1969 Chevrolet Corvette - Me & My Vette

Chuck Gelsomino, Jr. / Rochester, New York 1969 427/390 Coupe

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One of my dreams was to someday own a brand-new Corvette. This was the American dream when I was growing up, and I wanted to be part of it. After being honorably discharged and putting my service days behind me, I went back to work (at a large optics firm in Rochester, New York, where I've been for 33 years), and began saving my money. In March of 1969, I went down to a local Chevrolet dealership and ordered a silver '69 350/four-speed Corvette. They told me it would take 12-16 weeks to come in. About three weeks later, I received a phone call from the dealership saying the Corvette plant in St. Louis was shut down and on strike. I was devastated. My dreams had been crushed. They also said that I should pick up my deposit and wait until 1970 to order a new Corvette. They felt the strike would not be settled in time and that the Corvette plant would probably gear up with '70 models.

So with my dreams shattered, I went down to the Chevrolet dealership to retrieve my deposit. As I was driving home, a truck, the kind that carries new cars, drove past me. One car had canvas over it. It looked like a Corvette, under the canvas, because of the little rear ducktail that stuck out like a sore thumb. So I followed the truck to another Chevrolet dealer in Rochester. As it pulled around the back of the dealership I watched the truck driver uncover this beautiful '69 427/390, Le Mans Blue Corvette. I was petrified. I fell in love with this car and wanted it. I didn't know how they got this car out of the Corvette plant with a strike going on, and I didn't care, either. I just wanted the car. I immediately went inside to talk to the new car manager. As we sat down and he heard how I wanted this new Vette that had just arrived, he quickly made it clear to me that it was not available. He showed me a list that had 14 names of guys ahead of me who were interested in this car and told me, in not so many words, to "get lost, kid you have about a snowball's chance in hell to ever buy this car." He didn't even want to put my name on his list. At this point I was very frustrated and angry. I took a piece of scrap paper and scribbled my name and phone number on it. He replied by laughing.

Never expecting to own a '69 Corvette, I decided to wait for the '70 models. About two weeks later the phone rang. Guess what? It was the Chevy dealership with the blue '69 Vette. The same guy who laughed and showed me a list with 14 guys ahead of me asked if I was still interested in the Vette. I played it cool and somehow started to feel that all of a sudden I was gaining the upper hand. I said yes, and drove down to the dealership. When I arrived I went to his office. He wasn't laughing anymore-he was serious. All of a sudden he said I was at the top of the list. I asked him what happened to the 14 guys ahead of me. With a red face he slowly went down the list of what happened to each prospective buyer. So since you're probably interested in what happened to those 14 other guys, I will tell you. It was 1969 and the Vietnam war was going on hot and heavy. Thousands of young men were being drafted at an alarming rate, like I was in 1965. Of the 14 guys on the list, seven were drafted, five got married to escape the draft, and two could not get insurance for a Corvette. So with my military obligation behind me, a good solid job, and a good driving record, I was able to purchase this car (with insurance, naturally) and become a proud owner of a '69 Corvette.

This 427ci/390hp, four-speed came with a 4.11:1 rearend setup. The chrome Cragar mags and a little extra chrome on the engine give it a nice '60s look. Now, almost 30 years later, I am still the owner of this '69 Corvette. A lot of people find it hard to believe that I am the only owner this car has ever had. In our local Corvette club, I am the only person who has purchased a new Corvette and kept it for this many years. As a matter of fact, it took the Survivor Award at a recent Rochester Corvette show. Unless you look really close, you'll see it's showroom clean. The paint job is original, so is the interior, and also the complete motor. Many people have asked how a car so old could look so good. I answer them by saying, "With a lot of waxing, scrubbing, cleaning, and tenderloving care, and with the grace of the Lord."

When I first bought this car I drag raced it on many tracks, and it turned times in the low 12s. That is without headers, and running slicks. In order to get the maximum power out of this engine I add 5 gallons of 106-octane racing fuel to every tank. This keeps the engine running as good as it did in the '60s. It is one of those cars that gets a lot of looks at cruise nights around Rochester. The air shocks also give it a nice raised look.

I have antique plates that go along with this antique car. As a matter of fact, to make this situation even more unique, these old plates have been with me through most of my teenage years. They were on my '64, '66, and '68 Chevys. When I bought the Corvette I transferred them onto it and kept them until New York changed the color of the plates to yellow. I then took off these old plates and tossed them into a box in my garage rather then the garbage.

Anyway, when I found out you could go antique with your car if it was 25 years or older, I called the DMV and asked if I could put my old '60s plates back on like when I bought it. They said that I could as long as I had antique insurance and met all the other criteria. So I went through all the necessary paperwork, and I proceeded to dig out my old plates to put them back on the car where they belonged. With a little scrubbing, buffing, and waxing, my old '60s plates looked almost new. The final touch was to find a '69 sticker to go on the plates for an authentic look, which I did. They look perfect on the car, right where they belong.

Well that's my story and my love affair of three decades with my Corvette. I thank God that I have truly been part of the American dream.

Editor's Note: This series spotlights reader experiences with their own Corvettes, described in their own words. To be considered for publication, submit a selection of pictures and your own typewritten Corvette experience in 500 words or less to: Me & My Vette, Vette Magazine, 774 S. Placentia Ave., Placentia, CA 92870. Please send your submission on computer disk when possible. If we use your story, we'll pay you $75.

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