The ever-rambling Rose Guiliano was the talk of the town. And there was quite a good reason for all that conversation. You see, the flamboyant Florence, Colorado, resident was always out and about, cruising the streets of the small Rocky Mountain municipality in a pretty rare piece of automotive history. Her daily means of transportation: a beautiful, all-original ’55 Corvette, “lent” to her by her son Joe.
And the reason why the Corvette was in her possession is a story within a story, as her son Joe decided not to take the sports car with him when he moved across the border to neighboring Canada. And that was just fine with her, as the stunning white roadster was never a thorn in Rose’s side. She was more than happy to care for the orphaned ’glass Chevy while her son was on an extended stay outside of the country.
So Rose drove the Corvette, and drove it often. She was seen frequenting the neighborhood locales, tooling down the streets and byways; her silk scarf blowing in the cool breeze generated by the peppy performer. She would consistently hit the grocery stores, the local high school athletic games and every single parade thrown in her extended area. Over the years, she logged tens of thousands of miles in the roadster, and just couldn’t get enough of the sporty ’glass runabout.
Funny thing about that though was the fact that Rose had a brand-new Ford Thunderbird sitting in her driveway … the long and luxurious ride underused and underappreciated for the duration of its stay. “But I look COOL driving in the Vette,” was the typical answer she gave when asked why she regularly gave the cold shoulder to the pristine Ford sedan. This sprightly matriarch just loved being seen and admired by her friends while she was out cruising the local streets in the sporty drop-top Chevy.
Of course, Rose was frequently hounded to sell the car. She was stopped by collectors and hot rod hoarders daily, just looking to make a quick deal on the double-five Chevy. She was even offered a brand-new car by the local Chevrolet dealer, in exchange for an “even” trade-in. “No deal,” was always the response these eager trophy hunters would get from the keen grandma. And interestingly enough, her endgame was to be buried in the Vette when her time on this earth was up. Her request was recorded and then denied by the state of Colorado.
Joe Guiliano received the Corvette as a high school graduation gift from his parents, Rose and Joe Sr. The car was purchased new October 31, 1955, from Vendetti Chevrolet, right there in their hometown of Florence. The dealer cost was $3,045.00, less the $495 credit for a trade-in on a ’47 Mercury. Joe immediately took to the beautiful roadster and used the flashy new ride to cruise the beautiful backroads of Colorado during that post-high school summer, knowing quite well that college was just a few months off in the near future.
That fall, Joe began his studies at the Kansas City Art Institute, majoring in Industrial Design. After graduation, work called, and Joe went off to San Francisco for a few years, leaving the ’55 with his parents for safekeeping. After that brief stint in California, Joe once again found himself back in Colorado, getting a Master of Fine Arts, at nearby Denver University.
During this time Joe started to teach at Southern Colorado State University in Pueblo. It’s there he met and befriended Russ De Salvo, a student in an art class he was instructing. The two bonded over their interest in all things automotive. And needless to say, Russ was quite smitten with Joe’s ride from the moment he laid eyes on it. Joe knew he always had an interested buyer in Russ just in case he ever needed to let the car go in a hurry.
One summer, Joe got the chance to rally race the Corvette in a local event. He painted temporary stripes on the sports car and entered it in the Continental Divide Rally, a popular SCCA-sanctioned race. The racers took on the tricky backcountry roads of the state, cutting a course that weaved through the ominous peaks and valleys of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Joe, along with a copilot friend, took on the event that spanned two long days of pretty challenging driving conditions. The youngster and his Corvette did well, finishing Sixth in their class.
By the late ’60s Joe felt he needed a change in scenery. The turbulent times here in the U.S. didn’t agree with him in the least, so he made plans to seek greener pastures outside the United States. So, in 1969, he packed his belongings and said goodbye to his family and friends. He handed the Corvette’s keys to his mom and headed to his new home just north of the border in Canada. That would be the last time Joe stepped foot in the U.S. for quite some time.
In her later years, Rose’s health started to decline rapidly. Joe came back to the States to get his mother the help she needed. He found suitable arrangements for her in a nicely kept nursing home when she was no longer able to properly take care of herself. The house was sold and her possessions were inventoried. Her driving days were officially over.
Then and there, Joe decided to send the Corvette off for safekeeping, as the car sharks were closing in on the ’55; and waiting for a possible sell-off. Everybody from the car’s mechanic to Joe’s relatives were all interested in buying the car. But Joe wasn’t ready to part with it just yet … but unfortunately, he didn’t have the space for it across the border. He decided to contact his good friend Russ.
He asked Russ if he would take in the Corvette and hold it for safekeeping until he decided its fate. He was honest with the soon-to-be caretaker, telling him that he was not going to sell the car until Rose passed on. But if he did sell, Russ would be the first in line. That wasn’t a problem, as Russ was more than interested in purchasing the car for his own.
So Russ hid the car away from prying eyes in his garage outside of town. For three years the car sat as Rose lived out her life. When she passed on, Joe offered ownership of the Corvette to Russ for an undisclosed price, to which he full-heartedly agreed … and much to the chagrin of the many jealous suitors.
What Russ acquired was a stock, unmolested example of one of just 700 ’55 Corvettes built. It’s covered in its original antiqued skin of Polo White, which was by far the most popular color choice that year, with nearly half of them built in that bright hue. The red interior was also the most prevalent color package picked that year, and Russ’ car is still shod in its OEM rosy-colored vinyl.
Under Rose’s possession, the car was well cared for and maintained. The paint is showing its age but has a pleasant patina and still looks engaging on any cruise night. The interior has stood the test of time, and has held together well over the last 60 years. Seat covers, door panels and even the carpet are all original to this car, though the latter is tattered and battered on the driver side. But Russ doesn’t have the heart to replace it. “It’s only original once,” is the motto he lives by. The door windows are present and stashed in the original pouch in the trunk. Even the convertible top is its born-with piece; a pretty amazing feat all by itself. And yes, it keeps the water out!
This one was also built with the “new for ’55” 265ci V-8, which pumped out 195 hp at 5,000 rpm. A two-speed Powerglide does the shifting for the roadster. Like most Corvettes from this model year, this car is packed with the few options available. Fifteen-inch whitewalls, turn signals, windshield washer and heater are some of the bare bones included with this first-generation ’glass Chevy.
The numbers-matching engine has had a rebuild over the years. New rings and rods and a valve job freshened this little V-8 right up. It has 120 pounds of pressure in all cylinders. It’s still dressed in its original chrome air cleaner and valve covers, though the chrome spark plug shielding has disappeared. To its credit, many of the items that usually fell to the ravages of time—like the clear license plate cover and trim and the chrome parts and bumpers—still look great to this day. The car’s odometer shows just 119,000 miles, 4,000 of which has been put on by Russ over the years. The car purrs like it did when Joe first received it back in 1955.
Russ has made sure to keep up with all the mechanicals. The original drum brakes work flawlessly and the drivetrain gets regular check-ups. In the trunk, the original BFGoodrich spare still sits where it was placed 60 years ago. Overall, the car has aged well over the course of 60 years; still one beautiful gem tucked away in the hills of Colorado.
This car stands as a time capsule: a fine, unrestored example of a first-generation Vette, kept up and driven often by its present-day owner. Russ and his wife, Carolyn, are now the entrusted keepers of this ride, ready to preserve and protect the car, and to keep it out of harm’s way for the next generations to behold.