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1959 Chevrolet Corvette - From The Land Of Oz

Restored '59 Has Its Own Tales To Tell

Scott Ross Sep 23, 2009
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We call the home of this restored C1 "The Land of Oz" for three simple reasons. The first one is obvious—owner Marc Osmun's home in Fulton, New York is located a short drive north of Chittenango, the hometown of Wizard of Oz creator L. Frank Baum.

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The second is the story that Marc told us about the '59's history, one that even the imagination of L. Frank Baum never dreamed of when he wrote about yellow-brick roads. For openers, Marc says that much of the '59s ownership history is difficult to trace until the time that his friend, Larry Barnes, bought it from Ronald Ajemian, owner of the Liverpool Country Club at the time. Ron had owned it for 20 years and purchased it from David Niles Rosen in March of 1977. "I received a box full of receipts, registrations, and restoration photos with the car that took me a while to sort out and categorize," Marc says. "I traced it back to the guy who he bought it from. My best guess is that there have been four to five owners, including myself." Outside of the frame-off restoration that it received in 1982, its build date at St. Louis Assembly (November 21, 1958) and its original selling dealer (Marsh Hallman Chevrolet in Albany), little else was known about the car's history.

What was apparent, when Larry bought it, was that this car had been well-preserved, given Central New York's harsh climate—and that Marc wanted it if Larry didn't. "It wasn't bad, but it needed a lot of cosmetic work," Marc recalls and adds, "I was with Larry when he bought it, and I told him, 'I'll tell you this. If you're not buying it, I'm buying it!'" At that time, Marc's friend had another C1 (a '62), which he later sold—before selling the '59 to Marc. "One day, I was catching a ride to work from a mutual friend of ours, who said that Larry told him at dinner the night before that he was selling the '59, because he'd been bitten by 'The Harley Bug'.

As soon as I got to work, I called Larry and said, 'What's this about you selling the '59?', and he said 'Yeah, I'm going to buy a new Harley—I have one all picked out, and I need the money from the Corvette.' I told him, 'We have a deal, you always promised me first refusal,' and he said, "Yeah, but you're not going to want to pay me what I want for that car.' I told him, 'We're going to negotiate—don't you sell that car, I'll be over after work!' I went over, and we struck a deal, and that's how I ended up with the car."

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What he ended up with was a Corvette that had something big going for it—an undamaged, uncut frame. Marc says, "I saw that it had the frame-off back in '82, and when that was done, they had the frame all sealed and dipped, so this frame had never been welded on. It was in great shape." Between those frame rails, however, was not the original 230-horsepower 283. That was in a crate that came along with the car, as the '59 had a later 350 in it when Marc bought it. But that engine stayed in as the cosmetics were attended to. "When I bought it, I had it repainted," says Marc. "Another friend of mine who does body work, Fred Bidwell, gave me a good deal on it, but I had to wait three years for him to finally get to it. I also put some tires on it, and some other things, but Larry freshened the interior up while he had it. Since the frame of the C1 is one of the few big metal parts of the car, Larry wanted to undercoat it all for further peace of mind."

After Marc purchased his new black C6 coupe (plated "OZS 06", of course), it was time to pull the original 283 out of its crate, rebuild it, and swap it back into the '59. "Now that I had the C6, and figured it would be unlikely I'd take the '59 on many long trips, it was time to put the 283 back in," Marc says. "I was very happy to get it when I purchased the car, but I had it bumped it up internally to around 300 horsepower. Once I did that, I found that there's not a lot of difference in power from the larger 350—that 283 is an amazing, high-rpm machine with lots of torque." A .060-inch overbore and an L79 327-grind hydraulic cam were additions made to the 283, whose casting numbers turned up some interesting history. The block was apparently a leftover '58 casting that was in Flint Engine's inventory when the '59 model run started, while the cylinder heads had 1960 casting codes on them.

When Marc takes the '59 out on the roads of Central New York, it's a pleasure to drive. "It's not quite as good as my new C6, but it's not bad!" Marc says, while adding that he doesn't 'baby' the now-50-year-old C1. "I do drive it whenever I can, so it's not a trailer queen," Marc—a member of the Syracuse Corvette Club—adds. "I can always tell what kind of summer we've had by the mileage on the car at the end of the season." Two years ago, when the CNY summer weather was good, he put some 3,700 miles on it. "Last year, I was lucky to get 1,500 miles on it, because we had such rainy weather," Marc says while noting the five inches of snow that fell in Fulton the week before we spoke with him.

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As the weather permits, Marc has the choice of two black Vettes—his C6, and this C1. But which does he prefer? "People ask me constantly which one I like better and I say that I like them both for different reasons, they're totally different, unique vehicles," he says. "They then say, 'Yeah, but which one do you like better?', and I say, "I really can't pick which one that I like better. But, if you mean which one that I'd sell if I had to get rid of one of them, the C6 is gone! I'd never sell the '59. They're totally different, unique vehicles."

