Anyone who has shared the experience of owning a Corvette will agree: the years and other rides may come and go, but they will never cloud the memory of your first Corvette. Not too many people will admit to it, but it has been said that the experience can be remembered as vividly as a wedding day or even a first born!
There are a handful of people that still hold the keys to their first Corvette, and many more that will probably need to have that octagon or square GM key pried from their cold, dead grip. Conversely, many of us have had to experience the loss of selling that first Vette as a last resort to take care of life's priority expenses. So it is that you have to do what you have to do. Whether or not losing that first Corvette was made by a rhetorical choice or simply a poor decision, the memory of sliding behind that wheel, adjusting the dash-mounted rearview mirror, and listening to that distinct V-8 fire to life will always live on.
There are of course, exceptions to any story, and this exception belongs to Charlie Hill. Charlie bought this '58 Corvette for $900 when it was 10 years old. A custom red metalflake paint job accented with yellow highlights made the car stand out in those days, and Charlie took full advantage of traffic light challenges. After three years of basically beating on the Corvette and breaking a number of axles, swapping transmissions, and trying different engine combinations, Charlie decided it was time to modernize. He sold the '58 for $625, which he used as a down payment on a much more reliable, new Camaro. It was, after all, the sensible thing to do as the young man's the responsibilities grew. With that, Charlie's life moved on while the Corvette went into a cryogenic state on a small farm in the "thumb" area of Michigan.
Over the years, Charlie and his wife, Kathy, moved several times before ending up in El Paso, Texas. Charlie's interest in motorcycles, cars, and horsepower stuck with him, as did the memory of his '58 Vette. He tried to stay in touch with the buyer of the car by putting in a call every year or so just to keep a connection going, but the owner never wanted to sell it. At one point, while visiting relatives in the Port Sanilac area, Kathy talked with the owner and even attempted to take some photos of the car, but it was tucked away in a dark barn.
Twenty-three years later, Charlie's persistence paid off. In 1994 the fellow decided that it was obvious that Charlie wanted the '58 much worse than he did, so he agreed to sell it back (we assume at a substantial price difference).
So without even seeing the car, Charlie wired his father-in-law the money and had it loaded on a truck bound for El Paso. When the Vette was unloaded, Charlie was flooded with memories and couldn't believe his eyes. The only thing that was changed on the Vette were the tires and wheels-and there were only 15 miles more on it! It turns out that the man who purchased the car was a collector of sorts-one of those collectors that acquire a lot of different parts, cars, and memorabilia, then store it in a barn without doing much to his artifacts.
Charlie's plan, however, was not to revive the Vette's red metalflake paint and re-live his adventurous days of racing. He wanted to put the '58 back to its original status, though it was not going to be an easy task. Obviously, the original drivetrain and numerous parts were needed. It was definitely going to be a massive undertaking. With the help of his friend Greg Snapp, the Corvette was stripped down to nothing and the search for correct components began. Over the course of three years, Charlie tracked down all of the correctly numbered and date-coded parts, everything from the Wonderbar radio to the dual-quad intake!
The Corvette is now a beautiful example of the first dual-headlight Corvette. Charlie opted for the rare and courtly Panama Yellow hue witha Snowcrest insert and Charcoal interior, and extends a big thank you to Joe Rey at J&J Body and Paint in El Paso. As for the drivetrain, since this was a serious endeavor and the original engine was long gone, Charlie opted to piece together a true 270-horse 283 with all original parts, right down to the dual WCFB carbs.
Mixing the memories of racing and thrashing on the same Corvette that is now restored to its original condition presents Charlie with an interesting mix of feelings every time he and Kathy or their daughter, Madison, take the car for a weekend spin. Driving the Corvette is quite a different experience than it was 24 years ago, but remember that Charlie isn't the same man he was in either. He may still rev the solid-lifter 283 at the stoplights or grab a gear now and then, but the days of winding up the revs and dumping the clutch and ripping gears through the redline are long gone for this car...but certainly not forgotten.