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140-Mile 1978 Corvette Pace Car Purchased After 27 Years of Persistence

Rare Finds: Pace car awakes and goes back to sleep

Jerry Heasley Mar 7, 2016
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Larry Fisette took no for an answer, but from 1988 until 2015 he kept asking the same question: “Are you ready to sell the car?”

The car was a brand-new 1978 Corvette Indy Pace Car, stored for 37 years. Today, Fisette owns and operates the De Pere Auto Center in De Pere, Wisconsin. Larry’s hobby is finding old cars. He has proven to be quite the sleuth.

However, in 1988, the affable car enthusiast took a job as Used Car Manager at a small Chevy dealership in the little town of Markesan, Wisconsin. Today, that dealership is long gone and the building has been converted into a repair shop.

While working at this job, Fisette heard about the ’78 Pace Car stowed in a building not far from the dealership. Hmm, was this car for sale?

The answer was a cool, crisp no from Fred Mathwak, the former owner of the dealership when the 1978 Pace Cars, one per dealership, became the target of a national “feeding frenzy.”

1 1978 Corvette Rare Find 2/11

Larry Fisette snapped this photo with his cell phone of the ’78 Corvette Indy Pace Car covered, and with stuff blocking a clear path to entry.

2 1978 Corvette Pace Car Front View 3/11

Under the car cover, the body was dusty but in excellent condition.

3 1978 Corvette Pace Car Side View 4/11

Wow, the ’78 Pace Car cleaned up to like-new condition with a simple wash job.

4 1978 Corvette Pace Car Side View 5/11

Apparently, the dealership installed the ’78 Pace Car decals.

All over America, buyers went wild over the highly touted “limited production” Pace Cars. Prices went $5,000 over sticker. Some cars, we have heard, sold as high as $25,000 on an MSRP in the $14,000 vicinity.

Many dealerships took their profit on Pace Cars, but some, like Fred, hung onto their instant classics, thinking this Vette was a car for the ages. Fred put a little over 100 miles on his Pace Car, and then squirreled the car away in storage as an investment for his grandson John. That’s why Fred turned down Fisette’s ambitious offer to buy the ’78 in 1988. By this time, Fred was no longer in the car business. He had already willed his ’78 to his grandson.

Before Fred died (about 10 years ago), he gave the car to his grandson. The vehicle—still with original plastic on the seats and unprepped—changed storage buildings. Meanwhile, Fisette, ever the diligent car sleuth, kept track of his Corvette prey. He called John periodically. Oddly enough, the grandson did not put the Pace Car on the road. Like his grandfather, John kept the Vette in storage.

But, eventually Fisette got his way. One day John called and said he was ready to sell. Wow, 27 years had passed since Fisette’s first buy inquiry in 1988.

The ’78 Pace Car was parked in a small garage under a car cover surrounded by “stuff.” The tires were flat. “You couldn’t see there was a car there.” Fisette snapped a few photos with his cell phone and then went in for the kill, literally. “I thought it would be full of dead mice. I was worried sick cause I thought when I opened the door it would stink, but it didn’t.” Fisette believes the wooden garage with “no sweating” was, for whatever reason—along with luck—why there were no rodents.

After 37 years, the Corvette Pace Car woke up from its long sleep. The original tires aired right up, and incredibly—with a fresh battery—the 350 small-block V-8 fired up.

“I didn’t even put gas in the carburetor,” Fisette said. “The car still had its original oil filter and spark plugs. We didn’t change any of that. The car didn’t overheat or do anything wrong, just worked.”

As the pictures show, the Vette cleaned up to look mint. Fisette resold the ’78 to a collector who is “in love” with the Vette so much he has already built a special building for storage. Apparently, mileage will stay at 140 and the car will be stored—put back to sleep—for who knows how many years.

5 1978 Corvette Pace Car Interior 6/11

The interior is mint, and includes the original plastic still on the seats.

6 1978 Corvette Pace Car Turn Signal Directions 7/11

This sunvisor still has the original information card.

7 1978 Corvette Pace Car Engine 8/11

This car came with the base L48, a 350 with 185 horsepower, backed by an automatic. More desirable is the L82 with a four-speed.

8 1978 Corvette Pace Car Gauges 9/11

The odometer read 139.1, but increased to over 140 after Larry’s testdrive.

9 1978 Corvette Pace Car Rear View 10/11

The new fastback rear styling window (not a hatchback) created a great looking body style that really popped on the black and silver Pace Car.

10 1978 Corvette Pace Car Specs 11/11

The original window sticker, still in place, reveals a price of $13,909.21.



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