Gary Zawacki could hardly believe his luck. Had he actually uncovered a real, one-owner ’66 big-block Corvette with less than 13,000 miles? The classic appeared complete and original down to the Rally Red paint, parked without a car cover in a detached garage in a neighborhood in the small hamlet of Niles, Ohio. The old car even wore its factory original 7.75x15 nylon cord “Goldwall” tires, incredible considering the original window sticker, another amazing part of this find, listed a set of tire-shredding 4.56s in a Positraction rearend.
“I told my wife—because I’m getting up in age myself—I said I’ve had some nice Vettes over the years; I mean some really nice cars: a ’57 fuelie, a ’65 fuelie, a ’65 big-block that is also a survivor candidate, five or six 1967 big-blocks and a ’70 LT-1 that was low miles and original. But I never was able to get lucky with a barn find.”
Zawacki’s luck changed in the spring of 2013 with this ’66. He got the lead from—of all places—a national ad that anybody could have read and followed up on.
“I called right away. But it was wintertime and the owner was in Florida. I wanted to go see the car and he said it was in Ohio.”
Zawacki had to cool his jets for a few months until springtime arrived. By then he had summoned help from a friend named Elio Martin that not only lives close to Niles, but is also an NCRS judge and has his own Corvette restoration shop. Zawacki and his wife flew from their home in Connecticut to Akron, then took a rental car to finally meet up with Elio to go inspect the car and talk to the owner, Robert Hreno–“Bob” now to Zawacki.
By this time, Zawacki and Hreno had become well acquainted through “lengthy” telephone conversations.
“He told me stories when his kids were little. They had to take their shoes off when they rode in the back of the coupe.”
In 1966, Hreno had a ’66 Corvette on order, but got a little impatient when his new car didn’t arrive on time. So he made a trip to Cleveland. At one large Chevrolet dealer he found two new big-block Vettes: a blue roadster and this red coupe, which he ended up buying.
Almost 50 years had passed, and Hreno finally decided the time had come to sell. Zawacki was ready to buy, but first he and his friend Elio had some inspecting work to do.
“If you go look at enough cars, you learn early on that sometimes things get embellished.”
This time, the truth was even better than Bob’s description. Zawacki was astounded when the address on the original title matched the address at the location where he and Elio were inspecting the Vette.
“Bob owns the property. He doesn’t live there, but the garage sits where the car was when it was new. And it was there the day we went to look at it.”
This ’66 came with the top engine in the Corvette arsenal for ’66: the 425-horse 427, regular production option L72, of which 5,258 were built, divided between convertibles and coupes. The original invoice also listed an even more rare option, RPO “J56” for “Special Heavy Duty Brakes,” with a production run of a mere 382.
“The big brakes cost more than the engine,” Zawacki said.
He is right. J56 listed for $342.30. L72 listed for $312.85. No wonder fewer buyers bought the J56 brakes. Maybe this high price tag is why this Vette had not been sold when Hreno made his excursion to find a new ’66 model.
A mechanic installed plugs and fired up the 427. Zawacki requested Hreno move the Vette out of the garage so he and Martin could inspect the car for originality. For the next few hours, Hreno’s old driveway looked like a scene from an NCRS show as Zawacki and Martin went over Vette minutia inside and out and under the hood.
Zawacki was not able to buy the car on the spot, but the negotiations began and he did eventually purchase the ’66 Vette. Zawacki’s plan from day one was to clean the car for judging at NCRS and Bloomington Gold as a Survivor, no restoration necessary with originality the key.
In January 2016, Zawacki entered the ’66 coupe in the giant NCRS show in Orlando, Florida. Hreno, once again, was wintering in the Sunshine State. Zawacki invited Bob to drive over to see his old ’66 at the NCRS show.
Hreno showed up with his wife and daughter about noon on Saturday, January 26, 2016. He told Zawacki that 50 years ago to this exact day he picked up this ’66 Corvette at the dealership.
“I said to myself this can’t be true. I got home and looked at the date on the original sales agreement from the dealership. It read 01-26-66. Bob was absolutely correct, 50 years ago to the exact day of judging he drove that car home.”
Author’s Note: Contact Jerry Heasley at email@example.com if you know of a Rare Find, aka Barn Find.