8 May 2013

California Dreamin’

Corvette owner’s amazing story of lost and found

Bill Ogden wrote the book on Corvette. OK, so he didn’t exactly write the definitive book on all Corvettes, but the Virginia native has written four books on one very special ’Vette – his own. It’s a classic case of the one that got away … and then miraculously found its way back to him more than four decades later.

“It was just dumb luck that I got the car back,” said Ogden, 76. “And when that happened, it seemed fitting to share some of the stories from the first four years we were together. It kind of made the reunion complete.”

Ogden, who now lives in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Ill., was in his mid-20s in 1961 when he left Virginia and headed west along old U.S. Route 66 to find work in California. Once there – and with a job in hand – one of his first purchases was a new 1962 Chevrolet Corvette, a car he’d been in love with since he saw a ’61 model on the “Route 66” television series.

On Oct. 19, 1961, Selman Chevrolet in Orange, Calif., handed Ogden the keys to a white ’Vette with red interior, 327 cubic-inch engine and 340 horsepower. Ogden said it was a match made in heaven, and he offers proof of that in his ever-expanding book series titled, “When We Were Young with Our Corvettes: California Adventures in the Early 1960s.” For four years, Ogden and the car were constant companions.

“It was the best of times,” Ogden said. “To be young, single and male driving a new Corvette in Southern California … I couldn’t lose.”

The two shared plenty of memorable experiences. Ogden met celebrities like Bing Crosby, Gene Autry and Walt Disney, who gave Ogden and his date season passes to Disneyland; drove historic routes like 17-Mile Road at Pebble Beach; and staked out celebrity hangouts and movie shoots – the ’Vette can even be seen in the star-filled comedy “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Ogden usually had a beautiful woman riding shotgun. Of course, the cops liked him, too.

“In Southern California in 1961,” Ogden wrote in his first book, “… it’d be a toss-up who watched you more, the beach girls or the California Highway Patrol.”

By 1966, a now-married Ogden had moved to Atlanta and was planning a family. So he did the responsible thing and traded in the Corvette (for $2,004.60) and purchased a 1967 Olds Delta 88. He never expected to see the car again.

Then in 2003, Ogden returned to Virginia for his 50th high school class reunion, and his sister gave him a box that she’d found while settling their parents’ estate years earlier.

“Back when I bought the Corvette, I took everything and sent it home to my Mom and Dad, along with some photos of me and the car,” Ogden said. “I’d forgotten all about it. I didn’t even know that stuff still existed.”

Memories of his adventures with the Corvette came rushing back, and Ogden eventually began searching for another one – not his original car but one like it. For the next three years, he saw plenty of ‘Vettes without pulling the trigger. Then in 2007, Ogden received a call from a California man who was selling a white ’62 Corvette with red interior. He was intrigued, but the asking price was too high. That changed when the owner mailed him a judging sheet from the National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS). The first page included the vehicle’s serial number, and Ogden compared it to the paperwork that his sister had found. Unbelievably, they matched. He’d found a needle in a haystack.

 “I never expected to find the original,” he said. “Ever.”

Ogden traveled to Palm Springs to look at the car and tried to play it cool while he negotiated a price. Finally, a deal was struck. “To know that the car was mine again … it was an unbelievable feeling.”

Ogden often contemplates his good fortune. “I never would have known I’d found my car if I hadn’t sent that bill of sale to my parents. I know how lucky I am. My story is unique. It rarely ever happens.”

In the prologue of his books, Ogden includes “A Car Story” that’s written from the Corvette’s perspective, and the car is clearly happy to be “home.” After a full restoration, it won an NCRS DUNTOV Mark of Excellence Award in 2011, but the old ’62 was a treasure long before that. So are Ogden’s stories. Even Heidi, his wife of nearly 50 years, enjoys cruising down Memory Lane.

“She’s in some of the chapters, but I only use her real name once I think,” Ogden said. “She and her friends think it’s the cat’s meow. Our kids enjoy it, too. California in the 1960s was a great place to be, and we lived it.”

