Joe and Diane didn't start out intending to own two well-preserved cars. "I was looking for a '75 convertible, and I looked for over a year. I couldn't find one. Finally, in the local paper in Detroit-the suburban paper-there was an ad for a '76 Corvette hardtop, a GM executive car. And of course, I knew those guys made money on their cars." He explains that in the seventies, there were often waiting lists for new Corvettes, and it was not unusual for GM employees to purchase cars with an employee discount, keep them for a mandated six-month minimum, and then resell at a profit.
"So I called the number, and the car was 6 months old and had 1,100 miles on it. It was never driven in the rain, absolutely never wet, absolutely perfect. We made a deal on the price and I drove the car home. I've owned it ever since-since the fall of '76."
Then, of course, Joe found the convertible of his dreams in North Carolina. "I contacted a Corvette club member down there and I asked him to please take a look at the car and see what he thought." The fellow enthusiast checked it out and said the car was fine, no problems. It showed 14,000 miles and was original except for a set of side pipes from a '69, which were not available in '75. "We negotiated a price and I bought the car sight unseen."
They had it shipped home. "The car was perfect and even had the factory hardtop, as well as the extra parts he took off, including the original exhaust system-which is a treasure. You don't often run into nice cars, usually after you've bought something else, and I just had to buy it."
It's impossible to know how many Corvettes of the same vintage remain as original as the Ziomek's, and with such low mileage, but a handful is a good guess. Two in the same garage makes for a really small handful. Open the door of either and you peer into a time capsule: not an immaculate, sterile showpiece, but a real car, showing the patina of age and being driven. Joe and Dianne drive the cars, although admittedly not much. "We go to the shows and we go get ice cream."
For better or worse, the level of workmanship, fit, and finish that were the standard in the mid-'70s is preserved as well. Quality control issues for virtually all new cars were common back then, and the Corvette was no exception. An engineer by trade, Joe takes us around the coupe with an engineer's objectivity, pointing out examples of sloppy panel fit, and flaws in the paint-bubbles, runs, and overspray. He explains that many Vettes at the time were either touched up or repainted completely before leaving the factory.
"Most of the cars were painted at least twice to get them right, but lacquer was easy to do: just respray and rub. They would paint the car and if it wasn't right, they'd put it back through the paint booth."
The engineer sums it up: "It's a brand new, old car," he says. "That's not a negative: It's just a brand new old car. When they were designed, they were wonderful automobiles. The level of technology that we had was good, but not up to today's standards. When you drive the car, you get the noises, the tire noise. The handling, in its day, was absolutely remarkable, but that was a long time ago. They're milestone cars. Now you buy 500 hp at a dealership and you don't even think about it. These were what-165? Interesting. And the best is yet to come."
Indeed it is. We part company and the Ziomeks are off in the convertible to a local cruise-in tonight. It's shaping up to be a beautiful Florida evening. Maybe they'll even get some ice cream.