In the mornings at Hilltop Farm in Valrico, Florida, there is no noise. Sure, you can hear some sounds: wind blowing through the trees, birds chirping, the scratching of hooves on stable floors. But those sounds combined are no more noise than a Beethoven sonata. It's the home of Gordon and Dollie Johnston, and while Hilltop Farm is hardly in the middle of nowhere, it sure makes you feel as if you are.
A walk across the dewy grass, past the stables where the Johnstons raise their quarter horses, leads you to Gordon's two-car garage. It's modest, but modern, and clean as a whistle. Inside sit two '75 Corvettes. One is a stripped-down T-top-a side-of-the-road find that represents Gordon's next project. The other is this beautiful '75 convertible.
When the hard-working folks in St. Louis put this shark together in 1975, they could have only hoped it would someday end up in a place like this.
This '75 Bright Yellow roadster isn't the first Corvette to call the Johnston place home. "I have heard it said that if you own one Corvette, you will own another at some time," Gordon says. "My first experience with Corvettes came 20 years ago with the frame-off restoration of a '58, which took five years to complete. Since then, we have owned a '77, a '79, and now we have two '75s-one convertible and one T-top."
The '75 Corvettes have the distinction of being the last model year to offer a convertible-for a while anyway. The convertible returned to the lineup in 1986, but still, in the minds of many enthusiasts, the '75 has retained its aura as the last roadster. Gordon is one of those enthusiasts. "I can't explain it, but the real purists don't consider the '86 and later convertibles to be true roadsters," he says. "When I take this car to a show, people always come up and comment about the last roadster."
The car's original condition is what convinced him to buy it. He has refreshed the interior and touched up some areas of paint on the nose. Otherwise, the car is in original condition, including most of the Bright Yellow exterior. The engine is the stock 350ci/190hp powerplant.
Gordon did the interior restoration himself, installing new Medium Saddle vinyl seat coverings and Medium Saddle carpet. He also got a helping hand from Danny and Michael at Corvette Shop & Supplies in Tampa. Inside are an abundance of features designed for a comfortable, convenient ride. The power steering, power brakes, and automatic transmission were ordered on the vast majority of Corvettes in 1975. But this shark also features the tilt/tele steering column, power windows, air conditioning, and the map light on the rearview mirror, which works. Plus, when Gordon bought the car, it came with the auxiliary hardtop, and only about half of the '75 convertibles were ordered with one. "I was impressed [when I saw the car] because GM didn't 'trick-out' many convertibles in '75," Gordon says. Based on the list of options selected, it's clear the original owner intended for this to be one posh ride.
But Gordon didn't buy the car from the original owner. He's retired from Tampa Electric and a coworker there, Betty, told him her husband, Bill Tower, had a '75 convertible for sale, which he had purchased in 1990.
"I knew Bill through Betty," Gordon says, "He would come by and take her to lunch, and we would always talk about Corvettes. I told Betty that if I were ever going to buy another Corvette, I wanted it to be a '75 because that was the last roadster."
Gordon headed to nearby Plant City to take a look at Tower's collection. "He had some high-dollar, one-of-a-kind stuff in there," he says. "But when I saw this car, I backed off because I couldn't get past the yellow color. But it grew on me and it has turned out to be a pretty rare color."
For Gordon, the joy of Corvette ownership is in the process of bringing them back to like-new, or better, condition. But with this one, it's different. Hilltop Farm isn't just a stop along the way. For this car, it's home.
"Because the '75 was the last Corvette roadster, I looked many years for just the right car," Gordon says. "Everything on the car works, right down to the map light on the rearview mirror. Although I will probably have other Corvettes come and go, this one has become my keeper."