'59 Corvette

This Corvette has a Unique Claim to Fame

Ronnie Hartman May 1, 2002 0 Comment(s)

Step By Step

Mark Gustetter’s Roman Red ’59 could very well be the oldest one in existence. It’s a pre-production “pilot line” car, serial number 00003. Mark had had his heart set on owning a ’59 since his early teens. He also wanted to own a Corvette of the same vintage as himself—Mark was born in 1959.

He started searching in earnest in 1997, contacting a number of dealers, including the Corvette Collection in Pompano Beach, Florida. They called when they got this ’59 in, and at first Mark wasn’t interested. He’d been hoping for a Crown Sapphire one, knowing that there had been only 888 of them produced. Roman Red? A cliche, he thought. Mark actually asked them what it would cost to change the color. Fortunately, he was advised to have a look first. It had some “unusual features,” they told him. Mark made the trip and found this beauty with a four-speed transmission, factory power windows, and the original 290hp, fuel-injected engine. The FI unit had been removed, and a single four-barrel carburetor and matching intake had been installed, but when Mark saw the serial number, there could be no doubt. He had to have this Corvette!

He contacted noted classic Corvette expert Noland Adams, who told him that the normal procedure in planning for a new-model-run year was to order several sets of parts for the new model. For the switch from the ’58 to ’59 model year, that would have involved the hood, trunk, seat covers and dashpad, door panels, hardtop headliner, and wheel covers. In the late ’50s, there would have been enough pre-production parts to build 6 to 10 cars, and their serial numbers would begin with 00001. These cars would be used for photography, testing, and display purposes, and would have been assembled with all possible options. It’s possible that 00001 and 00002 were demolished in testing. If anyone knows where these other two early ’59s are, we hope they’ll come forward because, if no one knows, Mark’s could be the earliest one left.

After much negotiation, a very happy Mark took delivery on July 22, 1998. The car was in good shape, but not good enough to make the 30-mile drive to his home, so it made the trip on a flatbed. Mark didn’t fit under the hardtop, so he replaced it with a new convertible top. That wasn’t all he’d have to do to make this car work for him. He soon discovered that the engine ran rough, there was a serious overheating problem, and the smell of raw gas unnerved him. All four bias-ply tires were dry-rotted and had to be replaced. Looking for comfort over originality, Mark chose Coker “gangster whitewall” steel-belted radials. The brake lights and taillights, speedometer, odometer, and tachometer were all rewired, recabled, and reworked. Mark replaced the windshield weatherstripping, carpet, exterior door handles, and shock absorbers. He ordered a custom-made, heavy-duty aluminum radiator. Mark joined the 1999 Labor Day caravan to the National Corvette Museum, where it took the first of many awards Mark would collect—a Celebrity Choice award.

Once the car was driveable and safe, the restoration began. Mark is having it done, little by little, by Dewey Hendricks at Dewey’s Just Vettes in Longwood, Florida. Dewey has replaced all the dash gauges, redone the silk screen and recalibrated the tach, and rebuilt the clock. He also replaced the cracked fuel-filler hose and fuel-tank sending unit (no more raw gas odor), and made numerous other repairs. One of the most important to Mark is the installation of a numbers-correct Rochester 7014900R fuel-injection unit from Jack Podell in South Bend, Indiana, air and fuel filters, and intake manifold. There’s also a correct heater/defroster unit, so now Mark is proud to open the hood.

The Corvette world is now open to Mark in a new way. He’s a member of Central Florida Corvette Association and participates fully in local events and shows. He’s got a uniquely interesting Corvette—and quite possibly, the very oldest ’59 anywhere.

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