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1955 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster - An American Sportscar In Europe

The Intercontinental Journey of One '55 Corvette

Kevin Shaw Oct 1, 2006
Corp_0610_09_z Chevrolet_corvette_roadster_american_sportscar_europe White_exterior_front_view 2/1

We're pretty selective about the Corvettes that appear on the pages of Corvette Fever. It's not a sense of aristocracy, rather we are striving to raise the level of material we publish. We make a conscious effort to feature a cross section of rare and unique Corvettes; many are gorgeous restorations that have been honored at the nation's top Corvette shows. But what makes a Corvette worth a complete and extensive restoration, and, moreover, what makes any old restored Corvette true Corvette Fever material? The answer is the story. There are hundreds of beautifully restored Corvettes registered online at enthusiast registries, along with club affiliations with NCRS and Bloomington Gold certifications. So you might be thinking, Well, what exactly makes this '55 roadster so different from all the rest? Our response is plenty.

The year 1955 was the first year for the all fiberglass-bodied American sports car to receive a V-8. until that time, the Corvette was slated with the Blue Flame inline six-cylinder engine. With the new 265ci V-8, the Corvette became the factory hot rod that enthusiasts and automotive journalists had been pining for. Thousands were sold that year-a record in sales for Chevrolet. several of the '55 Vettes were ordered specifically for the Old World and promptly shipped over. This particular Corvette was assembled on one of the most unlucky of days: Friday the 13th in May 1955. Stamped No. 239, it was boxed and shipped directly to Antwerp, Belgium. some time later, the Corvette ended up in a used car dealership in Sweden, where retired U.S. Army officer Joe Titcomb purchased it. He kept the car for several years before selling it off again.

Somehow the Corvette wound up in France in the possession of Herve Charbonneaux, a then-proprietor of an auto museum: the Le Musee de l'Automobile Francaise in Saint Deizier, France. Jim Percell, a Canadian in the Armed Forces stationed in Germany found the car and struck a deal with the museum director in 1977. He took the Corvette back to Germany, and then had the '55 shipped back to Ontario in 1980 when he moved back to his home country. he sold the Corvette to Ken Purdy in Nova Scotia in 1987.

Ken, interested in selling the gorgeous '55 , took the Vette south to Corvettes at Carlisle in 1992. Unfortunately, his efforts didn't pan out, and he had to take the Corvette back home. he stored the hard-top roadster for the winter and returned the next year to Carlisle. There, Jim and Milda Oliverio of Bridgeport, West Virginia, would find the car sitting among all the C1s. The Oliverios purchased the car with little hesitation, eager to take their new acquisition home to West Virginia.

At the time, the Corvette was showing more than just its age. The car had suffered a hard life of high mileage, harsh winters, and brutal summers. The hard top was an aftermarket unit; the engine compartment was filthy and missing the factory ignition shield. Thankfully, the engine still maintained its 2218S carburetor, intake manifold, air cleaner, water pump, exhaust manifolds, and starter. The interior's seats and carpet had been replaced years previously, though it retained the original door panels and dashpad. As most classic automotive enthusiasts will attest to, the originality of the dash and gauges is tantamount. Amazingly, they were all still intact. the trunk was still totally original, but the spare had been replaced with a Holland-made tire and inner tube, though never used. All four wheels sported the stock rims and hubcaps, though they carried the signs of over zealous mechanics' hammer throws. The Oliverio's grimaced at the thick "refrigerator" white paint that coated the lightweight body, but the chassis, aside from aftermarket shock absorbers, was left untouched.

Realizing the rarity of the GM export car, the Oliverios left it in the condition they found it. The fender tag inscribed with all the details of the Corvette was priceless, and they didn't want to disturb its condition. in 1993, they took the '55 to the NCRS meet and landed a Third in Flight award. the Corvette would be crowned with more Third in Flight awards from NCRS, but never took home a First.

