My 58 Corvette Stories


       I bought a 1958 Corvette in late 1970 when I was going to Navy diving school in San Diego, CA. I was riding a San Diego city bus when it passed a speed shop called the Service Center. Sitting in front with a for sale sign on it was a pretty red Corvette with chrome reversed wheels and teardrop cowl induction hood. At the time it was owned by a fellow name Hugh Williams, I remember that he was a submariner because he had a decal in the rear window proclaiming such. Hugh said it was the only manual transmission car his deaf wife could drive because it had a tachometer in it to let her know when to shift. The car was set up for drag racing. Along with the cowl hood it also had traction bars. It is interesting to note that the car looked like it was a factory built race car. It was a radio/ heater delete car with the high horsepower engine. At some point in its life it had been bored to a 301. I bought it for $700, which at the time was what I could afford; I got a loan from the Navy Base credit union. It needed a little work when I got it. Third gear was out of it and the ring gear on the flywheel would slip when you tried to start the engine cold. After the engine was warm and the car had driven only a short distance, the aluminum flywheel would expand and it would start on its own. It had big valve heads, probably the original ones that had badly worn valve guides, it smoked a little. It was kind of sad that I didn't have the time or money to rebuild the valuable original heads.

A picture Hugh Williams took in 1970 in front of the service center where I saw the car for sale.

       In only a few weeks with the help of one of my buddies from diving school, I rebuilt the transmission in the locker room at diving school and rebuilt the motor in the parking lot of the WWII barracks the diving school class stayed. One thing in my favor was the accessibility of the engine with no accessories. On the Corvette you could drop the pan while the engine was in the car. I found a pair of used heads that were off of a ’69 Chevy pickup 350. Not having room to bring the old heads home, I left them sitting along side the barracks. I put in a new flywheel, clutch, and pressure plate. I got it running only a couple days before I was to head for my new duty station at Norfolk, VA.

Another picture Hugh Williams took before I bought the car. sale.

       One of the other guys who graduated with me from diving school was also getting transferred to the east coast. He wanted to ride with me but there was not enough room for both our seabags and luggage. By the time I got checked out it was about 2:00 p.m. I drove past midnight varying my speed breaking the new engine properly. I was in the desert maybe 1:00 a.m. no traffic in sight, highway straight as a shot. I had been watching the odometer, when I got past the magic 500 mile break in period I thought to myself it was time to start putting some miles on and let this puppy roll. I let my speed creep up, 70, 80, 9 what's that? Cherry lights out here, the middle of the desert, the middle of the night? Damn, I don't even know where this guy was hiding. I got pulled over in the middle of the Arizona desert for speeding and I had only started running this fast just a few miles ago. I don't know if this guy was real or not but he was not going to let a sailor go without paying a $25 cash fine! That happened to be a good chunk of the cash I had! The $25.00 fine I had just gotten took the fun out of driving for the night and I was getting tired. Some how, in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert I found a little "art deco" motel that had a cheap room available.

