A first-generation Corvette is a time machine—back to the days of 283-inch V-8s under the hood, 30-cents-a-gallon premium in the tank, and when Corvette became America's Only True Sports Car.
But this particular '59 Vette is a time traveler of a different kind, thanks to its 35-year journey aboard an old school bus.
Ron Renick parked it in there back in 1972, after paying $200 for what was a worn-out ex-drag racer. A young man who was going into the service had approached Ron about buying it, and $200 later, it was Ron's.
Once he got it home and looked at the '59's VIN, he realized that it was an original fuelie car, one of 745 built with the RPO 579D 290-hp, solid-lifter-cammed and fuel-injected 283. As he was starting a business and didn't have the funds or time to restore it, he parked it. Instead of a garage or barn, Ron found a different place to store it. "I came across an old school bus, bought it, took all the seats out, and we put the '59 in the bus to store it," recalls Ron. "For 35 years, this car waited for the right time to be restored."
In 2004, Ron read a magazine article about a '66 Corvette that had been restored from a burned-out wreck, and the idea of restoring his '59 took shape again. "I said to my wife, ‘If only I could find someone like that man to restore our car,'" says Ron, who then went to Corvettes at Carlisle in search of a restorer—and parts.
Before then, Ron's research had turned up the C1's history as far back as 1964, when it was dealer-traded to Jennings Chevrolet in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. There, its soon-to-be next owner, Lanny Shields, was working during his high school days. "He said when he first laid eyes on it, it was painted bright red," says Ron. "Lanny was washing cars in the wash bay, and here comes this red Corvette that had been traded in, and he just fell in love." Per Ron, he drove it for a while, then made a drag racer out of it.
Lanny raced it, and a short-track stock car, using the same engine. "He said that on Friday nights, he was racing ‘roundy-round,' then on Saturday he'd pull the engine, bolt it in to the Corvette, and he'd be at the drag strip on Sunday," says Ron. "Then, he'd pull the engine out of the Corvette, and have it back in the stock car by Friday night."
Unfortunately, the original 283 didn't survive. "He said the original engine out of it ended up under his mom's carport, that he was filling in for a patio," Ron says, "and he used old engine blocks for fill."
The engine that was in the '59 when Ron bought it was certainly no fuelie—or much good, either. The beyond-well-worn smallblock was from an Impala, and the car had lost its fuelie before Lanny bought it in 1964. "It had 2x4's on it when he bought it," says Ron. "They had taken the fuel-injection unit off it, and stuck two four barrels on it. I guess nobody could make those fuel-injections run right back then." Ron adds that he wasn't able to trace what happened to that original Rochester fuel-injection unit, much less the car's ownership history back to its original owner."
But his Carlisle trip in 2004 resulted in not only leads for correct, original 1959 Corvette parts, but also a restorer, David Rieger. "He told us that he couldn't get started on it for a year or two," Ron recalls, "but that December, he called and said that he could take the car early."
By then, Ron's search for correct parts had paid off, a search that wasn't really that tough, except for the engine. Eventually, he found a source for a correct '59 283. "I bought that off of Classic Engine Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and he fixed me right up with all the correct date codes and everything," says Ron, who adds, "The crazy part of it was that we ended up with a set of heads that I bought on the internet, out of Claremore, Oklahoma, that a guy had. They were cast on the same day as the block. That's unheard of!"
Ron also found one original part of the '59, which Lanny Shields had kept for years. "He had the original steering wheel hanging on a nail out in his barn," recalls Ron. "It needed restoring. He had dairy cows in his barn, and it was hanging on a nail in there. The steering wheel was away from that car 40-some years, and I went out to Chambersburg and picked it up."
Once he had the parts needed, it was restoration time. Ashcraft Racing Engines in Butler, Pennsylvania rebuilt the 283 to factory specs, and added a correct-for-'59 Rochester fuel injection unit. As for the rest of the car—which now had a correct Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed, too—Ron had David restore the C1 to NCRS standards. That means that the one-time drag racer and long-time school bus passenger now looked as it did when it rolled off the assembly line in St. Louis.
How does it drive? "It drives like a new one," he says with pride. "It drives like a brand-new car."
If you've got the idea—or urge—to bring a vintage Corvette back from a decades-long slumber (in an old bus, or elsewhere), Ron's advice is simple. "You'd better be prepared to spend some money, because—with the internet—everybody is getting top dollar out of their parts," says Ron. "You'd better have a thick wallet!
"You also have to really love that car, and you have to do something on it every day so it gets done."
He adds, with a tip of his cap to restorer David Rieger, "Get somebody to do your fiberglass work, who really knows what they're doing."
Especially if that Vette's survived a long trip through time in an old school bus!
|Vehicle:||1959 Chevrolet Corvette|
|Owner:||Ronald Renick, Sunbury, PA|
|Engine:||Restored Chevrolet Gen II small-block V-8 (RPO 579D)|
|Block:||Original 283 ("519" casting), cast-iron, two-bolt mains|
|Displacement:||283 cubic inches (4.7 liters)|
|Heads:||Restored original '59 283, casting No. 3755550|
|Valves:||Stock '59 283, 1.72-inch intake, 1.50-inch exhaust|
|Crankshaft:||Original '59 283|
|Oil System:||Restored '59 283 with mechanical pump|
|Fuel Injection:||Restored '59-vintage Rochester mechanical fuel injection system, PN 7014900R; serial No. 2512|
|Ingition:||Restored '59 AC/Delco non-electronic (points-type)|
|Exhaust:||Restored '59 Corvette dual, with outlets in rear bumpers|
|Tranmission:||Restored '59 Corvette Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed, with restored shifter (with reverse lockout)|
|Frame:||Restored original '59 Corvette|
|Suspension:||Restored original '59 Corvette coil springs, antisway bar and tubular shocks in front; leaf springs and tubular shocks in the rear|
|Brakes:||Restored original '59 Corvette, drum-and-shoe type, non-power-assisted|
|Wheels:||Original '59 Corvette stamped steel with chrome steel "Spinner" full wheel covers, 15x5 inches all around|
|Tires:||Coker Tire-reproduction B.F. Goodrich "Silvertown" whitewall bias-ply, 6.70-15 all around|