The Moment That Changed Everything
This story first appeared in the August 2023 issue of Vette Vues Magazine – I have been writing stories for Vette Vues since 2011. In 2017, Vette Vues Editor, Bonnie Wolf asked if I would wordsmith stories about readers cars. The owners send me their photos, I Photoshop the images, interview them, and write their stories. The interviews are fun because, after a few minutes, we’re just two Corvette enthusiasts, jaw’n about Corvettes. I always ask, “What was your first Corvette moment?” That moment that separates “before-and-an-after” on all things “Corvette”. Everyone is different, but it usually happens when we are kids.
The special “it” quality of Corvettes is ephemeral and hard to define in a way that “makes sense”. New Corvettes have always been expensive. Some old Corvettes were notoriously undependable. For most people, Corvettes are not comfortable cars. And Corvettes are not terribly “useful” cars.
So, what is it about Corvettes that has captured America and beyond for seventy years now? It’s a spirit of fun and excitement, in motion. For some, the excitement is “driving”. For others, it’s the car’s great looks. And for those with a passion for racing, Corvettes are high testosterone, high adrenaline machines. For many of us, it’s all of the above. Corvettes can be a powerful addiction. (a lot of heads are nodding up and down right now)
So What Was My First Corvette Moment?
When I was ten, my mother took me to the Collingswood New Jersey Library where we lived. What a wonderful place, full of neat science, and military books, full of diagrams, and illustrations. Like most kids, I liked to draw, so I drew, tanks, rocket ships, guns, and maps.
Then someone gave me a stack of car magazines. I didn’t know much about cars, but I began to get familiar with the different brands. My brother Bob is seven years older than me, but his first car wasn’t ever interesting; a 1959 Rambler. But when he got a 1957 Bel Air, even I could see, that was a cool car.
One day he had to go to the Chevy dealership for some service work and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. “Sure!” I replied. Ride with my big brother in his ’57 Chevy? When we got to the dealer, he told me to wait in the showroom.
Sitting on the showroom floor was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen (except for Ann Margret in “Viva Las Vegas”!). It was a 1965 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe. Standing there with my mouth gaping open, a sales guy said, “You like that car, kid? Here’s a brochure!” and then scribbled his name on the cover, perhaps hoping my Dad would buy a Corvette. Fat chance!
I took the brochure home and poured over it a hundred times. I didn’t understand more than five percent of what I was reading, but the photos and line drawings captivated me. Fifteen years later, as an illustrator, I specialized in line art of machines and cars. Forty years later a friend gave me a 1965 Corvette brochure he had because he knew I once owned a ’65 Corvette. I was blown away to see the line illustrations in the brochure and could clearly see where my influence came from.
In the 1960s Hobby Shops were all the rage for boys and young men interested in building models of ships, military hardware, Hollywood monsters, and cars. The Collingswood Hobby Shop was across the street from our apartment and it soon became my favorite hangout.
I built some model planes and tanks, but with my new Corvette filter, I saw they had Corvette models. The AMT kits were medium difficulty and the bodies looked proportionally correct. Kits typically cost $1.00 to $1.50. The Revell and Monogram kits were more complicated, and cost $2.00; fifty cents more than my weekly allowance! Plus, you had to buy glue, Testor paints, and spray paint.
Then I discovered the magazine section of the Rexall Drug Store. I watched that like a hawk for anything “Corvette”. I was struggling with reading, but it turned out that all I needed was something I was interested in to read. I read all of my car magazines, cover-to-cover, over and over, until I began to understand how cars and race cars worked.
One day a friend showed me a magazine titled, “Corvette News”. He told me that his older brother once bought a new Corvette and that when you buy a new Vette, you get the magazine for free. I thought, “How cool is this car? A car with its own magazine!”
I kept reading about a man that reminded me of my grandfather, his name was Zora Arkus-Duntov. I was so hungry for technical specs for Corvettes, that I wrote him a letter! A few months later, I got a package in the mail with spec sheets, several issues of Corvette News, and a letter (not from Duntov) thanking me for my interest and informing me that they’d placed my name on the mailing list for Corvette News! I might have been the only kid in America to regularly receive Corvette News!
Through junior and senior high school I satisfied my car passion with magazines and model cars. I especially loved the exploded isometric instruction sheets. I wish I still had them, they were wonderful and also influenced my future art career. I built dozens of models and got pretty good at my building. When I was fourteen I even won a local model car contest. In school, I quickly became known as “The Car Guy”. Little did I know that art, writing, design, and cars would be my life.
I Finally Got a Ride in a Corvette!
During Christmas break in my sophomore year of high school. I was at my girlfriend, Judy’s house one afternoon, having sodas and kisses with Judy. When it was time to walk home (Judy lived way on the other side of town), she said, “Oh, let me see if my brother-in-law can give you a ride in his Corvette”. What???
Judy’s brother-in-law just got out of the Army and bought a ’65 Corvette Convertible with side pipes with the money he saved. So, I got into the Corvette, with Judy on my lap (not too bad!) and off we went.
