My first experience with a Corvette was in 1954. I was 5 years old, and had been given a large, plastic model in Polo White with Red interior, for Christmas. This began the passion! Even at that early age, I kept up with all of the cars of the day: the Cadillac's fins, Buick's port holes, Pontiac Silver Streaks, etc. When GM introduced the Corvette as the first all-American sports car, I knew one day I would have one.
The first Corvette was displayed in January of '53 at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, venue of GM's Motorama in New York. It had a round, smooth body with a big 13-tooth, chrome grill, unique chromed wire mesh headlight grills, a front hinged hood and one of the coolest-looking dash boards I had ever seen--aircraft inspired with a series of circular gauges, featuring a tach in the middle. Harley Earl and the team wanted a V-8 for the new car, but had to settle for a tri-carb, upscale version of Chevy's Blue Flame 6.
In 1955, it received its long-awaited V-8, Chevy's new 265, offered initially with a Powerglide automatic with floor selector, then later in 1955, a 3-speed manual transmission was available. Corvette also changed to a 12-volt electric system in '55. In 1957, Chevy introduced a new small block 283 V-8, and when equipped with fuel injection, its horsepower could equal 1 hp per cubic inch. A new 4-speed transmission was also available. Now the Corvette was delivering the power and performance the sports car buyer wanted in the mid-1950's. The Corvette had become a serious contender for Ford's good-selling, good-looking T-Birds.
1958 brought about some major styling changes for the Corvette. The bodies became bigger and wider, and more in line with other GM models. Out front, they still had the chrome toothed grill (continuing through 1960), but now it was flanked by dual headlights. There was a louvered hood panel and side coves (which continued through 1962), and a new rounded, futuristic-styled dash. By 1960, Corvettes were offering five different engines, ranging from 230-315 hp, and could now be ordered with power windows and interior appointments that made them more of a personal, well-appointed sports car One of my favorite TV shows in the early 60's was Route 66a program about two guys traveling on the famous cross-country highway in an early-'60's Corvette Roadster, getting into trouble along the way, but having the time of their lives. How do you get a series like that? Up to this time, all Vettes were convertibles with removable hard tops or soft tops, then in 1963, it all came together for me. The New Sting Ray Corvette was introduced with an all-new design featuring 4-wheel independent suspension, rotating, concealed headlights, sloping hood, and best of all, a new fast back split window coupe. Coupes have always been my favorites, and this was the best. You just didn't get into the car; you entered the cockpit.
On the coupe, the door extended up and curved into the roof to make it easier to get in and out of the car. Once in the car, the driver faced the aircraft-styled, black pebble-grained background dash with chromed circular gauges. Then you saw the 160 mph speedometer and the 7,000 rpm tach. You were in control!
In 1964, I finally got to experience the Sting Ray in action. Wayne, a high school friend of mine, had a new '64 327 Red/Red Coupe that his dad had given him for graduation. He asked if I wanted to ride with him out Reynolds Road to test it out. This was in Lexington, Kentucky, and in those days, it was the local 2-lane drag stripa quarter mile section of country road where everybody took their cars to test them out. I was in the rear compartment, my friend John was in the passenger seat and Wayne was at the controls. He stopped as he turned onto Reynolds, smiled and nailed it. G-forces nailed my head to the rear window and it stayed there until he hit fourth gear! What an experience! I never forgot it.
The following year, the new '65's were introduced with a new, optional big block. This package had a new hood, side pipes and a 396 V-8. My friend Solly had one of these, and he would drive around Jerry'sour high school hangout, much like Arnold's in Happy Days. One Friday night, Solly came through in his new Glen Green 396 on which he had mounted a set of steer horns, down low on the front bumper. Very unusual, but somehow he pulled it off. I went over and got in his car, telling him about a plan I had. It involved his bringing his car over to show my Dad, who would, of course, be so impressed that he would immediately sign for me to buy one! After all, you could buy a new 327 for about $3300, which was only $100 a month. No problem! Solly agreed to come over after the weekend. He was going to Louisville on Saturday night to see James Brown and the Famous Flames in concert. The weekend passed slowly, and Monday at school I learned that Solly and another friend of ours that had been riding with him, had been killed on I-64 on their way to Louisville. Solly's Vette had hit a bridge abutment at speeds in excess of 140 mph. We all grieved for our friends, and I put my Vette quest on hold. In 1967, I graduated from high school and wanted to trade my '56 Chevy in for a muscle car to take to college. Once again, the Vette came up. I found a '66 Red/Red 396 with knock offs and side pipes for $3000. The car was beautiful! The trouble was that the seller wouldn't take my '56 in trade, so I passed on the Vette and bought a '67 396 SS Chevelle for $3200, and got $700 for my Chevy. I kept the SS for 8 years and loved the car. It was a real performer, and never gave me any trouble. I wish I still had it! The years passed, then in 1995, while attending the Corvette Expo in Knoxville, I found my Corvette--a '64 Red/Black Coupe.
It was priced right and just needed a little TLC. I needed $3000 more dollars to make the deal, so I called my dad, who set it up on his credit card. Dad was a baseball guy; not a car guy, but he knew how important this was to me. His enthusiasm made the car even more special, because it marked our coming together after 30 years, to make this dream of mine come true. I drove the car home with my daughter Heidi riding with me and my wife Karen following us in our 1958 Buick Riviera. It was a great day!
Over the next year we went over the car bumper to bumper, making it into a nice, dependable driver. We got a real surprise when we tuned up the engine. It was sold to me as a 350, but it turned out to be a '65 327! We didn't have to do much to the engine. It had been built to run, putting out 365 hp. I have added original spinner hub caps, side pipes and red line tires to the car. It still excites me. Its an instant-starter, runs cool, handles well, and is amazingly comfortable to ride in (although it is a little harder these days to get in and out of!). I'm putting a quick-release on the steering wheel so that it can be removed for easier ingress & egress.
I'm glad I didn't give up on the chase. Don't give up on your dreams!
Keep 'em driving!