       The next day I found myself headed toward Amarillo, TX. The Corvette didn't have a radio and even if it would have, it was so desolate it would have been hard to keep a station very long. It was still early in the day and it started to get cold and cloudy but the 301 was running just fine. When I stopped for gas it was then I noticed how really cold it was getting. Back on the road I noticed something blowing across the road from the north, I'm thinking, "your kidding right?" It was starting to snow. That's O.K. this won't last long, I’m in Texas. Yeah, right! After a while it started building up on the roadside and behind sign posts. Then I noticed snow blowing through the tiny gap at the top of the drivers window. When the snow was really building up outside I saw snow starting to settle in the coves over the gauges on the dash. Since this was a heater delete car I started to realize it could get cold. I purposely took the southern route, I-10 so I would be in warmer weather. I found a blanket to help keep me warm which I wound up keeping in the car. It accompanied me across the country and came in useful many times. When I reached Amarillo the snow was getting hard to drive in and I was getting cold and hungry and decided to stop to eat and warm up and let this thing blow over. I pulled into a roadside diner and almost got stuck pulling into a parking spot. While I was eating it kept snowing harder and harder and before I was done the little diner was full of people. Then came the news that we were in the middle of a blizzard and the State Police had issued a warning that it was getting dangerous out on the Interstate and they would not be allowing anyone to go back out on it. The Corvette was in a safe spot so I walked a block or so to the nearest motel but I was already too late, all the rooms were taken and the other motels were full too. I walked back to the standing room only at the diner to wait there. There was barely a seat left. When it started getting dark word came around that there would be a place to sleep at the Baptist Church a couple blocks away. Did you ever try to sleep in a church? I mean when other people were trying to sleep, all in the same room. I'm guessing there may have been 60 to 80 people camping overnight there. The benches were hard and a lot of people were snoring LOUD! I left a small donation but it was a miserable nights sleep. The next morning was a beautiful sunshiny morning but cold and the snow seemed to be a foot deep. I met an older gentleman from Oklahoma City who had wrecked his car and it was un-drivable. He wanted to hitch a ride to Ok. City but I wasn't really interested, I had the Vette packed full of gear and my seabag and a big painting of a horse on velvet, a souvenir of Tijuana which I still have, by the way. It was that afternoon that they started letting cars back on the interstate but we were warned it would be slow and one lane only. I got the Vette dug out and was heading out on the road and the old guy just got in and said he needed a ride so I let him go with me, I enjoyed the company though. The interstate was ice packed and there were a lot of vehicles abandoned along the road.

       There was at least one overpass that was completely snow bound but a trailer truck drove off the road, around the overpass and back on the road again. For most of that day we averaged maybe 35 mph all in the same lane playing follow the leader. The overpasses had one small lane trough them that was only wide enough for a trailer truck to drive through. Toward the end of the day, I misjudged one of the narrow lanes through an overpass and spun out and hit a snow bank. Luckily, we were spaced out far enough and going slow enough no one plowed into me but I did slide up a big drift. This was the first time I swear I heard fiberglass cracking. About 6 or 8 guys helped push the car back off the drift, everything looked fine so it was back on the road again. We made Ok. City sometime in the night, maybe 2 a.m. I dropped the old gentleman off at his house where he offered a warm bed and a hot breakfast but I was not tired and on a mission. I drove several more hours before fatigue caught up with me. I found a small gas station/diner in the middle of the night. I sat at a table in the back of the diner and laid my head on the table for a couple minutes but couldn't sleep. I filled the car with gas had a cup of coffee and bought a pack of No-Doz. Back on the road again. I was so, so tired but with the coffee and No-Doz my eyes were open wide. I drove well into the day and found myself not far from my aunt and uncles house in the middle of Missouri. I stopped in and my aunt Margaret was the only one home. I asked if I could use the couch for a while, She gave me a warm bed. I could only sleep for a couple of hours so late in the afternoon she fixed a meal for me and sent me on my way. I arrived home around 7 p.m. as I remember. I went to sleep right away and slept until noon the next day.

       I had a couple weeks leave, the vacation was welcome. I hadn't been home for a year and a half. My next duty station was the U.S.S. LaSalle, LPD-3, it was a Marine troop carrier that carried about 2,000 Marines, 6 or 8 Marine landing craft, and a whole bunch of Jeeps, and it also had a landing pad on the back for helicopters. It was stationed in Norfolk, VA., a full days drive. I think it may have been 14 hours or so from home. There was no I-64 at the time which would have been virtually a straight shot. Instead, it was east on I-70 to Harrisburg, PA. then south for a couple hundred miles. I thought this was so cool to have driven a '58 Corvette from the Pacific to Atlantic Ocean.

