brakes, an AM/FM radio, tinted glass, a shoulder harness, side pipes, a wide-ratio 4-speed, and a 3.55:1 Positraction rear. Wingate recalls the body being “perfect.”
Wingate had his name applied to the top edge of the door and a Clippinger Chevrolet logo on the lower part. For the next year, when he wasn’t selling Corvettes, he was doing goodwill work for the dealership all over the Southwest, attending car shows, autocross races, and drag races.
While the car was owned by the dealership, Wingate’s deal was that he could sell the car and keep the money as his yearend bonus. The new C3s were about to arrive, so he sold the car to a young fellow who promptly blew up the engine. Later, Wingate learned that his F&SO Vette had been smashed when a truck ran into it while it was parked on I-10 after running out of gas. Oh well.
Twenty-five years later, Californian Bob Radke found a ‘67 coupe that had been customized with fender flares and a rear spoiler and was in very bad condition. After the usual back-and-forth negotiations, Radke bought the car. When he checked the tank sticker, he noticed the designation “COPO/F&SO” and the notation “Build Per FSO.” Radke had a very rare machine. After some research, he learned that the original owner had been Bob Wingate, the “Corvette Guy.” Radke and Wingate became friends, and Wingate’s collection of over 100 photos were instrumental in Radke’s restoration of the car. The seven-year resto took the car back to when it was delivered to Wingate, the day before Thanksgiving 1966.
VIP Corvettes have become hot collector cars, and Radke hasn’t indicated that he’s anywhere close to being ready to part with this beauty. – KST
Here’s the BEST way to keep up with K. Scott Teeters’ Corvette blog!