Rides from the Readers: 1968 Chevrolet Corvette and 1993 Ford Mustang 5.0
Hagerty readers and Hagerty Drivers Club members share their cherished collector and enthusiast vehicles with us via our contact email, firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re showcasing some of our favorite stories among these submissions. To have your car featured, send complete photography and your story of ownership to the above email address.
Editor’s note: Though most installments in this reader-focused series follow a standard format, it was most appropriate to let Mark tell this story in his own words. Enjoy!
The story I grew up with: Late 1973. My oldest sibling, Don, was 18. He went to our father and said, “Dad, I want a Corvette.” I can imagine Dad’s reply, one that many Korean War-era veterans probably would have made, something like, “Good luck to you, kid” or, “Get in line.”
“Pop,” my brother rebutted, pulling $800 in cash out of his pillowcase, “I want a Corvette.” I bet Dad realized that, at that point, this kid was serious.
By the time Nixon’s conspirators were convicted, Don had dragged Dad all over Detroit, finally locating just the Vette he wanted, a 1968 original-owner beauty with the 427 big-block and a four-speed. It still gets me today. How many 18-year-olds of any generation can afford a four-year-old Vette without their parents’ money? Great job, brother!
This car became legendary around our haunts. The Telegraph Road and Grand River Avenue areas of Detroit roared with street rods, and Don’s big-block was right there causing many of the rumbles with minimal muffling through its pipes. The first Road & Track I ever set my paws on, the then-new October 1983 issue, I couldn’t put down, and I still have it! I was sold. As I grew up and into local car culture, all my buddies and school friends knew that Mark’s oldest brother had a bad Corvette. In ’89, when Michael Keaton appeared on screens as Batman, all Don’s neighborhood kids got the first look at Don’s newly black-painted ride, and immediately dubbed it the Batmobile.
Don had done to the Vette what the hot-rodders of the day generally did. He swapped out the timing chain for a gear drive (which sounds like a blower). He set in place aluminum needle-bearing roller rockers; a Canton windage tray oil pan; the recognizable yellow Accel Super Coil which, back then, I always thought was a magneto; and a scatter shield. He extended the front, in Mako Shark fashion, molded in a front air dam, and removed the pop-up headlamps. A dedicated Harley rider, he also customized an armrest for the Corvette from a rear leather fender “seat” of an old Sportster. The armrest looks original and functions perfectly today. Don showed his artistic talents as he began to weave in fiberglass. The hand-laid artwork is exceptional and accents the Corvette well, making it truly one-of-a-kind.
Once, sometime in the ’90s, I called Don about some, um, racing going on around Grand River Avenue and Novi Road. I wanted him to bring the Vette out to run against a Nova that came off a trailer. He asked me if the other Chevy had a license plate. Guess I never thought to look. It did not, and he kept the Bow Tie at home that night.
My brother still owned the big-block the sad day a few years ago when cancer took him. Weeks later, I did not know what my sister-in-law would say when I asked her about keeping the Corvette in the family, but we were able to make that happen. Dad shared with us the details of the car’s 46-year-old story. He rattled off the street name in Detroit where my brother bought the Vette as if the two of them were there last week: “Lawndale, right over by the Dearborn border.” It was the first time my sister-in-law had heard the specifics.
As I went through the pole barn and collected Don’s Corvette material and memorabilia, I ended up with a stack of original 1967 and 1968 Car and Driver, Road & Track, and Motor Trend magazines and learned more history behind his actions. The May 1968 issue of Car and Driver described: “… the all-new styling of the ’68 Corvette. It’s a brutal, masculine-looking machine …” In the ’90s, Don had gotten the license plate OL BRUTE, evidently as a homage to the original Car and Driver article about the “immortal, ultimate American car.”
For me this was an enormously powerful day with my father. As a genuine car guy myself and the youngest of his six children, the ’68 was so significant in part because of what I had put Dad through—25 years after Don’s buying experience.
