"Purchase of a new car was a big, big deal," emphasizes Joe Anderson, the Class of '65's Chevrolet representative and current president of the class. "Plebes, yearlings, and cows (West Point terminology for underclassmen) were strictly prohibited from owning an automobile. Not only couldn't you have one on campus, you couldn't own one, period. And if you were caught with one the penalties were quite severe. Firsties (seniors) were given the privilege of owning a car around the time of Spring Break and we all waited breathlessly for those new cars to arrive!"
Those with a keen knowledge of history, as well as devoted movie buffs, may recognize Joe Anderson's name. Like virtually all of his classmates he served in Vietnam, and his heroism, as well as that of the men he led into battle, was immortalized in the movie Anderson's Platoon. In 1967 this film won both an Oscar and an Emmy.
Like approximately two dozen of his classmates, Cadet Ross Wollen was fortunate enough to be in a position to order a brand-new Corvette. He chose a two-top convertible powered by the optional 327/350 horsepower small-block. He also specified a four-speed transmission, an AM/FM radio, whitewall tires, a tinted windshield, and a comfort and convenience package. The latter included a day/night mirror and reverse lights.
Upon graduation Ross and his Corvette headed to Texas (including Route 66) and then Florida. "I drove the car everywhere," he remembers. "On one occasion I stopped in Miami Beach just to watch a hurricane. The wind was unbelievably strong and the car got pretty well sandblasted as a result. Fortunately, I was parked between two enormous Cadillacs that sheltered the Corvette, but it still needed to be repainted."
Ross was next sent to Germany for two years of service. Unlike Vietnam, there was no active conflict in Europe and he was able to take his favorite set of wheels with him. There the car saw constant use, with one adventure after another in Germany and elsewhere.
"While in Germany I lived in Dortmund and served as an air defense commander," Ross recalls. "I was in charge of four distant missile sites so I had a lot of driving to do. I drove it everywhere, including to Belgium, France, Spain, Switzerland, and Amsterdam."
What was it like driving a Corvette convertible overseas in those days? "Oh it was absolutely wonderful," says Ross. "They didn't see too many Corvettes in Dortmund or anywhere else around there. I liked to drive fast and would think nothing of getting in the Corvette and driving three or four hundred miles to Hamburg or someplace else. There was a traffic light at the edge of town before getting on the Autobahn, which did not have a speed limit. I'd try to time it so I would get caught at the light so I could have a drag race when it turned green. I took special delight in watching Mercedes' and other fast European machinery of the day get smaller and smaller in my rear view mirror!
"Once on the Autobahn, I would go as fast as I safely could the whole way. On long trips I'd try to average over 100 mph, including stops. That meant cruising in the 130-mph range on the open road!"
Absent a speed limit, there was nothing but the occasional traffic snarl or foul weather to slow Ross down on his jaunts throughout Europe. Then one day he came upon a horrific sight that did temper his quest for speed.
"I was on the Nurburgring," he relates, "going quite fast when I reached the scene of an accident. There were injured people lying on the road, and that discouraged me from constantly driving at unlimited speeds."
For those not familiar with it, the Nurburgring is a legendary road racing circuit in Germany used by the public when a race is not being held. For decades it has hosted Grand Prix, sports car, motorcycle, and many other types of racing activity, and there are very few Corvette owners who have had the privilege of zooming around it in Americas only bona fide production sports car.