“I had a girlfriend. We were very much in love,” Gary Wise said. They had been dating for the past four to five years. They were engaged to be married. Seventy-two years old in 2015, Wise was 33 in 1977, the day of the tragic wreck.
“The date was July 23, 1977, a Saturday, early evening in Logansport, Indiana. I had a ’63 Vette and she had the ’62. She said, ‘I can probably get home before you.’” The two chose separate routes that July evening. Gary got home first. He waited for Shirley. But, she never showed.
“I got a phone call from the hospital. She lost it on some gravel. The car spun and went sideways into a telephone pole. She was killed. I said I’m never driving it again. I just had it parked there in Mom’s garage.”
There was a farmhouse where Tim Russell found the ’63 Vette, buried in dirt past the side pipes on the driver’s side. Wise let the car sit for three and a half decades. “It [the garage] didn’t have any doors. That’s why all the dust came in. It didn’t have a concrete floor – had a dirt floor. Groundhogs got under the car.”
As for the ’62, when Wise got to the scene at the corner of Erie Ave. and 17th all he found were “some pieces laying around.” He “heard it went up toward Chicago.” He never wanted to see the car again. “I didn’t care. It tore me up.”
The next day, the Sunday Pharos-Tribune carried a story, “City Crash Fatal” with a photo of the ’62 Vette and a crowd of people.
Tim Russell lived in Logansport, Indiana, in those days. Fifty-nine now, he was 21 in 1977 and says he remembers a Corvette wreck, but did not link that wreck to a ’63 Vette he had “heard about for years” parked at an old farmhouse outside of town. Ten years ago, Russell moved to the same road as this old farmhouse. He could see the corner of an old car jutting out of a garage connected to the house. Wise’s mom, 102, still lives there. “I knew what it was,” Russell said.
Wise parked his Corvette convertible the day he lost the love of his life. Over the years, Wise turned down offers to buy the ’63. He kept the car because the buyers were “not serious enough.” They wanted to pay “little or nothing,” so Wise “let it sit there” because “it wasn’t eating nothing.”
Then, Tim Russell came along. He was fascinated with the story and wanted to buy the Vette to bring it back to life. He began “hounding” Wise to sell. “I finally wore him down,” Russell said. Wise agreed to sell Tim the ’63. Russell was ecstatic, despite the modifications.
“Even though this car had a short life on the road, the 327 and four-speed had been replaced with a 283 and Powerglide. I bought it from Al Campbell. He converted it over to automatic,” Wise said. Apparently, Wise could not drive a stick shift. He bought the ’63 in a highly modified state. Wise recalled “yellow paint,” not stock, as well as a modified front end with fixed headlights, “skirts built in” on the sides, and rear wheelwell flares.
Russell spotted “a little bit of scale on the frame,” but figured the dirt – which was fine powder – helped preserve the metallic parts of the undercarriage. “It was actually in pretty good condition. All the grease zerks took grease. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve got it all painted now.”
One day, the ’63 will be finished. A vintage, 1970’s modified might have been the way to go. Russell preferred a stock rebuild.
I asked Gary Wise if he wanted to drive the car again. “I doubt it,” was what he told me.
However, when Russell recovered the car from the earth, he “could see where he tried to work on it a few times to get it running. And he said ‘I would just like to drive the car again.’”