The story I’ve lived: Wednesday, May 7, 1997. I flew to San Francisco and bought my high school dream car, this 1993 5.0 LX five-speed convertible Mustang. I somehow convinced Dad, 25 years after his oldest child dragged him all over Detroit looking for his Barbarella, to fly out West, where he and I met at the airport and drove back to Detroit together.
While my brother in the ’70s had probably torn though a ton of newspapers, I had trawled the internet for months, clicking all over this great country in the search for my American V-8. Not only did I video the entire drive home, I used the story as my personal statement as part of my law-school application later that year. I felt the acts of researching, finding, securing, procuring and obtaining a pertineer lifelong goal somehow would ring true for the accomplished real-estate professionals I’d be dealing with in law school and the legal world.
The Mustang—despite excursions to, among other places, Florida, Pennsylvania, and back out to California—looks better today than the day I bought it from the original owner. I chose to leave the 5.0 mill mostly stock and build the car into a rolling amphitheater instead. I do love my music. The chrome Pony rims were the only visual change from factory. I am attached to its California heritage, however, and the Mustang only sees perfect days. When I told a friend it was about time to replace the top, as it is original, he responded, “That car has a top!?!” He’d never, not once, seen it up. I kept the California script front plate on it, and had Dr. Ru, the now-five-decade pinstriping guru of metro Detroit, beautifully hand-paint “California LX” on the deck lid.
The Corvette has gone through those decades wearing hand-smoothed flares housing 325-width drag radials, boasting seductive spoilers, engine mods and other marvelous customizations that Don and our brother-in-law Jim worked into the Stingray. I remember in the ’80s, watching my brother Don sitting on a milk crate, weaving in the fabulous fiberglass flares in the garage!
In 2019, an extensive mechanical rehab at Southfield, Michigan’s VetteStorations (a Hagerty partner and highly recommended place) rejuvenated the stunning “Batmobile” piece of machinery. A new 870-cfm Holley throws the mixture into an aluminum intake. The fiber optics all work, the rotary clock keeps pretty darn good time, and even the reminder buzzer nastily squeals away when my GM ’68 key is in the ignition and the door is open.
For decades Don called all Mustang 5.0s “Five Point Slows.” Indeed, brother, slower than the seven-liter for sure. Don told me a few years back of a gentleman admiring the C3 at a gas station. After a lengthy conversation, the fellow Vette owner offered a trade, title for title, for his then-new Corvette Grand Sport. My brother politely declined.
Even with all the years I have spent with the Stang and the (twice as many) decades Don enjoyed his Vette, this is really a story of our father. Dad is the one who fanned the flames of our love of the open road in roaring Americana. Dad was there when I was a newborn and Don was buying Ol Brute. Dad was there in the mountains driving home with me when I was in my twenties, twenty five years later, now over two decades past …
The story these days: June 7, 2019. I picked up the Vette from six months in VetteStorations’ shop. For all they did, the turnaround time there was exceptional. The following week, another brother, Dad’s fifth of six kids, joined me for a cruise in Ol Brute. Later in the day, after staring at it for what seemed like an hour, he was on the phone telling his partner, “I was in the Corvette today for the first time since I was 6 years old.”
I felt a surge of family pride. This feeling is why I have done and invested what I have. My only surviving brother sat on the same leather, touched the same door handle, and looked out the exact windshield he wasn’t tall enough to see through last time he was in contact with this beauty, over four decades prior. I am also very proud of the fact that I have not stalled Brute once in the time I have had it out.
Today I remain awestruck with the thought that, through the hell of the loss of a brother, Dad and I were able to take photographs with the two of us and these American V-8s when he came up from Arizona for the 2019 Woodward Dream Cruise that August, and again in 2021. Perhaps my children’s children will come to admire the images while appreciating the legacy.
The story to come: As haunting as the illness of cancer has been for so many good people, generational success can come from keeping masterpieces in your family. Perhaps my two elementary-school-age sons may one day come to sit in the driver’s seats of these two machines. Maybe between jaunts in their electric hovercrafts they’ll be able to turn the keys and roar off in these machines—both real parts of family history and true American treasures.
I hope to see you on the road!