I was 20, serving in Uncle Sam's Marine Corps in 1971 when I found the poor beast sitting behind a local furniture store. I made the owner and offer which he politely, but sternly refused. A month later I made him another offer, and then a third and maxed at $1200. The store owner finally gave in and I took the car home to my barracks on base .
Before the story really begins, I need to back track a bit. Just three years earlier, having seen the results of a particularly bad Corvette accident on the Long Island Expressway, I noted to my best friend that I would never own a convertible, much less a "plastic" car. Just two years later my friend Ken had a '60 Vette, painted what I think was AMC "big bad blue" , and he took me for a spin one day while I was home on leave. And it really was a spin. Around a corner, rear end breaking free and we were sliding sideways down the street. And I was hooked!
So when I found the '59, I ignored the black front fender on an otherwise green car. I ignored the bad carpets, 14" rims, and re-tread tires on the back. None of that mattered. I was not quite 21 and owned a Corvette!
The first repairs were replacement of the king pins and the exhaust. I opted for the low noise- low restriction mufflers, not wanting to attract too much attention from the military or civilian police. It wasn't long after that I had orders for Okinawa, Viet Nam and other points west as my job required. So the car stayed home on Long Island.
Sitting in the barracks reading Road and Track (or maybe Car and Driver), there was an article about uprating the 283. Gee... the same block as the current LT-1 engine... A letter home to my father, led to a job quote from Baldwin Motion, the Mako Shark guys. When I returned home, Baldwin put my car on a trailer and brought it up to my parent's new home in Massachusetts.
It was still green with a black fender and rusty bumpers, but under the hood was a brand new out of the crate LT-1, dual feed Holley, and you know the rest. To keep the cost within my corporal's pay, Baldwin use my old valve covers, starter, water pump, and other bits that were 1 to 1 swappable. Back on base in North Carolina, the restoration began. Lots of loving care to fix stress cracks, replace the wheels with aluminum "wire" mags, tires. New side moldings, carpets, and end to end wire harness. Then came the paint. Bridge Hampton Blue with white pearl teardrops and a new (well used) hard top in blue. Now she looked good and went fast.
I was smart enough not to street race big block Vettes, Hemi's, and a few other muscle monsters found on base. Partly because I was out classed, but also because I had a 3:36 rear end. But... that didn't stop my highway racing by any means. One guy in particular had a Ford Maverick that he put heart and soul into. And a lot of hard earned money, too. The first time he challenged me I said something like: "I've got a fiberglass body and a 500 pound weight advantage. Why don't we go from a 30mph roll?" Time and again he bought that line and every time I beat him.
You can't street light race with 3:36's. It a highway gear, right? Put that behind an LT-1, ride the clutch until you hit thirty, and then go. I'd take second gear at 70 and by 100mph it was all over. Well one fine day he met up with me, told me of his latest and greatest, and the challenge was on. But this time I offered him "pink slips". "If I beat you I get your 'Vette?" he asked.
When he caught up to me, we pulled off Highway 70 and I put my hand out. I thought he would cry while he dug out his registration and handed it over. I waited a few seconds, savoring the moment, and then gave it right back to him.
Incredulous is the best way to describe the look on his face. No, I didn't want his Ford. What the heck would I do with it, and why, when I owned a Corvette! I never told him that I set him up every time. Never told him that he could probably beat me every time if we were racing light to light. Some things are best left unsaid.
Two years later I was married. Five more years and the Corvette helped pay for my first home in New Hampshire.
In 1968 I saw a Lotus Europa in a showroom on Long Island. My best friend Ken was there, too. When Ken got married he sold his '60 Vette and I know he still misses it. In 1998 I found a Lotus Europa. It was a basket case. Really Ug-ly with a capital U! It took me 8 years to restore it. It's won lots of trophies and stuff. It's been in a parade to support a candidate for US Senate. It's even Corvette Bridge Hampton Blue.
The Lotus does lots of things better than my 1959 Corvette could. But if you ask my wife, she'll tell you right there, that '59 Vette was and is still my first love.