       One day I was driving on Hwy. 1 in Va. Beach, Va. It was a beautiful afternoon, sun shining and a strong breeze blowing sand across the highway. Coming up on a red light I was caught in a chain reaction. I was coming up on a Ford Torino but with the sand blowing across the highway I lost just enough traction to slide into the back of the Torino. It wasn't a hard hit but the hood popped open and I heard glass break and fiberglass crack. This was the second time I heard fiberglass crack. I was sick when I got out of the car but totally surprised to see the only damage to the Corvette was two broken headlights! The only damage to the Torino was a small egg sized dent in the bumper. I offered the other driver $100. More than enough to buy a new bumper and have it installed on his car. He insisted that the police be called and fill out an accident report. I again offered to take care of the damages but he refused. I got a ticket for following too close so I chose to let my insurance take care of his car. The cop told me it was not real unusual for this to happen when driving near the beach in a car with big tires. I paid my $30 ticket and had just about forgot about the incident. He actually saved me $70! About a month later the guy driving the Torino shows up at the ship to talk to me. He said his insurance was going to take a big jump because of the accident. He was begging me to settle it off the books just like I wanted to do in the first place. I told him no deal, we had to call the police and I had to get a ticket. I kind of laughed and told him it was taken care of on my end. He was pissed but it served him right for not listening to me. By the way, my insurance DIDN'T go up. One day I found myself at the drag strip in Va. I was going to race it but it didn't pass inspection, it didn't have an approved scatter shield. This is the only time I tried to race it at a drag strip.

     After a couple of months the LaSalle went into dry-dock at the Philadelphia shipyard in Philadelphia, PA. One Sunday I had duty but the night before I had been out drinking with a couple buddies. The next day there were a couple beers left in the trunk so later in the day a buddy and I snuck a couple cups full of ice out to the parking lot and drank beer on ice. I have to admit it was the best beer on ice I had ever had but it would have been a Captains Mast had we been caught. I probably wouldn't do stuff like that today. It was while the ship was in dry-dock in Philadelphia I found a salvage yard that had two C-1 Corvettes in it, as best as I remember one was a '58 and one was a '59. The '59 had been burnt in a fire and all that was left were the hard parts, I got to see first hand what was left after a fire. I'm sure today most of the frame, motor, and transmission would have been salvageable, maybe they were but this was an active yard that was not big. Cars didn't spend much time there before they were crushed. The '58 however was still mostly there. It may have had front end damage that totaled it. It was here that I bought the convertible top frame. I paid $15 for the frame and mounting brackets. I never got around to putting a soft top back on the car but I did let the parts pass on to the next owner. Today, the convertible top frame would bring more than what I sold the whole car for in 1974, $1000.

     When the ship was headed back down to Norfolk the Captain passed the word that anyone who wanted transport their car in the cargo hold of the ship back to Norfolk with us could sign a waiver of liability and we would take the cars with us. There would be a bus to bring anyone back to get their car if they did not want to take it on the ship. I thought what the hey, it would be neat to take your car for a ride on a U.S. Navy ship, it was not everyday you had that opportunity. Besides, the Corvette was fiberglass so a little salt spray wouldn't hurt it. When I saw how the cars were loaded I was satisfied it would be a safe trip. You drove your car on a big pipe frame supported by cables that lifted the car by the wheels which were lifted by a huge shipyard crane. When your car was loaded on the ship you tied it down yourself with cargo straps. No problem. I signed the release and got the 'Vette. It was a little scary when I watched the cables tighten and start to lift the car. Although Corvettes were small they were still a heavy car. I don't know why I never got a picture of all the civilian cars on the navy ship but I didn't. That would be priceless! It was a one day trip back to Norfolk and the cars would be there with us. Just unload them and party on. The guys who didn't take their cars on the ship had a whole days work to ride back to Philly on the bus just to get their car. When I saw how they were unloading the cars I had a HEART ATTACK! What I didn't know was there was not the same loading/unloading sling in Norfolk as there was at Philly! What they were using was a sling of two cables that ran front to back on the car, using the bumpers on either end for support. Corvettes don't have bumpers made to support the car. I was SICK! Being I was in A division I had access to the structural metal supply. I was scrounging and digging trying to fabricate a better makeshift sling. After they got done with the big cars they changed the sling for the smaller cars using two cargo nets that supported the wheels. I was one of the last cars to unload and I didn’t get my frame support done in time. It was time to unload. One thing in my favor was the big wide tires completely filled the fender wells and stuck out slightly from the sides. It was time to move it and I had signed the waiver, if the car was damaged, it was on me. Cargo nets are made from rope and the Navy had good ones but there was nothing to protect the sides of the car when it was lifted. The crane operator was good and he took his time. The nets pulled up under the tires, but they also pulled in from the sides. I swear, this is the third time I heard fiberglass crack. The car moved ever so slowly over to the pier, then down, slowly, slowly. From the ship, the car didn't look to bad. I was so surprised after close inspection I couldn’t find a mark on the car! AMAZING! I was happy, it was time to party!