And thanks to the lost-and-found Corvette, they’re living it again.

33 Reader Comments

  • 1
    tfvesquire Downers Grove/Chicago May 8, 2013 at 13:30
    I read this article and would love to meet up with Bill. I am not sure if he is a member of Corvetteforum.com, but I grew up in Waukegan and settled in the western suburb of Downers Grove.If you can pass my email along to him that would be appreciated.I would love to take a drive up the Lake Forest (I have a 1960 Corvette) and see his car all restored. Thanks,Ted Vineski
  • 2
    John Nicholson Winston-Salem, NC May 8, 2013 at 13:30
    What a fabulous story! Enough said.
  • 3
    Scott Sternlieb Chandler, Arizona May 8, 2013 at 13:50
    Great story. Put a tear in my eyes.
  • 4
    Gary Zatkovich Santa Rosa, CA May 8, 2013 at 14:41
    Great story,....very similar to mine. I bought my 65 Sting Ray Coupe new, and still have it. I agree, while I still enjoy driving it today on "sunny days"..... the most fun, memories were in the mid - late 60's.
  • 5
    Rick CA. May 8, 2013 at 14:57
    As I too enter into the twilight of my life I often wonder what ever happened to the cars I once owned in the 60's and 70's, some surely collectable in todays market. Might someone who is also passionate about cars done a ground up restoration or just cleaned it up as a daily driver, or, heaven forbid wound up in the metal compacter at a recycler. Who knows, perhaps my old 50' Ford Coupe or 56' Merc ragtop is now the chassis of a new Prius! Cheers, Rick
  • 6
    William Hing lancaster, Ca. May 8, 2013 at 16:37
    Great story!!
  • 7
    Lee Wehr Barnesville, PA May 8, 2013 at 17:11
    Always wanted to visit California and own a 'Vette. This luck,lucky guy has them both.Good for you, Bill ! Don't let her get away this time.....
  • 8
    Kirk Peterson Denver, CO May 8, 2013 at 17:25
    This is a fantastic story, and as a fellow Corvette owner, it struck a chord. I'd like to repeat it for myself, if possible, and maybe someone can give me tips on how. There are only two cars I've formerly owned that I'd like to have back. Both of them were bought new in the LA area by my now-deceased father and given to me (a third one he gave me, a 1989 Buick Reatta, I still have). The first was a 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which my brother totaled after I gave it to him, so that's never coming home. The other was a 1980 Cadillac Eldorado, which I sold in 1995 when my young family needed a mommy-mobile. Now, I have a small car collection in a warehouse I own, and would love to find the Eldo. A few years ago, I called the guy I sold it to (I have the bill of sale with VIN, etc. in my file), and he'd sold it about 5 years after buying it from me but had no recollection who to. I called the Colorado (where I now live and sold the car) DMV, but for privacy reasons, they won't say anything to me. I wasn't even asking for the current owner's personal info - I just wanted to know if it was still registered in CO. No dice, they won't talk. I had a dealer friend of mine try to get it out of them. Same deal - they won't talk. It is one year too old for the newer, more complete VINs that I've heard are in some kind of database. Cadillac dealers can't help. Does anyone have any advice on how I might continue my search? If it's scrapped, fine. But if not, and I can find it and make an offer, that'd be a dream come true. Either way, I'd like to know. Thanks in advance.
  • 9
    Paul Giovannini Staten Island New York May 8, 2013 at 18:17
    Great Story. It made me think of my first car. A 1961 Pontiac Catalina Convertible that I bought in 1965 after Graduating High School for $525. I drove, fixed an loved the car for almost 2 years until Uncle Sam came calling. My Dad had just had an operation and could not take car of the car for me so I was forced to sell it to a local used car lot for $50. A couple of week after I got out of the service I drove past the same lot and saw a 1961 Pontiac Catalina Convertible in the front row. I slammed on the brake and ran over to the car. It was mine. I couldn't believe it was still there. Turns out it ran so good the owner put on a new top and brakes an gave it to his daughter to use. I bought the car on the spot for $150 and used it for another two years before passing is on. I will never forget the smile on my Dads face when I came home with the car. That as they say was prices.