Does Marc have any advice for those seeking an early Corvette for a cruiser or a project car? "Good luck! If you're fortunate enough to get one, you're going to pay for it," He says. "The route to go is cosmetic, as opposed to original numbers. Those are nice, but you can run into some big bucks when you start doing some cosmetic work on them. But for an everyday driver, you would look for different things. In my case, I was lucky because I got a car that's not only an investment, but we found that everything was right on it. For an everyday driver, you wouldn't necessarily have to have all that. But it's doing much better than my 401 (K) plan lately!

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As the all-too-short warm weather season returns to Central New York, Marc will likely take his '59 out for spirited drives on many of the region's scenic and twisty highways, which include roads like U.S. Highway 20 past the apple orchards (and fictitious Giant) of Cardiff, and New York State Highway 14, which leads into Watkins Glen. If L. Frank Baum drove this '59, you have to wonder if he would have written The Great Road Trip to Oz. (Or maybe another verse to "See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet.")

Data File: '59 Chevrolet Corvette
Owned by: Marc Osmun
Fulton, New York VIN: J59S102340
(2,340th 1959 Corvette built at St. Louis Assembly)
November 21, 1958
Price: Base Price $3,875.00; Price with options $4,768.80 (per window sticker)

Restored production 1959 Corvette with standard convertible top and optional (RPO 419) auxiliary hard top
Changes For '59: Fake hood louvers and chrome spears on trunk lid eliminated
Restoration: Performed in 1982 by Reymore Chevrolet, Liverpool, New York
Originally RPO 440 two-tone DuPont acrylic lacquer (Tuxedo Black with Snowcrest White coves); Restored in original colors with PPG basecoat/clearcoat system with pearl mixed in with the white and "High-Build" clear urethane topcoat; Paint applied by: Fred Bidwell (owner of Kustoms, located in Phoenix, New York)

Frame: Restored production 1959 Corvette
Suspension: Restored production 1959
Corvette: (Front) Coil springs with GM-Delco tubular shocks (Rear) Longitudinal leaf springs with GM-Delco tubular shocks
Steering: Restored production 1959 Corvette with GM-Saginaw 16:1 recirculating ball steering gear, non-power-assisted
Brakes: Restored production 1959 Corvette drum-and-shoe with 11-inch drums, non-power-assisted
Wheels: Production 15 x 5 1/2-inch stamped steel wheels with chrome full-wheel covers
Tires: Firestone Indy 500 "Firehawk" radials with 2 1/2-inch whitewalls, P215/70R15 all around (Reproduction of RPO 290 6.70-15 wide whitewalls)

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Restored Chevrolet Gen I smallblock V8
Modification: .060-inch overbore, aftermarket 327/350hp camshaft with hydraulic lifters, rotating assembly balanced before final assembly
Displacement: Just over 283 cubic inches
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Block: Original Chevrolet smallblock V8, casting # 3737739 (Leftover '58 casting)
Cylinder Heads: Production 1960 Corvette 283 heads (Casting # 3774692)
Ignition: GM-Delco "conventional" (non-electronic) ignition system
Induction: 1 Carter WCFB four-barrel carburetor on a cast-iron intake manifold
Exhaust: Reproduction '59 Corvette dual exhaust system
Radiator: Restored production '59 Corvette GM-Harrison copper-brass radiator
Horsepower: 230 @ 4800 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 300 ft. /lbs. @ 300 rpm (Advertised)

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Restored original Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual (RPO 685)
Shifter: Restored GM four-speed shifter with reverse lock-out
Rearend: Restored production '59 Corvette with Positraction (RPO 675) and 4.11:1 rear gears

Restored production 1959 Corvette
New For '59: Reverse lockout on 4-speed shifter, redesigned door panels/gauges, storage bin under grab bar
Seats: Restored production '59 Corvette seats
Upholstery: "Roman Red" Vinyl
Carpets: Red/black/white "Salt & Pepper" nylon loop-pile
Instrumentation: OEM 1959 Corvette (0-160 mph speedometer, 0-7000 rpm tachometer with 5500 rpm redline, plus fuel level, oil pressure, ammeter and coolant temperature gauges, plus clock)
Sound System: OEM GM-Delco "Wonderbar" signal-seeking AM radio (RPO 102)
Heater/Defroster: Restored production '59 Corvette GM-Harrison deluxe heater/defroster (RPO 101)
Air Conditioner: Remove hardtop (or lower soft top), roll down windows, and let the breeze from nearby Lake Ontario do the rest.



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