44 years after buying his first Corvette, a terminally ill enthusiast finds allies to take delivery of his last

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Evan Griffey

“My other car is a Corvette,” Larry told the girl as he opened the passenger door and ushered her inside. “Well, it’s on order, anyway.” Her response was a sustained giggle, followed by open laughter, and who could have blamed her? The old Datsun was clearly on its last legs, with a wooden 2×4 propping up a collapsed driver’s seatback. Larry was telling the truth, but there was no way to prove it; his order for a mahogany ‘76 would end up sitting at the factory for quite a while. “I wanted a four-speed manual,” he recalls, “and they were only shipping automatics.” After six months or so, his dealer called and told him his ship had come in. In the meantime, Larry had closed a very different sort of deal: that laughing girl in the passenger seat of a worn-out sedan had agreed to be his wife, modest personal transportation notwithstanding.

He lost her six years ago, to an aneurysm which struck without warning and left him alone in his Tacoma-area home, a hundred miles from the Pacific Coast. Over time, he made his peace with it, starting a new relationship and making new plans. One of those plans: to buy a new eighth-generation Corvette, once his local dealer could make room for him on the waiting list. There was an available color which seemed pretty close to the ‘76 he’d sold years ago, but he was in no particular hurry to take delivery.

Until he was. They told him the cancer was “aggressive”. The surgery might get it all — but then it didn’t. With enough radiation, he might outlive the tumors; one-third of people with his diagnosis get five years or more. But there would be no way to know in advance. There was no way to control the situation. So Larry focused on what he could control. He would go ahead and get in line for that C8 ‘Vette. He wouldn’t worry about the money, because he wouldn’t need it in the future.

Evan Griffey

Larry called dealers. A lot of dealers. They told him that he wasn’t the only fellow looking to take delivery in a hurry. The waiting lists were long and they were mortared solid with five-figure deposit checks. One afternoon, he sat down and wrote a letter to the editorial team at Hagerty on the subject. We used it as the subject of an article on C8 dealer markups and advised Larry to bide his time, not knowing that he couldn’t. Larry responded shortly afterwards, telling us his story and noting that, “I’m being selfish in my desire to own a C8 ASAP, but… there’s a bit of justification.”

We wanted to help Larry, but how? As fate would have it, we’d just heard from a fellow who claimed to know of a dealer with a few open C8 slots. Tony Hull, an Atlanta-area businessman and fast-Chevy enthusiast with a recently-acquired ZL1 1LE. “I’ve lost a few friends to cancer over the years,” he said, “and it would be an honor to help make this dream come true.” Tony put us in touch with Jim Frageau at Blasius Chevrolet-Cadillac in Waterbury, CT, who indicated that he might be able to get Larry on the front end of a waiting list, courtesy of a customer who had decided he’d rather wait for the upcoming Corvette convertible. “Additional dealer markup?” he laughed. “We don’t play those games. Let’s get the man a car before it’s too late.”

At the same time, we were speaking directly to Chevrolet representatives. There were strong sentimental reason for GM to help us, but there was also the potential that they’d be taking a car away from a potential repeat buyer in favor of a fellow who wouldn’t be returning to a showroom again. We needn’t have worried. The word came down from Detroit: “Let’s make this dream come true for a loyal customer”.

With help from Jim Frageau, Larry built his Corvette on Chevrolet’s dream machine of an online configurator. Tony Hull summed it up nicely: “It would be easier for you guys to list the options he didn’t take!” Laughing, Larry agreed: “I knew I wanted the Z51 package — that’s a must-have for me — but I didn’t want to spend too much extra money on the nice-to-haves. I was saying ‘No… no… no…” to the options. Then I realized that there was no reason to hold back.” His Long Beach Red C8 captured the spirit of his ‘76 original, with a full complement of luxury options and a black racing stripe. The plan was for Larry to fly to Blasius Chevrolet-Cadillac, take delivery, then return home to Washington state at his leisure.

Evan Griffey

By the time his car arrived, however, there was some concern that the increasing pandemic panic could affect those plans. “I’m not afraid to go out there and get it,” Larry told us. “What’s it gonna do, kill me?” But everyone else, both at Blasius and here at Hagerty, didn’t want him to take the risk. Which led to the question: was there anybody who could get a priceless early-build Corvette across the country at double-time speed without putting a whisker of a scratch on the factory-fresh paint?

Over the years, Hagerty has used Reliable Carriers again and again for these sorts of special missions, so we made the call again. Bob Sellers, Reliable’s COO, was succint in describing the company’s response: “As we learned about the situation, we knew this man needed his car and needed it now. So we made it happen. It’s what we do!”

Blasius handled the paperwork via FedEx. The Corvette was gently loaded onto a Reliable carrier. All that was left was to deliver the car — and maybe surprise Larry a bit when it was time to do so. Could we get a ‘76 Corvette in the same color as Larry’s original? A search of local Hagerty members came up empty, but then America’s Car Museum stepped in. ACM is well-known, both around its Tacoma home and across the country, as a spiritual home for Corvettes on the West Coast. One of their volunteers, Don Wilson, had a ‘76 in what looked like the right color. Another volunteer, Dick Hansen, drove it to Larry’s home.

Larry Lee 1971 Corvette 2020 Corvette
Evan Griffey

That’s where it all came together. Larry was shocked by the ‘76. Did he have a photo of his original car? Yes he did. Meanwhile, his new C8 was rolling off the ramp in brand-new condition. “That ‘76… it was fast for the time, but it was a slug compared to this thing!” And once again, he had a girlfriend who hadn’t been quite sure about a Corvette order he’d described to her. She chided him about the Long Beach Red, saying he’d called it “dark red”.

“It’s not dark red, it’s… beautiful!” Everyone posed for the obligatory pictures. The Reliable driver, no stranger to this kind of joy, nevertheless took a few shots on her iPhone. Larry beamed as the old car gently rumbled away before taking a seat in his new ‘Vette. Luck had been on his side: there was none of that seemingly omnipresent Seattle rain.

“I know the rain won’t hurt it, but I’m not ready to take it out yet unless the road is completely dry,” he laughs, recalling the delivery a few days later. “It’s a firecracker. Soon as we hit five hundred miles I’ll light the fuse.” He’s made plans: the car will go to his forty-eight-year-old son. “They’re down in Portland, expecting a child. I told him he didn’t need to be in a hurry to come drive it. He’ll get his chance. Just not yet.” In the meantime, Larry’s taken one big trip: a drive all the way to that Pacific coast and back, his girl by his side, enjoying the times he’s had behind the wheel of a Corvette, and the times, however few, yet to come.

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