My Generation: Our Tribute Cars
For Corvette owners in northern climes the anxiety meter is beginning the annual upward move in anticipation of summer’s end, the onset of fall and inevitable, impending winter when our cars get bundled up and put away in storage. The angst in many ways reminds me of my childhood when the ten week summer vacation was drawing to an end, knowing that in a few short weeks I’d be once again held captive in a schoolroom for another nine months, similar to the way a Corvette must feel during the long winter hibernation. Now, as then, I regret the end of summer though for different reasons. At this point in my life, though fall may be the best season of all for road trips and rallies, the looming onset of the cold, barren winter hits a little too close to home usually prompting nostalgic thoughts and memories of earlier good times. Days filled with countless hours of working on, talking about, and spending time behind the wheel of those special cars that consumed and brightened so many hours of my life.
For many of us, those times included several different cars along the way, some loved and others only tolerated, but cars suited for our specific needs at a particular stage of our life. Few of us had the means to keep that first car that ignited a fire deep inside and began a lifetime of special appreciation and respect for the automobile. In many cases, it was a car we modified and as such became an extension or statement about us, a car that often subliminally reflected our personalities and interests. As such I refer to these as “tribute cars” because in reality they were tributes to us.
Some personalizations were extensive, involving vast customization and modification of the engine, body or both while other mods were simple, hardly noticeable, sometimes adding no more than a pinstripe or upgraded radio and “8 Track” player. And as much as we might have wanted to keep those special cars forever, sadly, life changes often required us letting them go. The two most significant changes usually involved reporting for military service or getting married and starting a family. In the former, our tribute cars were sold because we could not afford to keep them or maintain them while away from home. In the latter because we had to get a car that could accommodate a family. Either way letting go of that car was often a heartbreaking, unavoidable experience.
For those of you too young to remember, unless you were wealthy in the fifties and sixties, most families owned only one car and as such it had to be a multi-purpose utilitarian tool. Few families could indulge themselves with both a family car and a personal car. That began to change with dual income families but it took time and was not commonplace until the mid 1960’s. And even then the second car was usually a practical economy car. Personally, the reason I had to part with my “tribute car” was the need to get a more practical car that my wife could drive. My wife, standing only 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, physically had trouble depressing the heavy duty clutch and driving the high performance car with no power steering or brakes. I still have my wife so I don’t have to tell you what happened to my car.
One of the benefits of being an enthusiast beginning in the last quarter of the last century was the ability for many enthusiasts to own more than one car. Even for a family just starting out, usually “car guys” don’t have to give up their “tribute cars” unless they want to and then a few years later regret it. There is no question that the quest to reacquire our dream car has virtually grown the hot rod, 50’s and 60’s collector car market and continues to fuel the explosion of collector car auctions throughout the country.
I’d be able to afford an original ‘63 Corvette Grand Sports if I had a dime for every time I had either lamented or heard someone say, “I wish I had held on to my (insert car name here) that I had when I was younger.” Because so few of us have actually been able to hold on to our “tribute cars,” I am always impressed hearing a story about someone who was able to, especially if that car was a Corvette, which obviously isn’t really suited to be the only car for a family of more than two people. And recently I have had the good fortune to meet one of those Corvette owners with a great story.
While in Flint, Michigan, at the Corvette Reunion, I met Steve Stone and got to hear his incredible story. Stone was showing his Tuxedo black, 1963 Sting Ray convertible he had just driven from his home in Madison, Wisconsin, to the Reunion, a show of almost 600 Corvettes which takes place every year in conjunction with the Back to the Bricks Car Show. After the Reunion, Steve and his wife packed up and headed to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where his Corvette was featured on the center stage at the largest all-Corvette event in the country, Corvettes at Carlisle. And just what is so special about Stone’s 1963 Corvette convertible? Well, aside from being the original owner of a car he’s owned for over fifty years, he’s also put over half a million miles on the car, ordered new in October 1962! Yeah, we’ve heard this story before but it usually involves a Volvo, not a Vette.
To my knowledge Stone is not the anonymous majority stock holder in a Fortune 500 company and yet he has been able to hold on to the 1963 Corvette he originally took possession of on February 27, 1963, at the ripe old age of eighteen. Just after the unveiling of the exciting new second generation Corvette, Steve knew he had to own one of the revolutionary new cars; the only obstacle was figuring out how to pay over $4,000 for it. So he sold his 1956 Chevrolet coupe and asked his father to co-sign a loan for the purchase. His father agreed and in October 1962, Steve visited his local dealership and ordered his Corvette in Tuxedo Black with the 327 cubic inch, 340 HP engine and four speed transmission. In addition, he added a signal seeking radio, positraction and the optional hard top for winter driving. The car had 4:11 gears, white wall tires, and no power steering or brakes. After four agonizing months of waiting, the car of Steve’s dreams was delivered to the dealership.
The first few years of ownership the car was his only means of transportation and Stone put over 30K miles a year on the car, driving it year round. During the early years, the hardtop option got a lot of use especially during the snowy winter (although it hasn’t been used in over thirty years, now). Then in 1965 Steve was drafted. He was convinced he’d be sent to Viet Nam, so he reluctantly put the Corvette up for sale, not wanting to leave his parents stuck with the loan if anything happened to him. But the planets must have been in alignment because the car never sold and Steve did not go to Viet Nam as he expected.
When he returned from the service, Steve began making some modifications to his Corvette, changes that were more suited to his taste at the time, he added side exhausts and disk brakes. Over the years he has also added dual MSD ignition systems to ensure he does not get stranded on one of his wilderness treks. Though Steve has other cars now, he still drives the Corvette extensively. He’s driven the car to all of the lower forty eight states and the nine Canadian provinces. He and his wife, who has learned to pack light, travel extensively in the sports car, sometimes towing a small trailer Steve made for the car. The trailer is particularly helpful when they take their annual trip to the Boundary Waters and take along their twenty-two foot canoe.
During the car’s lifetime it has had the engine rebuilt or replaced four times, the front end clip replaced a few times due to accidents, the interior replaced twice and the frame restored once. As you would expect, Steve has a special attachment to the car and plans on leaving the car to his fourth son who he knows will continue to take care of and drive the car Steve has nurtured for a half century. During our conversation he summed up his feelings, “I can’t see myself driving any other Corvette, not even if I was given a new C7.”
Needless to say, it is amazing that Stone was able to keep his Corvette despite the challenges and demands of family life. The car has offered him not only thousands of hours of enjoyment behind the wheel but a lifetime of memories as well. If there was ever a testament to the fact that Corvettes are made to be driven, Steve Stone and his car are it. So as the fall season approaches don’t let it turn you to introspection and memories. There is still time before your Corvette goes into hibernation to create some new memories cruising the back roads immersed in vivid fall colors and crisp autumn weather. There is still time to get your motors running, head out on the highway, look for adventure and create your own stories and memories this fall behind the wheel of your Corvette.
[CF Editor: Or get a hardtop and cruise all winter like Stone. We were originally going to run this piece in a couple of weeks, but a post on the forums prompted us to move it up. Check out that post here.]