by Don Daniels
I was 10 years old (a most impressionable age) when the first Corvettes came
out. As my father was then the Purchasing Agent for Chevrolet's Grey Iron
Foundry ("The World's Largest") in Saginaw Michigan, I was part of the Chevy
family and treated to some of the inside scoop at the time, and the news long
For instance, I knew that "Every Chevy dealer wanted one of those new Corvettes in his showroom" if only to bring in the crowds to marvel and dream at the unique sense of future and fantasy the Corvette promised -- and then, when the practicalities of family and such prevailed -- many would end up buying a Bel Air. I also understood the relationship of that reality to my Father's claim that "there was a thousand dollar bill in every Corvette glove box" -- although I must admit it may have taken me a little while to realize it wasn't a literal greenback, but just virtual representation of the shortfall between each car's selling price and the true cost to Chevy for the earlier models.
And so with the stories, the nation-wide excitement, and my own thrill at finally seeing one behind plush roped stanchions, and then actually on the road, my own dreams grew with the success of the car.
By the time I was in high school, my father, a conservative, ordered, but dedicated gentleman, had been transferred back to Chevy's Central Office in Detroit and had risen in stature to the point where he was entitled to occasionally drive home for the week-end most any car in Chevy's line-up. I continually begged and pestered him to bring home a Corvette, but this only happened a time or two in all the years that followed, the on-going frustrations of being so close but still just a bit too far only fueling the fires of desire burning within me.
In 1964, nearing the end of another spring semester at Central Michigan University, I was all set to spend the summer up at the new Houghton Lake Playhouse, where I expected to earn 6 hours of 'A' by handling the sound, lighting, and maybe doing a little acting. But my father heard that Chevy was seeking college students to serve as summer interns with these new-fangled computers that Chevy was introducing into its business processes. Hearing that a Programmer Aptitide Test would be given to all candidates, knowing that I was much better at taking tests than was evidenced by my GPA, and, I assume, thinking that an 'honest' job would be good for me, he pushed me to apply.
Well, I always enjoyed taking tests, and as my mode of transport was still a bicycle and it would finally be nice to own a car..., I at least decided to take the test. I guess we were all a bit surprised to hear that I was indeed offered one of four spots, particularly when it was learned that the other three winners were all Dean's List material from the University of Texas, Michigan, and MIT (it was only after the end of my third summer there, that I was told that my job offer was due to having the highest PAT score).
So, as my summer of learning and programming computers was ending across the street from the GM Building, I talked Dad into driving me home via that of a fellow advertising a '56 Corvette for sale. Now the paint job for this car was merely a gray primer, although it did have a pair of loud, wide, black racing stripes down the center. Speaking of loud, the car had a special high-performance 327 aluminum block engine that dumped out into 4-inch well pipe hand-welded under the rocker panels and belching out in front of the rear wheels. It had lost most of it's chrome along the way including its grill "teeth" (leaving a gaping maw) and, I was to find out later, had been raced by the owner previous to this one, who had rolled it a time or two. With a racing cam and solid lifters, it produced at idle a broken rhythm of coughs, Bams, and wheezes, that made it always sound like it would die out in the next second or two. But fitted with two four-barrels, it would pass anything on the road but a gas station. (Indeed, when I first drove it up to CMU (140 miles) I had to stop twice to fill-up).
But they say that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." And my eyes were totally blinded by the beauty I saw, even though it clearly originated much more from within me than without. When we came roaring and coughing home, my mother was aghast, first at what she heard, then at what she saw. But she put a brave front on it for my sake. However, as she so often told the story, as soon as I roared off to show my friends, she lit into my father. "How on *earth* did you ever allow him to buy that... that monstrosity?!" she all but screamed at him.
But to his credit, he stood his ground, untypically raised his own voice, and as he repeatedly poked his finger firmly at her, he replied in no uncertain terms, "If you were there and you saw the look on his face, you wouldn't have been able to say 'No' to him either!!"
Well, here we are five decades later, and despite having owned three more Corvettes in the interim, the look is back!