  • 10
    CARL GEHRING BETHEL CT May 8, 2013 at 20:38
  • 11
    john c wallace Polson,MT&Ajo AZ May 8, 2013 at 20:50
    Great story!
  • 12
    Dottie Betz Maine May 9, 2013 at 07:12
    Wonderful story. I still have one of my cars from 1965.
  • 13
    Chuck Central Michigan May 9, 2013 at 08:19
    My story is similar. Bought a '69 GTX in 1972 out of high school. Sold it to my nephew around 1979 after marriage and a kid; sold it for $350.00 because my inlaws offered us a very nice Opel wagon for the same price. He had the car a couple decades then sold it to a guy who let it set for about seven years. The guy then contacted my nephew to see if he wanted to buy it back and he called me. It needed a total restoration but it is back together now! Even has the original engine (block)! I like these stories.
  • 14
    JERRY MILLER MOORPARK, CA May 9, 2013 at 20:21
    Great story! I really enjoyed and thank you for posting. Corvettes got in my blood 38 yrs ago, I still have my first, a 63 SW. Later I bought a mate, another 63 conv w FI and did a body off restoration. Both are numbers matching and insured w you at Hagerty. For the longer drives I take the 07 or the 86 Pace Cars. Now I'm anxious to see the all new C7 pace the Indy... Regards, Jerry Miller, COL, US Army, Ret.
  • 15
    bob burke long island new york May 9, 2013 at 08:33
    I have a story that is similar to the vette,but my 1950 6T triumph was stolen in 1987.I'd forgotten about it,when in 93,a van I didn't know pulled into my drive,and the driver started asking about Triumph parts that I had for sale.He was asking about antique parts,then stopped me in my tracks when he told me he had owned my bike for almost 5yrs.,and wanted to buy it from me,as he had just found out it was stolen when he was trying to register it,since his Harley had just been stolen.Turns out that someone who owed him money had offered the 6T as partial payment on his debt.He had accepted,& kept it until he needed it to replace his lost ride.I had mover twice in the meantime,so it wasn't easy to find me when the time came to do so.John told me that he could see the attention that had been put into it,which meant to him the owner had cared a great deal about it.He was right,as I didn't want to sell,even after almost 7yrs.It had gone on a twisted journey on its way to him.John is a real christian,and he refused to take any sort of reward from me,whereupon his young daughter told him that he would be rewarded in heaven for his generosity.The best part of the story isn't that the bike fired up 1st kick,or looked better then it did when it was stolen,but that I met John and his family,who mean more to me then any bike ever could,as we don't get the chance to meet and make real friends when we are in our middle age.We may make lots of acquaintances, and casual friends,but you don't make the sort of friendships that are as honest and open as those from our childhood when we are adults.This was the best gift of all. B.Bobby Burke.
  • 16
    Charles Miller Tennessee May 9, 2013 at 09:13
    That is an interesting story. I too watched the Route 66 series. I bought a '64 convertible with the hard top , also white. I still have it. It was taken down to nuts and bolts and brought back by a great tech, Jeff Ferguson, who resides in Olive Branch, MS. There are some 90K &change miles on it. It also has a 327 hi-performance engine. Side pipes were added. Sadly it doesn't have the CA celeb perks. I'm glad the you made a reunion with your car.
  • 17
    Joe Failla Coxsackie, NY May 9, 2013 at 09:23
    I can beat that. In 1967, July 6 to be exact, I purchased a 1967 Mustang coupe. I drove this car everyday for some 28 years I drove this car daily. In that time I had done a rebuild of the engine and put in a 4 speed. In '95 my wife and I split and unbeknownest to me she went and sold the car by signing my name on the papers. In 2010 I located the guy that she had sold it to but he no longer had it. He did however give me the info on who he had sold it to. I contacted him and found that he still had the car and it was in California. I made him an offer he couldn't refuse and I got my Mustang back. Currently in the process of restoring it with the body and paint completed.
  • 18
    Jennifer California May 9, 2013 at 10:08
