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Looking for Rare Finds, “One That Got Away,” and “Provenance” stories with vintage photos as seen this issue.
Tears ran down the face of Steve Press’ mom, Sarah, 99 years old. Her son’s 1966 Corvette had just arrived via transport on Ocean Blvd in Boca Raton, Florida, on September 30, 2013. The car brought back so many joyful memories.
“Can I have a ride?” Sarah asked.
Steve wanted to first clean the Vette he remembered driving cross-country in 1966. But, before he had a chance a car “pulled right in” and a man jumped out and began talking to Audrey, Steve’s wife.
“You want to sell it?” he asked.
“It just got here,” Steve said.
After 47 years, the 425hp/427ci four-speed was finally his. How could he ever sell? Steve’s mind drifted back to 1966.
“We lived in Chicago. My brother Harvey had moved to San Francisco with a new job. He was 22. I was 19. He wanted a new Corvette. I had a classmate, Susan Schmell, whose father was the manager of Nelson Chevrolet. So we wound up ordering from him.”
When the Vette arrived in June 1966, Steve got to drive the big-block for a week. The plan was to drive the car from Chicago to San Francisco. Steve and classmate Roger Barksdale, also 19, planned a cross-country road trip on a delivery mission. Except, their route would be circuitous and fun instead of direct and business.
“We had friends in Phoenix and friends in Los Angeles, and we wanted to see some sights on the way.”
Their route took the teenagers first to South Dakota; then straight south to El Paso, Texas; west to Phoenix; further west to Los Angeles and finally north to San Francisco where Harvey anxiously awaited the delivery of his $4,200 new Corvette. Susan’s father got them a good deal, and now Steve had himself a dream cruise.
Air conditioning was not optional on the 425-horse 427, and early July was very hot. But, to a pair of teenagers the only hot they were concerned about was a certain four-speed Vette.
In Phoenix, friends told the 19-year-olds “not to even think” of driving in the summer across the desert to L.A. without A/C. Steve and Roger turned that admonishment into adventure and departed Phoenix on I10 around 10 p.m.
“We were driving with the top down when we saw a flashing sign that read Sandstorm Ahead.”
They should have stopped and raised the top, but they were 19 and laughed instead. They felt the heat was too intense to be in a closed cabin.
“All the sudden we were in the middle of this huge sandstorm, and all we could do was roll up the side windows and keep going.”
Steve remembers “crossing a ridge” to see a little town with one gas station and lights where they pulled in. They were afraid to step out of the car lest they see damage to the paint on Harvey’s brand new Vette.
“I thought there would be no paint left on the body.” The car’s interior and the air cleaner did “load up with sand,” but the Milano Maroon paint survived “intact.”
In the 1960s, service stations in the desert sold canvas water bags to place in front of a car’s radiator for additional cooling capacity. This big-block Corvette, with no bag, stayed cool and performed flawlessly on this 3,000-mile trip.
The teenagers switched drivers periodically. On one stretch of barren highway in Wyoming, “somewhere west of Laramie,” as the old saying goes; Steve decided to test the top end speed, but “ran out of guts” at 120-125 mph.
“I was just finishing my tour driving. Roger took over and not five miles down the road we passed an officer of the law with radar.”
The pair made their delivery. Harvey was excited to receive his new Vette. Steve and Roger flew back to Chicago on American Airlines.
When Steve went back to California, he “always” drove his brother’s Vette, like to Squaw Valley to ski. Steve recalled another trip when two friends flew to California from Chicago in his brother’s private plane.
“My brother got a private pilot’s license and two of my friends flew back to California with us. My brother didn’t have a second car. So, the three of us tooled around San Francisco in the 1966 Vette.”
In retrospect, he marvels how three people rode in a two-passenger Corvette. But, three riding in a Vette wasn’t so uncommon in those days. The trio rode in the Vette 375 miles south to Los Angeles on a lark.
“I remember they had their shirts off, sun-birding like crazy, and sweaty. We pull up to the Beverly Hillcrest, a high-class hotel back in those days. You wouldn’t think of doing that today. People are coming out of the hotel in their dinner jackets.”
Harvey passed away 14 years ago and willed the Vette to his only son, Stuart. Stuart wasn’t a car enthusiast. He was into bicycle racing. But, he still held onto the Vette. Stuart decided to sell when faced with a move from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
The whole family greeted the car’s arrival in Boca Raton with a spirit of awe and wonder. Audrey marveled at how the car “had not changed.” Maybe this is why the Vette brought back so many memories.
Steve couldn’t wait to wash the 1966 model. Then, he took his wife and his mother for rides.
“We will never sell it. My kids are already fighting over it. I don’t know what they’ll do. They’ll kill each other. My son-in-law Dave Pagano tried to buy it from my nephew. Then, my son Jason said ‘I’ll buy it,’ and my husband told me under no circumstances. ‘I drove it cross-country. I used it while I was out there (California). The car is going nowhere’,” Audrey said.