My buddy Alex Bailey, who had seven Corvettes, said, "Look, it's not like you'd be making a huge financial mistake by getting this car. You probably won't lose much, if any, money on it, and you may have some fun along the way." That was good enough for me, and I went to look at the beastly '67 again. A pile of parts came with the car, and little did I know how original all these "wrong" parts were.
The following week, Bob invited me to his home. Fortunately, he's a camera buff and had over 100 pictures and 8mm films of the car. He told more fascinating stories than I could absorb, and my head was spinning when I left his house. I was invited back a week later, and that time I took detailed notes.
Bob found more stuff from the car in his attic. He had the original window sticker, owner's manual, trophies, the original key tag from when it was delivered, and more pictures. I asked more questions about the history of the car, and learned about succeeding special cars Wingate had after the '67.
I contacted the guy in Big Bear who had owned the car since 1968. He bought the car out of a local newspaper, and at the time it was Candy Apple Red.
As far as Bob and I can figure out, the missing year of ownership history (1967-1968) goes something like this: The unknown owner to whom Bob sold the car beat on it for a few months, blew up the engine, and had the aforementioned wreck on the freeway. The insurance company wrote off the car as totaled; a body shop picked it up as a salvage wreck, worked on it for a few months, turned it into a California custom, and sold it for a tidy profit.
The evidence I found on the car points to a low-budget customizing job. The rear of the car was hand-laid fiberglass, and the driver's door and left rear quarter-section were grafted on from a red '65 coupe. Even the gas tank, which had been somewhat crushed, was brazed to seal it up, and reused. Amazingly, the original tank sticker, which was on the top driver-side of the tank, was not touched.
From my research, no other tank stickers have been found to date that document this type of car. When I first looked at the car, I didn't notice the uniqueness of the tank sticker, but this document really makes the car what it is and ties the loose ends together. In the upper right-hand corner of the sticker, the COPO/F&SO box had a number in it, 8094C. I didn't think you could get an M20 wide-ratio transmission with the L71 engine, but there it was. The kicker was the last line of the typed section that read, "Build per FSO." FSO? Factory Shop Order? Who knows?
I remembered reading an addendum at the back of Noland Adams' book, where he talked about the possible existence of odd cars, such as Shop Orders, and seeing an old article in the March '90 issue of Vette magazine outlining such cars. I knew I had found something very different, and decided to ask for help documenting the car from people in the hobby more knowledgeable than I.
I made up three detailed packages of pictures of the car and sent them to Noland Adams, Dave Burroughs, and John Amgwert. Neither Dave nor John knew of any existing FSO Corvette, and neither had seen a tank sticker documenting such a car.
Both were clear and firm with their advice: Spend whatever it takes to have this car perfectly restored, or sell it right now to someone who will, because this is a rare piece of history. As the restoration progressed, I had lunch with Noland and Bob. They had not seen each other in about 15 years, and the stories flew back and forth nonstop. We quizzed Noland about my car, but he didn't have any clear answers. He too had not seen an FSO car with a tank sticker or documentation.
Putting it all into perspective, I think my '67 FSO car raises more questions than it answers. What was the mechanism and paperwork trail for building an FSO car, and who was involved? Who did Joe Pike contact to have these cars built? What does the COPO/FSO number on the tank sticker stand for or relate to? How did Bob Wingate get such detailed updates on my '67 as it was being assembled, and who was overseeing it? Joe Pike told Bob he did not build any other special cars like he had done for Bob Wingate. Are there other Chevrolet executives who used this FSO mechanism to have unique or one-off cars built?
I'd like to thank Steve Luvisi of Automotive Expertise in Huntington Beach, California, for the countless hours he spent on the restoration of this car, and the many others who had a hand in its revival. The American Heritage Award the car received during a spectacular week at the National Convention in Monterey was a wonderful way to further highlight the history and stories of such unique Corvettes. I'm grateful that NCRS created such an award to recognize cars with unique and colorful histories.