I don't remember the exact date. All I can tell you is that it was the autumn of 1967. I was 12 years old, and had just entered the seventh grade. Since my elementary school only covered grades K-6, I now was taking a bus to a school about three miles away from my house.
One fall afternoon, I was occupying a window seat on the big yellow bus that would take me home after another grueling day of trying to survive early adolescence. At this point in my life, my interests mainly centered around music ( I was, and still am, a major Beatles fan), the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, and grudgingly, the realization that the opposite sex may actually be of some yet unrealized value. Automobiles were most definitely not on my radar. I liked the look of the relatively new Ford Mustang, but it didn't keep me awake at night, or haunt my dreams when I was asleep.
That was about to change. As I starred out the window of the bus, cruising down the main drag of our suburban town, I saw the most amazing machine I had ever seen pass by at a rather impressive rate of speed. It was a little blue coupe, shaped like a horizontal Coke bottle on steroids, and as its shapely rear end passed by, I could clearly read the word "CORVETTE".
Now, I had heard of Corvettes. My dad was a car guy, and I had two uncles about ten years my senior that were both deep into automobiles as well. Corvettes were discussed as something to be aspired to, but likely never to be obtained by our working class families. This, however, was a whole new ballgame. This little car didn't look like any Corvette I had ever seen. Deep in the recesses of my still developing grey matter, a switch was flipped, and a lifelong passion was ignited. Again, I was 12 years old, at least four years away from a driver's license, and with absolutely no prospects for an income or a line of credit, but it didn't matter. Some day, a 1968 Corvette would be mine, no matter what.
Not too long after this experience, I had occasion to actually visit a Chevrolet dealership. My parents were looking for a new car, and Chevys were usually at the top of the list for what would be reliable family transportation. As I entered the glass walled emporium, there it sat. It was a blue (by now I knew it was called LeMans Blue) Corvette with a matching bright blue interior. I was drawn to it like a bug to a bright light. I asked the salesman if I could sit in the car, and sensing an upcoming sale with my parents on an Impala, he obliged. As I settled into the lovely blue vinyl bucket seat, I realized that I had found Nirvana. The deeply set tach and speedometer, the vast array of gauges, the radio in the center of the dash, and a bank of something I had never seen or heard of, a fiber-optic light monitoring system. The salesman, obviously noticing my amazement, reached in and pulled on the light switch. "Watch this" he said. When the flip-up headlights sprung into action, the light monitors began to glow in red, yellow and green hues. It made the entire dashboard look like a high-tech Christmas tree. Again, the hook that was chomped by the initial view of the car was now fully set. There would be no escape!
The next few years I became a person possessed. I wrote to Chevrolet, told them they had a prospective customer on their hands, and asked for any info on the car they could send me. They sent the usual dealership brochure, a list of options and their costs, and a wealth of other technical data that I absorbed like a sponge. They also sent me a mailing tube. In the tube was a poster that had an artist's rendition of every year Corvette to that point, with production numbers printed underneath. If they had sent me an uncut sheet of one hundred dollar bills from the mint I would not have found it more valuable. I gazed upon that poster on my bedroom wall for years afterwards, and it never lost its fascination.
After that, I made a habit of finding my way to a Chevy dealership every fall to gaze upon the latest update of my aspired to car, and sweet talk a salesman out of a dealership brochure. While Chevy continued to upgrade the car for a few years, I always thought the 1968 model was still the cream of the crop. 1969 saw the 327 engine go away, and the "Stingray" name reappear, 1970 and 71 Vettes showed up with egg crate grilles and side vents, and rectangular exhaust ports. Not an improvement in my eyes. In 1972, the engines got de-horsepowered, but worse, the fascinating light monitors no longer existed. That was too much for me. While the 1973 was a clean, inspired design with its rubber front bumper, it ushered in the era of Vettes that turned into touring cars instead of sports cars. Again, I wasn't impressed. I still wanted a '68.
I graduated high school in the summer of 1973, tried my hand and brain at a local college for about a year, and then decided to enter the work force. I was tired of school, and I was never going to get a Vette while paying tuition!
