“Whoa, I got to have a chair,” Larry Fisette said.
He could scarcely believe the photos of a 1954 Corvette that a local man, Dave Schultz, brought to Larry’s shop, De Pere Auto Center in De Pere, Wisconsin.
Schultz was just as surprised “to find somebody to give me a price and here he is two miles from me.”
When his wife’s brother-in-law, Ro, passed away in December 2017, Ro left behind a Corvette. Dave’s wife, Karla, and her sister were charged with selling the estate and looking for a buyer.
“I typed in 1954 Corvette and up popped Larry in De Pere and the 1954 Corvettes he’s acquired. I drive by De Pere every day,” Schultz said.
Fisette was dumbfounded, too, that one of his favorite collector cars, a 1954 Corvette—and a barn find at that—was a few miles from his shop.
“He showed me the pictures and we went from the front to the back to sit down and talk. We discussed the value, and I made him an offer,” Larry said.
Schultz had to OK the price with his wife and her sister. So, they didn’t make a deal right away, even though Larry was ready to write a check that day.
The 1954 was 110 miles away in the town of Beaver Dam. The two parties went back and forth on price for three months before they made a deal. Fisette admits he was “flying by the seat of my pants,” to pay for a car sight unseen.
“If it was broken in half, I was getting both halves. I just took a gamble.”
In other words, Larry had already paid for the 1954 Corvette when they drove to Beaver Dam and then down a dead-end road where there were “no more houses.”
He spotted a red barn, which is where the old Corvette resided for many years before they moved it to a heated garage. The closer Larry got, the more he realized what a big chance he was taking.
“When we raised the garage door, I still couldn’t see the car until we pulled the covers off. My adrenaline started flowing because it was way, way better than I thought it would be.”
Fisette was pleased to find the 1954 was a California “black plate” car, which he believes escalates the collector appeal.
The black plate fit the story. According to Schultz, his brother-in-law, Gary Kern, returned from Vietnam in late 1968 or early 1969, and while in California bought the Corvette, then painted orange metal flake. The 1954 was mechanically sound to make the trip home from California to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
In 1969, Gary Kern had a motorcycle wreck, and at that time the 1954 went to his brother Ro Kern, who started putting money into a restoration in the early 1980s.
Ro got “tired of writing checks” and parked the car about 1990, first in the red barn, and then in the heated garage, where Fisette stood in awe of what he thought was a “magnificent car” under layers of dust.
The Corvette had been in the family almost 50 years when Ro passed away in December 2017. Schultz recalled driving the 1954 in 1969. Just last year, he and Ro stared at the old Corvette.
“I said to him, what’s your plan, Ro? What are you going to do with that? He said well it would be nice to drive it. But, that didn’t happen.”
Larry’s crew at De Pere Auto Center went right to work to get the car roadworthy. The ancient Blue Flame Six started immediately after doing the normal things to a car that has been parked for many years. “You know gas tank, wheel cylinders, master cylinders, brakes, tires. In 10 days, we had it running and driving.”
Dave Schultz has permission from Larry to stop by his shop and drive the 1954 model, which would be the first time since 1969.
Photography by the Author