       One night a couple buddies and I were out on the strip, just outside the gate of the Norfolk Naval station. We met three girls who lived at Va. Beach. After a couple hours of bar hopping they said they were ready to head back to their apartment, could we give them a lift? NO PROBLEM! I went out to the parking lot to get the car, I would meet them out front. When I pulled up in a Corvette they questioned that we would all fit. After about a 10 second discussion we all decided we would try. You must realize there were bars and lockers lining both sides of the road for a quarter mile or so. I was driving and I crowded the driver’s door as close as I could. Next (Oh, by the way, this was during the winter and the top was on!) the smallest of the girls crawled in and laid on the package tray behind the seats. Then the next girl got in and was sitting as much behind the steering wheel as I was. Three were in and there were three more to go. The next guy got in and sat pretty much on the console. Then the third girl got in. Just as the last guy was getting in a pair of shore patrol appeared standing next to us out of no-where. Uh-oh, this was the law! Also, by now there was a crowd gathering to see what was going on. As the last guy was getting in one of the girls in a nice flirty way asked the shore patrol if we were about to get in trouble for this. They looked at each other, kind of enjoying the show, and said if all six of us could fit in the car and drive away they wouldn't try to stop us. They last guy squeezed in. I pushed in the clutch and asked someone to put the car in first gear. I was two people away from the shifter! Somebody said the car was in gear, let's go. I made a U-turn in four lane traffic and we made the five miles or so, all in one trip. None of us were totally sober and it would not have been a surprise if we had been pulled over!!

       As far away from home as I was, I still tried to make it home on holiday weekends. The ship would knock off on Fri. afternoon. I would drive all night and make it home by Sat. morning. A couple hours sleep and I would have Sat. night, Sun. night and Mon. morning. I would leave home at noon Mon. and be at the ship by muster Tues. morning! I guess that Corvette just loved to drive. I remember Christmas/New Year weekend of '71/'72 I came home for Christmas for 4 days. I drove back to Norfolk to stand my two 4 hour watches. After I stood my watches I realized I had another 4 days. I turned the Corvette around a came home again. I forget if gas was cheap, it must have been because an E4 didn't make just a whole lot of money. It was one of these long weekends a buddy who lived near Cincinnati, OH. He said he would split gas money if I would drop him off and pick him up on the way back. Hey, this made the trip a lot cheaper, at least 2/3 of it. On this particular trip I had just picked him up on the way back. As I was accelerating down the on ramp I happened to glance at the oil gauge only to see it setting on 0. I shut the engine off, coasted, would restart, and coast again until I got to the next ramp a couple miles away and rolled into a service station. It was Sunday evening and the service station lift was not being used. The attendant let me and my buddy put the 'Vette on the rack to see what was wrong. It seemed as though the oil pump just wasn't pumping. One nice thing about a '58 Corvette is that you can drop the oil pan without pulling the engine. We had the oil pan off in only 1/2 hour or so. When we pulled the oil pump, we saw the oil pump drive shaft was broken. No big problem, just replace the oil pump and back on our way. One problem though. This was not the modern day where there was an Auto Zone open until 8:00. We would have to wait until morning for parts. We stayed at my buddy’s house that night and first thing Monday morning we had the parts to fix it. We called the ship to let them know why we were late and that we would be there in the afternoon. With new parts in we were on the road by 8:30. We arrived maybe 5 hours late but we didn't miss ships movement so we thought it was no big deal, we should have been covered, or so we thought. The next day we were called before the captain, what they call a Captains Mast, kind of like a court hearing in civilian life. The captain was apologetic but said he had to give us 2 weeks extra duty. Two weeks extra duty meant you could not leave the ship for two weeks and you had to work an extra 4 hours on top of your 8 hour day. That SUCKS! Most divisions would cover their men for a day if they knew what the circumstances were. It was around this time that I had a guy wanting to buy the 'Vette. I found a '60 Jaguar convertible for $1000. I remember the beautiful long aluminum valve covers of a V-12 that looked like it needed lots of new gaskets to stop the oil leaks. Everything was in place to make a car trade. The night before the trade I happened to think, what if I had been driving a Jaguar instead of a Corvette. How many days or weeks would it have taken to get parts? After coming to my senses I realized that maybe I would just keep the 'Vette.

