The Woodward Dream Cruise, an annual automotive festival in Metro Detroit that draws about a million spectators and tens of thousands of hot rods, muscle cars and classics, is a consistent source of feel-good stories. Perhaps the best from this year, the event’s 21st edition, was that of George Talley and his silver Corvette.
On the morning of the cruise, General Motors presented Talley with the keys to a 1979 Corvette – his own car, which had been stolen in 1981, recovered 33 years later and then refurbished this year.
Talley, 72, a former GM employee who has owned four Corvettes, said that he never expected to get the car back after thieves swiped it off the street decades ago. But in June 2014, authorities in Michigan noticed that two Corvettes were registered under the same vehicle identification number, one in Mississippi and one in Michigan. The Mississippi Corvette’s engine number revealed it to be Talley’s long-lost car. When told that the car had been found, Talley said, he thought it was a joke.
The story attracted press attention, and Talley was interviewed on a Detroit radio station. Mark Reuss, GM’s product development chief, heard the broadcast and offered to ship the car back to Detroit.
Reuss was true to his word, and the car was returned to Talley. But with a destroyed interior, bad brakes and serious corrosion throughout, it was not the car Talley remembered. Nevertheless, he drove it a bit before putting it in storage for the winter.
“This past spring I wrote a letter to Mark Reuss and asked him to help me restore it,” Talley said in a phone interview. “I’m retired; I wanted it to be safe and look good.”
GM again came to the rescue. The car was taken to the automaker’s Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Mich., in June. There, the facilities manager, Greg Wallace, treated Talley’s Corvette to a makeover. GM management asked Wallace if he could have the car ready for the Dream Cruise on Aug. 15. It would prove to be a challenge, given the car’s condition.
“It appeared to have been underwater at some time,” Wallace said. “It had weird rust, including a rotted-out ashtray and cigarette lighter. The brake lines were badly corroded, as were the steel door bottoms. The interior was shredded and water-damaged.”
Wallace and his crew buckled down to the task. All of the brake components were replaced, as were the tires. A new interior was installed, and the engine was cleaned, painted and tuned. Autometrics of Centerline, Mich., painted the body and buffed it to a shine like it never had before.
Two months of 16-to-20-hour days had the car ready to be unveiled on Dream Cruise Saturday, and it spent much of the day in the Chevrolet exhibit, though Talley managed to put a few Woodward Avenue miles on it as well.
“I think you have to give back,” Reuss said in a video that Chevrolet posted on YouTube. “He’s been a customer of GM forever and a veteran.”
Talley, of course, is most appreciative. “It’s brand new,” he said. “To have a brand new ’79 car is phenomenal. It’s hard to describe, but I’m happy.”