Satisfied but not content, the Oliverios began a full frame-off restoration. The restoration would take 18 months of labor and hard work, but would result in one of the finest homespun restorations that we have ever seen. The chassis was disassembled at home and received back-to-factory conditioning on the frame, fuel and brake lines, brake cylinders, rear springs, shocks, and control arms.

The body was stripped of three layers of tar-thick enamel. Happy with the cleaned condition of the body, they sent it to Larry Spence of Sardis, West Virginia, where it was repainted with new lacquer paint. They were careful not to "over restore" the Corvette like so many owners are prone to do.

The engine was carefully rebuilt using all the same original factory components that came with the car by Engine Machine Specialty in Clarksburg, West Virgiania, back to factory performance specs. Bo McDaniels Transmission Service restored the transmission while the powerplant was out.

When the time came, Jim reassembled the drivetrain and reinstalled the heart back into the roadster.

By 1995, the Corvette was running under its own power and back on the show grounds of the NCRS show in Carlisle, where, finally, it was awarded a Top Flight award. That same week, the Oliverios took the '55 to the National Corvette Homecoming in Bowling Green for the 40th Year Anniversary, where it would bring home another First Place award. Since that time, the Oliverios have dominated show after show with their beautiful '55 white roadster.

Jim and Milda Oliverio's '55 Corvette by the Numbers:::General InformationYear: 1955Make: ChevroletSeries: VEModel: CorvetteEngine: 265 ciHorsepower: 195Transmission: Two-Speed PowerglideEngine Code suffix: FG

:::BlockCasting No: 3703524Main: Two-bolt

:::Cylinder HeadCasting No.: 3703523 (cast iron)Intake/Exhaust Valve Size: 1.72/1.50Combustion Chamber: 67.4242

:::Intake Manifold(Cast Iron)Casting No.: 3711348

:::CarburetorCarter WCFB2218S or 2315S

:::Exhaust ManifoldsCasting (Left Hand) No.: 3704791 1st Design; No. 3837069 2nd Design/UnverifiedCasting (Right Hand) No.: 3704792No. 3836968 2nd Design/Unverified

:::DistributorStamping No.: 1110855Engine/HP/Application: 265/195 hpHousing: Cast Iron Bowl DistributorPoint: SingleNotes: Vacuum Advance

:::Generator1102025 30 Amp All

:::TransmissionTwo-Speed Powerglide TransmissionMaincase: Cast IronTorque Converter HousingMaterial: Cast IronTailhousing: Cast IronType: Automatic hydraulic torque converter with planetary gear system for reverse and low gearGear Ratios:Drive: 1.82:1Low: 1.82:1Reverse: 1.82:1Rear case No.: 3708134Torque Converter HousingCasting No.: 1st Design 6-Cylinder: No. 3708446; 2nd Design 6-Cylinder: No. 3719240; 8-Cylinder No.3708188

Special Information: The only difference in the passenger car and Corvette Powerglide transmission was the floor position of the shifting mechanism on the Corvette, which constituted the change of the tailhousing with three tapped holes to accept the shifter. Only the Corvette had this tailhousing.

:::1955 Rear AxlesAll '55 Corvette rear axles are stamped with an alpha-numeric code, which identifies the build source, axle ratio, and date of manufacture.

The axle code is located on the front right or passenger side of the differential carrier at the same height as the axle tube. The axle code will read from left to right or bottom to top. The prefix or two-letter code designates the gear ratio and any other specific information about that rear differential. This code also refers to the manufacturer or source which built the rearend.

The numbers following the letter prefix designate the calendar month and day that axle was produced. From the 1955 through 1962 model years, the calendar month was designated by a one-number code from January (1) through September (9). The October through December codes were designated as 10-12, respectively. Beginning with the '63 model year, all month designations begin with a "0" so the January date code would show "01" instead of "1" as in previous years.

From Corvette by the Numbers by Alan Colvin, used with permission of Robert Bentley Publishers.

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