       It was during this time I had just paid off the 'Vette I decided to buy a motor cycle. I found a Kawasaki 175 Enduro that had been stripped for racing. A commercial pilot owned the bike and for whatever reason decided to sell it. The engine had been worked over, it had a racing rotor valve, port work, and extended rear wheel. It was as fast as any other bike in its class. I didn't have a trailer for it though. I bolted a hitch to the frame of the Corvette and to that was a bracket that the front tire of the motorcycle sat it. I forget if I needed help lifting the front wheel on the bracket or not but after the bike hooked up I would take of the chain and the dirt bike would follow the 'Vette every where it went. The motorcycle got a change of duty stations for me though. During a race (I was in the front 2 or 3 bikes of a 40 bike field) I locked handle bars with another bike and got ran over by 3 or 4 more before they got everything shut down. I got beat up pretty bad on that one. I broke about 5 bones in my lower back from that accident. One bike went right over the middle of my back and another hit my helmet. It left some deep gouges in the helmet but the knobby tracks across the back of my jacket washed out after a month or so. I was in the broken bone ward of the Naval Hospital in Norfolk for a month. If you were away from your duty station for more than 30 days you got transferred to a new duty station. If I had done that 6 months sooner, I probably would have been sent to a duty station that had a diving billet. I was a Navy Second Class diver but my ship, the USS LaSalle, didn't have a diving officer so I couldn't dive. That is another story.

       Back to the Corvette. After I got out of the Navy, the state cop decided he didn't like the mufflers I had on the Corvette. After several stops he was getting annoyed from the mufflers that were on the car even though I had to have dot legal mufflers to get a base sticker for the Norfolk Navy base which was still on the car. I finally made him happy. I painted the mufflers with aluminum paint to make them look brand new. He took the bait and finally left me alone, the car never was loud.

       I remember one night my buddy Rex and I were cruisin’ with the top down. We stopped at the park shootin’ the bull with a couple other car loads of kids and knockin’ down a couple Budweisers, the same park the cops sat at, it must have been a popular place. We noticed lightning to the west but we kept drinkin’ and enjoyed the light show. Storms were moving in but we still had a few beers to go. Finally the wind picked up, thunder got louder and rain was on its way. We didn’t move until it started to rain. I had 7 miles to get to the top. We jumped in the car, I went to fire it up and it backfired through the carburetor and caught on fire. Rex jumped out, grabbed the floor mat, jerked the hood open and started beating out the flames. The engine fired up, Rex jumped back in and we were headed to get the roof on. I wasn’t watching the speedometer but the Vette was fast enough we never got wet in the pouring rain with no roof, until we stopped to put it on, that is.