We threaded our way through the streets of Collingswood, then pulled onto the White Horse Pike, where he let’r loose! Suddenly, the front lifted up, the side pipes were booming, and we went a’hell’n! It was more exciting than having Judy on my lap! That’s when I told myself, “I HAVE TO have one of these when I grow up!”
After graduation in 1972, I got a job as a draftsman and had a weekend job at Cecil County Drag-O-Way, in Maryland as a track announcer. While at the track, I befriended an older guy, Omar Bolden, with a ’67 427/435 Goodwood Green Corvette Convertible. Omar and I talked constantly about Corvettes. Occasionally I would ride around the pits with Omar before the races.
I Finally Got a Corvette!
A year later, after I was on my own, Omar told me that he had a ’67 Corvette big-block convertible that was a little rough but ran like a bear, and it was only $1,100! I scraped together the money and bought it. The car was seriously rough. Omar’s friends called it, “The Purple Wonder”, claiming it was a wonder that it ran!
The original engine had been blown up and replaced with a 396. The car had suffered a minor engine fire that burnt the driver’s side of the hood and front fender. A previous owner installed huge fender flares, and the car had Hooker Header side-pipes. It was loud and fast, but impossible to get through New Jersey Motor Vehicle Inspection because of the side-pipes. The car needed more cash to fix than I had and I had nowhere to work on the car. With great sadness, the Corvette went bu-buy on a trailer to a man in Pennsylvania who refurbished Corvettes. I was back to driving my uninspiring 1970 307 Malibu.
But my Corvette infection lingered. A year later I called the man I sold the ’67 to ask if he had anything nice. He told me about the silver ’65 Coupe with a 327/300 engine, a Stinger hood, 4-speed, factory side-pipes, black interior, and Cragar mags. He asked, “Would you like to see it?”
The car was stunning with silver paint, Cragar mags, and side pipes. I bought it for $2,800. When my Archie Bunker-like stepfather learned what I paid for the car, he scolded me! “You paid $2,800 for a ten-year-old Chevy??? It doesn’t even have a back seat! What’s wrong with you?” I almost got called, “Meathead”!
Meathead-ness aside, the car was a blast! The L75 327/300 engine had almost as much torque as a 327 Fuelie and was fun to wind through the gears and let the side pipe boom and burble. I did get complaints from co-workers and my girlfriend. She told me my car was beautiful but deafening and my friends said it road like a truck. They were correct, but I didn’t care, it was my Corvette. Unfortunately, the Cragar mags did not have the correct offset and rubbed the upper inside of the front wheel wells. So, I replaced them with 15×6-inch factory steel rally rims.
Late one cold Saturday night in January, the Corvette swallowed the retainer rod that kept the air cleaner attached to the carburetor. The 327 gulped down the rod, ate a valve, and broke a piston! So, in the middle of a cold New Jersey winter, I decided to pull the engine and have it rebuilt. The trouble was, I had no garage and the car was out in the freezing cold.
Working nights and weekends, it took weeks to get the engine out and disassembled. Withers Automotive, a local Chevy racing shop, did the machine work, and my friend Chuck Findisen and I put the engine together. By early April, the Corvette was back on the road. Paul Withers instructed me to drive the car normally for 500 miles, don’t baby it, but don’t hammer it. Then, change the oil, check to rockers, and timing, then have fun. The car ran better than ever!
My 1965 327 Sting Ray Coupe Went Bu-Bye!
Two weeks later, I came out of work with my friend Chuck, and the Corvette was gone! Stolen! Older people used to say to me, “Aren’t you afraid of the car getting stolen?” Of course, I wasn’t, and then it happened to me. Two days later, the police called me to let me know that the car was found stripped and abandoned in a terrible neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey.
At the salvage yard, I discovered that the engine, transmission, Hurst Shifter, side pipes and covers, Stinger hood, inside door panels, and radio were gone. After spending everything I had on the rebuild, I was done. It would have cost more to replace the stolen parts than I paid for the car. I sold the car back to the man I bought it from.
Needing another car, I bought Chuck’s Marina Blue ’68 327, 4-speed Camaro with a white nose stripe. Other cars followed, then a series of motorcycles. I started working as a contributor to Vette Quarterly magazine, drawing and writing about Corvettes. My career as a freelance commercial artist gradually took off, I got married and had a daughter, and there was no time for fun cars.
After many illustrated magazine series, hundreds of stories, and over a thousand illustrations, I got a Corvette back in my garage in 2018. We’re very happy with our 1999 C5 Corvette. The car was lowered and had a set of chrome C5 Z06-style wheels. I’ve since made numerous modifications but the one I enjoy the most is the set of Sweet Thunder Chambered Cat-Backs. The “muffler” uses the same technique as the side pipes on my ’65 Coupe.
Yes, it barks, grumbles, and growls like my old Vette, only it doesn’t ride like a truck and people don’t complain about the noise. Of all of the people in my family, I am the only one that has the “car gene”. What started in the spring of 1965 in a little Chevy dealership has lasted a lifetime. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!
So, what was your first “Corvette moment”? Let us know! – Scott
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