I got a decent paying job in the fall of 1974, and after a few initial setbacks with low-seniority layoffs and such, settled into working for a living. When the spring of 1975 bloomed, I decided it was time to go looking for my Corvette. I was 19 years old, employed, and didn't have a lot of bills to pay, since I was still living at home. The search began.
One detail that made the search harder was the fact that I was looking for a 68, hopefully blue, but not a deal breaker if it wasn't, and I wanted an automatic transmission. In the late 60's, most Corvettes were manual shifts, so autos were rare. I knew how to drive a stick, thanks to a highly abused 66 Mustang my father had owned, but I really didn't enjoy shifting gears.
Since this was before the day of the internet and computers, resources were limited to hanging out at used car lots and reading endless lists of classified ads, particularly in the Sunday paper. I found lots of stick shift Vettes, usually highly mistreated and worn at this point, and almost always overpriced.
May 19, 1975. I took a ride up legendary Telegraph Avenue on the western edge of Detroit, to a place called "The Vette Shop". This place did more service on Corvettes than selling of them, but they usually had a couple of cars for sale as well. The shop also was the only Detroit area dealer for the new Bricklin automobile, so they were parked on the lot in every color on the chart. I walked in and found a salesman who appeared to be highly bored with his lot in life. "I'm looking for a 68 Corvette," I said, and I'm hoping to find an automatic."
He looked at me like I was the personification of some heaven sent being about to enrich his life. "You want an auto?" he said, looking like he couldn't believe what he had heard.
"Yep" I said, and prepared for the usual "We don't have any automatics, and wouldn't take one on trade" line I was now used to getting from these guys.
"I just got one in" was, instead, what I got for a response. "Lets go take a look."
I could feel the adrenaline racing through my bloodstream as we wandered out the door.
"There she is" he said, pointing at a Silverstone Silver 1968 Corvette coupe. 327-300 automatic with air conditioning, power steering, power windows, and something I had not seen before, a gunmetal grey vinyl interior. Yeah, it wasn't Lemans blue, but it wasn't bad, and as I had found out in the last few years, the color of the car could always be switched. Soon, it would be!
Sometimes I have a hard time remembering my own birthday anymore, but I can still tell you the odometer reading on the car when I climbed in it: 82,707 miles.
The paint on the car was a bit faded, both interior door handles were broken off, and the rear positraction clunked like most Corvettes that needed their fluids changed always did. I didn't care. This was the embodiment of seven and a half years of working toward this moment. I had to have this car.
"$2950 and its yours," said the salesman, but in typical used car salesman form, he also said "better hurry though. I have this girl who really wants that one bad. She's coming in this afternoon."
That's all I needed to hear. I flew home and told my father I had found my dream car at last, and asked if he would come look at it with me. I knew I would need a co-signer on a loan to buy the car, and if he didn't approve, I was dead in the water. Amazingly, he agreed. We drove right back to The Vette Shop, and once again roused Mr. Personality. My Dad went around the car, we took it for a ride, and then the dealing began.
"Would you take $2800 for it?" my Dad asked the salesman. All I could think was if this other girl was so hot-to-trot for the car, he probably wouldn't deal.
"If you make the deal right now" was, instead, his reply. "I want the door handles fixed too" my dad told him, and amazingly, he agreed.
It was decided that we would pick the car up the next day after dealing with the bank. I left Mr. Salesman a five dollar deposit on the car, and headed for Security Bank and Trust.
I can still see the loan officer at the bank's face when my father and I told him we were co-signing on a loan to buy a Corvette for me. He looked at my father, rolled his eyes, and then put through the paperwork. He obviously didn't approve, and probably thought we were both nuts.
I didn't get much sleep that night, but the next morning, the bank called with the loan approval, and off we went to fulfill what was to that point of my life, my life's dream.
I think I only came home to sleep and eat the next few days. I drove the Vette all over the neighborhood, giving rides to friends, hanging out at the local A and W drive in, and just basically living the dream, literally. It was the best of times.
In the ensuing years, I've owned a few more Vettes, and restored more cars than I can remember. That little blue coupe, a 12 year old's dream car, changed everything forever.