       After I was out of the Navy for several months I was ready to reclaim the ’66 SS 396 I let my brother drive and take care of while I was away. I knew a couple of guys who had a body shop with highway frontage along busy Route 3 in Ruma, Illinois. They let me park the Vette there with a for sale sign on it. When I first parked it there I was asking $1200 which was a good price at the time. After a couple of months I got a firm offer of $900 from a guy named Chuck Hardesty from Caruthersville, Mo. I told Chuck my bottom dollar was $1000. About a week later he came to pick it up. I have to admit I was somewhat sad seeing it head down the road. I guess Chuck owned the car about 30 years. He some what headed toward restoring the car. He found an original hood and some of the trim that had been shaved when the car was modified sometime in the ‘60’s. I had heard he sold the teardrop scoop off the original hood, someone told me there was just the outline of the original hood left hanging on the wall, those style scoops aren’t even available any more. I had forgotten Chuck’s name but I remembered that he was from Caruthersville, MO. Some years ago I was at the Cape Girardeau Swap Meet. I came across a really clean Pontiac Tempest. This car was so nice I wished I was looking for one. I started chatting with the guy and in our conversation I asked him if he knew of a car collector who would have bought a ’58 Corvette in the early ‘70’s. He said that would have been his dad who had recently passed away. I found out the car was available again but it had been restored enough to be out of my price range. Somehow, during these times, I was able to keep track of it. The car wound up in the hands of a guy named Mike Peters who realized the uniqueness of the car and is restoring it to its original design. I have talked to Mike several times and I am glad the car found someone with the ability and patience to preserve a piece of Corvette history. Mike has taken the car down to the frame and fiberglass and is doing a meticulous restoration. Despite what the car had been through Mike says the body is one of the nicest ones left. One of the nice surprises about the car is that the original color is silver blue, very pretty but also not real common, another of her well kept secrets.

       Another part of this story is an amazing coincidence that happened on the internet. This started in the fall of 2011 when my wife decided we needed a new bedroom set. When she and my daughter were cleaning out my old dresser to move it a business card that looked familiar fell on the floor. The front said it was from the Service Center, La Mesa, CA, on the back was the name Hugh Williams, the guy I bought the car from. One winter night I was surfing the net. One of my favorite hangouts is a place called the H.A.M.B. that is the acronym for the Hokey Ass Message Board. It is a forum for hot rodders, traditional hot rodders but it is big and moves fast. It probably moves 4-5 pages of posts per day. Being it is so big it is hard to keep people on topic, it is an adult site, you don’t want your little kids there because they will read language that they would hear in a car environment. Since the H.A.M.B. is so big I thought there would be a good chance that someone near San Diego might know of the service center or possibly even know Hugh. It was about 9:45 at night when I thought I would post a question to see if anyone knew of either. It was less than 5 minutes later when I got a notice of a personal message. This is almost unbelievable; the message was from Hugh himself! After a couple of posts, Hugh sent his phone number and says call anytime. Since I had just gotten the message I gave Hugh a call. This was 10:00 at night and we visited on the phone for an hour. Hugh now lives in eastern Tennessee and he hangs out of the H.A.M.B. himself. What are the odds? I just happened to post at the same time Hugh was surfing! It turns out that Hugh had taken several pictures of the car in front of the Service Center about the time I bought it. I only had one picture of the car and it is not the best. Hugh forwarded the pictures to me and has given me permission to use with this story for everyone to enjoy. When I bought the car 40 years earlier I had only met Hugh twice and didn’t have time to visit. It turns out that both before and after the sale we have similar interests in cars. Well, this story spans 40+ years, it is small chapter in my life but it covers quite a bit of a ’58 Corvette’s history. Maybe someone will read this story and be able to fill in the first 12 or so years of the Corvettes life. Strange things happen!