Some guys have it, and some don't. Real car guys have a kind of sixth sense, a finely honed instinct when it comes to cars. Where some see something that's past its prime, worn-out, thrashed, and not worth dealing with, others see something special. That's certainly the case with Darold Shirwo of Sherman Oaks, California, and that sense has served him well.
Darold honed his "car sense" as a youngster in Skokie, Illinois. He started working at a local Shell station at the tender age of 12, shoveling the driveway and cleaning up. Two of the mechanics, Dave Olson (who, as Darold recalls, had a mystical ability to put his hands on a car and tell what was wrong with it) and George Howser, took young Darold under wing and showed him "everything" about working on cars. In 1955, when Chevrolet introduced its revolutionary 265ci small-block, the station started doing hop-up work for those eager to hot rod the new powerplant. "You have to remember," Darold reminisces, "that there weren't any 'hi-po' shops in 1955, and until that year everyone hot rodded flathead Fords."
His own first experience with the small-block Chevy came when Darold, with some financial help from his parents, bought a '57 fuelie Corvette from Mancuso Chevrolet in Skokie. Believe it or not, the dealer was having difficulty selling it, so the Shirwos got a good deal. According to Darold, "the T-bird was a big seller in the Midwest; people still thought of Corvettes as cars with side curtains and no amenities."
As a high schooler with a '57 Corvette, you'd expect that Darold lived every schoolboy's fantasy, and he did-their hot rod fantasies, that is. "Having the car was wonderful," he recalls, "but I worked all the time. I thought it was more fun to work on cars than talk to girls."
It all came to a halt when Darold was 17, however. Much as he wanted to keep working at the service station (there were plans for a performance shop dealing with small-block Chevys), his parents insisted that he go to college. Then there was the Corvette: "The insurance got tough. My father's rate was $80 a year; mine was $500." So the Corvette went, and Darold went off to college in a '61 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible, which had a much lower insurance rate and was ideal for carting around friends on the weekends.
As we all know, however, Corvette dreams never die. After graduation, Darold worked for awhile on the East Coast before moving out west. And when he did, he indulged his fiberglass jones with a vengeance. Starting with a big-block '65, Darold owned 50 mid-years at one point, including three or four fuelies and a fully loaded '67 with only 1,200 miles showing. It may sound extreme, but Darold is quick to point out that the cars were cheap (at that time), averaging about $1,500, making it easy to feed what he calls "an addiction." He didn't think about solid-axle cars at first, preferring the greater comfort and performance of the mid-years.
It was an ad for a '54 Oldsmobile convertible that got Darold thinking about the old days, and given his penchant for buying cars (he bought the Olds), it didn't take long until he was looking for a good solid-axle. There were a couple of '57s (one painted "gawdawful green" and sporting seats from a '60, the other obtained only after a trip to court), and then the day came when that long-developed "car sense" paid dividends.
In early 1971, one of Darold's employees asked him to go check out a Vette with him. The car was in a nice neighborhood in Long Beach, California, but, as Darold recalls, "it was all the way in the back; you couldn't see it." Once in the backyard, the car still couldn't be seen. What the duo could see was a pile of leaves, dirt, and branches. As Darold tells the story, "You couldn't even tell it was a car. My friend decided to pass, and I almost did the same thing, but something inside of me said to brush the crap away. I saw this glorious Jewel Blue paint and immediately fell in love with the car."