    Awesome story. My parents bought a 1962 vette in 1970. I remember riding between the seats as a small child. My parents sold the car to a family member around 1976 and it was gone. In 1999 I asked the family member about it and they still had it but it was being stored at an auto body shop by a friend. They were interested in selling it and I went to see it. It had been sitting outside since 1982. I made them an offer , they accepted and I had it delivered by flatbed to my house. Full of wasp nets and years of neglect my husband and I painstakingly restored it and are putting the finishing touches on it. When I drove it the first time, memories came flooding back ten fold. My story is not as cool as this story but its special to me. Nothing finer than bringing a part of the good times back. Thanks. Jennifer
  • 19
    Carl Cumming GA May 9, 2013 at 10:11
    I dream of finding my maroon, 1965, 327, convertible some day. I had to sell it when I was drafted in the Army for Vietnam. Great story!
  • 20
    Clayton Vern Griffith Reno Nevada May 9, 2013 at 22:29
    When you are in the land of HAN........."Hot August Nights", that little blip of a story can mean more than what the average US citizen would think. And yes, I think it. My memory car however was finishing a Masters Degree in San Jose, being recently married and driving a 53 MGTD. Maybe not the speed, but certainly the looks and the spirit of a sweet machine and the girl......the one that's still with me. My car may not be with me but the girl is.
  • 21
    Jerry Hamburg, New York May 9, 2013 at 11:22
    What a great story! If only I could find my old 1969 Plymouth GTX that way.
  • 22
    Jill San Jose, Ca May 10, 2013 at 18:12
    My story fits in with this one. When I was 15 I spotted a 1960 Corvette parked on the street. I would drive by every few days and would always see it in the same place. As time went on the car got a little sad looking (mostly dirty) then one day a for sale sign went up on it. Well I'm 15 and can't drive but that didn't stop me. They were asking $1,100.00 for the car. I had $100.00 saved and my wonderful Dad co signed a loan for me. I worked to pay it off. I drove this car daily and to school. I then decided to fix it up and it went to many car shows always winning. Then 1 day my x husband decided I wasn't going to drive it again and with jacks stuck it in the corner of my garage. There it sat for over 40 years. My goal in life was to drive it again before I died. I found a wonderful person to restore my baby (G.M. Sports of San Jose) and I am now driving my baby once again. It has a fuel injection on it so that is a little tricky and it does have its moments but I would not trade my car for anything. Another thing I forgot to mention is the car went up for sale because the owner was in Viet Nam and told his parents to sell it because he was afraid he wouldn't come home. He did and came to look for his car and found it had a wonderful new home....This car is the love of my life.
  • 23
    BOB WILLIAMSON wellington,fl.33414 May 10, 2013 at 07:29
  • 24
    Larry Snyder North Carolina May 10, 2013 at 20:26
    This story brings back great memories of growing up in the late 50s in San Jose and my 66 Vette I bought new and still own today. Great story, will have to read his books.
  • 25
    Bob Nettune Athens,Texas May 10, 2013 at 21:48
    Back in the summer of 1963 just before the start of my senior year at Villanova University my dad bought me a brand new 1963 silver vette 327/340 HP at the Paramus/Oradell, N.J dealership.To this day I'm convinced he bought it for me as a "chic magnet" because he didn't approve of the girl I was dating at the time. I loved that car and drove it daily until 1969 when I made the mistake of loaning it overnight to my then relatively new girlfriend. When she came out of her house in the morning the car was gone, stolen, never to be seen again! Over the years I have lamented the loss of that car and longed to recapture my youth by purchasing another similar one. For years I watched the Barrett Jackson, Mecum etc car auctions looking for an adequate replacement. Two years ago after finally accumulating financial success sufficient to be able to afford one I saw a 1965 silver coupe with silver interior, factory air, and 327/350hp. Living these past 30+ years in Texas I felt I needed factory air and silver interior to repeal the Texas summer heat (My original had black interior and no air). I spotted this car advertised as coming