The name Bob Wingate may be familiar to those who have been around classic Chevrolets for a few decades. During the late '70s and early '80s his business, Wingate Classics, was a staple if you were in the market for a Corvette or classic '55-'57 Chevy. The most fascinating of Bob's automotive stories are of some specially styled Corvettes provided directly to him by Chevrolet. This story is about my discovery and restoration of one of these cars, its documentation, and how it came to be built.
Wingate's automotive career began in 1955 at the age of 18, working for Clippinger Chevrolet in Covina, California, a place he would remain for the following 20 years. Working his way up to salesman, he concentrated his efforts on high-performance cars. His first encounter with the higher-ups at Chevrolet came in early 1959, when he wrote a letter requesting 100 new '59 Corvettes for Clippinger. This was unheard of in those days, but Joe Pike of Chevrolet Product Promotions came to his assistance and helped Bob locate over 50 cars that were funneled to Clippinger from other dealerships. This began a long and mutually beneficial relationship between Bob Wingate and Joe Pike.
Bob continued selling large numbers of Corvettes and, by 1966, had sold more than any other salesman in the nation for the fifth year in a row. His reputation was growing and he had discovered many channels open to him for getting special things done for customers. If a customer wanted a special color or option combination that wasn't on the order sheet, Wingate would make a call to Central Office or whoever he needed in order to get the job done.
Each year, for a number of years running, Bob was given one of the early production Corvettes built for that model year. Officially, the car was a demo that was driven around with dealer plates; but at the end of the model year, Bob was allowed to have the car and sell it, keeping the proceeds as a bonus. These cars were always nicely optioned with whatever he desired.
For the '67 model year, Pike saw to it that a very special Corvette was sent to Bob in the opening month. The car was apparently done in Michigan as a special styling exercise. The details of how this was done and who funded it are sketchy at best, but Pike had discretionary funding at his disposal and the pull to get such a car built.
Bob was told not to ask where the cars came from, and it didn't matter much to him-he was too busy. In 1967, he sold over 160 Corvettes, and even had clients flying down from the Bay area to get cars from him.
Bob actively promoted high-performance options on the new Corvettes he sold. If you wanted American Racing mags, Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires, headers, and six taillights on your new Corvette, you got them.
In September 1966, a different-looking, new '67 Corvette was sent to the Clippinger dealership for Bob. It featured mild fender flares, Goodyear Blue Streak tires on American Racing mags, no front bumpers, no external mirror, antenna, emblems, or wipers, smoothed front turn-signal lights, a chrome tube grille, a milled-aluminum instrument cluster, and, as Bob described it, a pearl green paint job with pinstriping. All of this was in addition to the normal 435hp Tri-power 427, four-speed, side exhaust, black leather, power window, and telescoping wheel options.
Bob drove the car for about a month and a half. In late October, Pike and Zora Duntov were in Los Angeles for a visit, and Pike asked Bob how he liked the new car. Bob said it was OK, but he was not particularly fond of it. Apparently, some people within Chevrolet felt it wasn't a good idea for Bob to have this unusual car because potential customers who saw it might want one like it. Shortly after that, word came down from a Chevrolet higher-up that Bob should get rid of the car, and another one would be built for him immediately.
The next '67 Corvette that was built for him is the one I have found and restored. This car was done completely in St. Louis, and was shipped directly to Bob. It was more conventional, and was patterned after the '66 Corvette that was customized by Clippinger the previous winter.
After Bob was told to get rid of the first wild '67, Pike asked him what options and colors he wanted for his next car. Bob said he wanted Goodwood Green with black leather, power windows and brakes, radio, tinted glass, shoulder harness, side exhaust, 435hp 427, and a wide-ratio M20 with 3.55 Posi-traction rearend. Bob had talked with some engineers years earlier who figured out the wide-ratio transmission and 3.55 rearend combination made for a quicker car. Bob also requested Goodyear Blue Streak tires with American mags, and a white stripe over the top of the car and down the back. Joe said, "Ah, I don't know." But he called back the next day and said it was handled, and to expect a few surprises.
The car, as it showed up at Clippinger's, had the M20 wide-ratio trans with a 435hp L71; Goodyear Blue Streak tires on American Racing mags; Goodyear stickers on the body behind the front turn signals; no front bumpers (they were in a box behind the seats); grille inserts filling the bumper support holes; chrome bumper nuts filling the side holes for the front bumpers; hand-lettered white 427 numerals on the hood; brake calipers painted white; the white hood stripe continuing over the top of the car and down the back; six taillights; rear fender lips cut to fit the rear tires; a beautiful, wood Nardi steering wheel; and flawless paint, fit, and finish.
Bob recalls what was probably his most glorious moment with the car. He was pulling onto a highway at the same time as a guy he knew in a 427 Ford Cobra. Bob had no spare or jack in the car and not much gas in the tank, and the guy in the Cobra had a lady friend with him. They got next to each other and nailed it from a rolling 20-mph start. They stayed even for a few seconds, then Bob slowly started pulling away from the Cobra, to the surprise of both drivers.
As the summer of 1967 drew to a close and Bob's summertime road tour was complete, it was once again time to sell his car and collect his bonus. The highly anticipated '68 models were out, and Bob's new L89 convertible was on its way.
This is where the story takes a turn for the worse. The kid he sold the '67 to was a new customer who Bob had never seen before, but he had money and wanted the car. When Bob saw him a few months later, he said he ran out of gas on a freeway, and a truck hit the car, running over it and completely destroying the car.
In early 1993, I had the urge to have a mid-'60s Corvette, and saw an ad for a '67 in a local paper. The coupe was a nice car, but I told the owner it wasn't what I was looking for. A few weeks later, he called and said he might have found a car I was interested in.
He and I drove down to Long Beach to see a highly modified 427 '67 coupe, and I still remember the garage door swinging up to reveal a beastly looking '67. The car was truly a mess; it had huge fender flares and a big back spoiler, bare side pipes painted green, cracked red paint with gray primer splotches all over its six layers of paint, and an asking price I thought was too high. The owner, Rick, had originally found the car in Big Bear, California. He bought it from an eccentric guy who had owned the car since 1968. It still had the sticker on the tank, and it was a highly optioned 427/435hp car. After I left, I didn't think much about the car until Rick called asking if I was still interested.