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Corvette Restoration - Total Restoration, Part I

Corvette Restoration Unveils Their 50th Body-Off Resto

James Miles Jun 1, 2004
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Larry Bartley receives David Vandergrift's keys to his '67 427/390 big-block. In the coming months, you'll see this car being blasted apart and returned to factory condition-if not better.

I recently made the statement, "There's more than corn in Indiana:" a well-known slogan for us Hoosiers and anyone else who has visited Indiana Beach. Only a mere couple of months after the story the reference appeared in-the Pace Car Reunion and a subsequent Brickyard 400 feature, which also involved my home state-I find myself yet again writing about "The Crossroads of America." And why not? If anything, Indiana seems to be a crossroads for Corvettes!

It was on a trip down to Bowling Green, Kentucky, that I made a pass through Elizabeth, Indiana, to visit our friends at Corvette Restoration. For those of you with January's issue nearby, you may remember some of their handy work gracing the cover, as well as the inside scoop on a teenager's dream restored-a '60s roadster, "Brack's Birthright." It seems that Corvette Restoration was about to begin their 50th body-off restoration, the 50th in 13 years of Corvette-only work. Not wanting to miss out on this rare and momentous occasion, doubly so for shop owners Larry and Loretta Bartley (and his staff-Larry Jr., Mike Godlewski, and Dan Darst), Team VETTE set out to record this historical event. But what's a historical record without some background first? For that we turned our ears and microphones to Larry's wife Loretta:

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Seen here is just a portion of Corvette Restoration's staff. From left to right is Larry Bartley, Loretta Bartley, and Mike Godlewski.

Larry grew up with four other brothers. His family was very close, but with five boys together, they got into the usual mischief that all boys get into, times five. He started earning his own money by shining shoes, and then he would walk around downtown Louisville to find more work. He also worked outside a grocery store, taking bags to cars. When he got old enough, he worked inside stocking shelves. In the evenings, he would make his own artwork, sandblasting designs into mirrors down in his basement. Larry would do almost anything to earn a dollar. He had numerous other jobs, but the one he really enjoyed was working at a body shop. He started working on cars at his home in the evenings and eventually opened his own place in his garage at home working on hot rods, street rods, and the classics. He found that working on Corvettes was his favorite way to spend his hours and soon acquired his own style and expertise. This was all back in 1975 when Larry could paint a car for $200.

Larry has had both body and restoration shops all around Louisville. It started out as Bartley's Corvettes and Paint. Then it became Corvettes Only, and now it's Corvette Over the years he has had 80 people working for him, and he says only about four had done his type of work-which really says something about the quality of his art form since Larry won't hire just anyone. Overall, Larry and his crew have worked on over 3,000 Corvettes, varying from minor repair to major body-off restorations.

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Here's one of Corvette Restoration's finished projects. Can you believe that this fine example of Vette-dom was once merely a shell of a car?

Aside from being featured on television, Larry has achieved minor stardom with his achievements that include: finishing two Corvettes for Austin-Texan Bud Adams; a Corvette for a WHAS TV giveaway; painting the Corvettes for the Corvette Homecoming in Bowling Green, Kentucky; and a total body-off restoration on the Bill Mitchell '67 COPO Corvette for Don Newton in 1992. Larry has also had quite a few articles written about his projects in various magazines-most recently the Jan. '04 issue of Vette.

As Larry got to be very well known, people were dropping into his shop all the time to check out his works of art. He had so many people stopping in that the company was getting behind. He had to work late nights to try to get caught up. This was about the time I (Loretta) came into the picture. The first time I saw his shop, I was amazed at the preciseness and the time and effort that he puts into each one of his projects. To Larry, each Vette really is more than 'just' a car; each Corvette has its own personality, and every one takes different types of attention.

Eventually, the decision was made to move the shop. We found the perfect place in Elizabeth, Indiana, on top of a hill overlooking Louisville, Kentucky, at the back of a dead-end road. With 19 acres, a pole barn, and a beautiful view, we knew we had found the perfect place to set up shop and a family. After a few jobs, we added on a paint booth and put up another building to store Corvette parts. And years later, here we are today, getting ready for our 50th body-off.



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