up for sale at the annual Mecum Spring Classic in Indiana. I went to my wife asking her if it would be OK with her for me to use some of our savings to purchase the car and finally have closure on my loss years earlier. There was no way she could deny me for she was the "girlfriend" I had entrusted the original car to 42 years earlier! Even though I wasn't a vette owner 2 years ago some years earlier I had joined NCRS. I contacted them asking if they could help evaluate the car prior to the auction. For $200 the main NCRS administrator in Indiana travelled to the location of the car prior to it arriving at the auction grounds, did a complete evaluation including putting it up on a lift, test drive,etc and mailed me a detailed photo/written report and suggested it was a high quality driver which was exactly what I wanted. The car went up for auction on Friday. My son and I flew to Indianapolis Thursday evening, looked over the car and bought it the next day. Every time I drive it so many memories return. As an aside, my wife says one of the reasons she married me was the fact that I didn't get mad at her when the original vette was stolen!
  • 26
    Tony Drago Nevada May 11, 2013 at 15:01
    My late uncle bought a brand new 63 Stingray right off the show room turn table of Stanley Chevorlet in Norwalk Ca. The 60's in southern cal were the best.....
  • 27
    Emory Rickett Hanahan,SC May 11, 2013 at 18:07
    Great story,I 've also been trying to find my first new car,it was a 1975 Rally Sport Camaro,I've tried everything I can think of and so far no luck.The vin number is 158765N635942,if anybody runs across this car,please e-mail me,rickettr1@yahoo.com,thanks.
  • 28
    Joebsa Rhode Island May 11, 2013 at 22:42
    Joe Failla, you don't beat Bill's story! Not by a long shot. As an owner of both a Corvette & a Mustang, I can tell you that I get five times as many looks while driving my Corvette (red roadster) occasionally than when I am driving my daily driver Mustang convertible (yellow w/racing stripes). Corvette is the ultimate of American muscle and everyone's dream who has never owned one. Bill's story shines like a diamond and yours is dull as a lump of coal....Sorry!
  • 29
    Ron Toledo Oh. May 12, 2013 at 13:30
    Purchased 63 FI in 1965 then came family and gone was the vet. 1970 purchased 1965 327-350HP sold! Then purchased 1990 ZR-1 nightmare with electrical problems, dealer bought back gave all my money. Then 2002 purchased 1965 white / black top and it's not going any where but around Ohio and Michigan. Still have the complete linkage from 63 in Hurst box as broke pin and had to come up with better unite to race. Numbers don't quite match but no one knows. I would sure like to know if my old FI is in someone's garage. Enjoy that's why we have them. Ron
  • 30
    Al Zak North Georgia May 12, 2013 at 00:48
    That brings back memories of my 63 SW. I had more fun with it than any Corvette since. I wonder what ever happenned to it. Last time I saw it, it was parked in front of a parts store in suburban Chicago, oh so many years ago.
  • 31
    roberts alabama May 13, 2013 at 18:22
    a lucky man
  • 32
    Dave Arizona May 14, 2013 at 14:21
    I have been following Bill Ogden's adventures since he began posting some of them on the NCRS forum. Have all four books and every now and then, they are fun to re-visit. My wife and I have had dinner with Bill and Heidi, and they are a charming couple. I strongly encourage anyone to read his stories...they will make you feel good!
  • 33
    Rich Schesser Manhattan, Ks. May 14, 2013 at 14:27
    I loved this story but it left me yearning for the first vette I owned. After high school my first job allowed me to trade the VW beetle I was driving for a '62 vette from a car lot in K.C. It was desert sand inside & out with a white soft top, & missing hard top. I only owned it for one year before blowing a head gasket and couldn't afford to fix it so traded for a El Camino. I heard the fellow I traded it to sold it from his car lot in Ogden, Ks. to a soldier from nearby Ft. Riley so where it went from there who knows? I've since owned a '68, '71, and now have a '99 roadster. My son and I did a total restoration of the '71 which he now owns. He's able to say he rode home from the hospital in it when he was born so he won't be ever selling it.

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