Seeing someone you haven't seen in awhile can be a tricky thing. If you're fortunate, the sight of a long lost friend brings back lots of great memories and the warm feeling that comes from seeing someone you've missed. If you're not so fortunate, these encounters can be ugly and awkward as you try to avoid that rude, overbearing person that you never really liked. When that "someone" is a Corvette, though, it's a pretty good bet that those feelings are favorable. And they certainly were when a meeting of this type happened at last November's Eureka Springs Corvette Weekend when Gary Waddle, Vic Landis, and the '63 roadster they've both owned had a family reunion of sorts.
Gary Waddle of Alexander, Arkansas, became hooked on fiberglass after a youthful ride in a '62, and knew he had to someday own a drop-top Corvette. It took awhile, but that dream did come true. Waddle started with a '95 coupe, a car that he knew he wanted the moment he saw it. And though he loved that car, he still lusted after a convertible, which led him to answer an ad for a '63. The ad ran in the paper for awhile, and Waddle finally decided to go have a look. And it happened again; he looked at the car, and knew he had to have it. "Everywhere you looked," Waddle recalls, "it looked like new. Instead of looking 38 years old, it looks like it just came from the dealer."
Waddle drives the '63 on "pretty" weekends, and enjoys the response he gets during these joy rides: "It amazes me-little kids, 7-8 years old, say 'cool car.' They think it's sharp." The ragtop also sees duty at car shows, which is how it came to be in the right place at the right time. About his meeting with Landis, Waddle says, "We met for the first time at Eureka Springs; we'd talked, but not met. He was happy to see the car, and made sure he tracked me down." The two had a cordial meeting, but it was the '63 that Landis was really happy to see.
Landis, a resident of Harrison, Arkansas, first met the red roadster at an auction in 1984. "I had a '59, which was stolen," he recalls. "I vowed I would own another one, but the '63 caught my eye. The fact that is was numbers matching meant nothing to me." For the measly sum of $10,500, Landis took the car home. What he had obtained was an unrestored, daily-driven Vette that purported to have 58-59 thousand miles on the clock. The ragtop was powered by the optional 300-horse 327 and backed by a four-speed. He also had an early production car (No. 301), built in the second week of September, which meant that it had under-seat depressions that may have been for storage, and also a few other parts that weren't found on later '63s.
Landis was in for a bit of a surprise, however, when he got into his new Vette and checked out its history. After doing his homework, Landis determined that the '63 actually had more like 250,000 miles on it. "It didn't show that kind of miles," he remembers, "and didn't look or drive like a high-mileage car." A big reason for that is probably the car's former owners. The Vette was the favorite ride for a doctor's wife in Chicago for eight years, and was then sold to a gentleman, also in Chicago, who proceeded to put somewhere around 200,000 miles on the car. He was fanatical about maintenance, and had virtually every service receipt, even for oil changes. The roadster then went to a Colorado Springs collector before eventually ending up in front of Vic Landis at auction.
"The car would have been an excellent driver," Landis recalls. By 1986, however, he was a member of the NCRS and knew full well what "matching numbers" meant. He decided to restore the Vette, and also liked the fact that tearing it down would give him the chance to learn more about the car. There was no NCRS chapter in Landis' hometown, so the group's judging manual served as his guide. When he had questions, Landis would call NCRS Master Judge Art Senn. But what it all came down to, as it usually does with these matters, is the hours of work that Landis put in on the Vette.
During the winter of 1986, Landis started-and completed-a complete body-off restoration. In short, he did everything himself, except for the engine rebuild, the windshield installation, and the new soft-top.
At this point, the '63 was already good enough to achieve a Second Flight award, but this wasn't good enough for Landis. He went back to work, and again barely missed in 1988. Most of that work was found in the details. When the set of replacement hubcaps he'd found didn't measure up, Landis hammered out the dents, then re-filed and polished them, a task that he figures took 100 hours to complete. After locating a seemingly endless supply of correct fasteners, Landis went the same route with the rocker panels, grille, and the center console. Every chrome piece was replaced or re-chromed, the carpet replaced, and the gauges re-done.
Things finally came together in 1989. Landis and the '63 scored a Top Flight in Bend, Oregon, and repeated that feat in 1990 in Joplin, Missouri. The duo climbed the next rung on the NCRS ladder by going for a Performance Verification award, though that distinction didn't come easily. "I couldn't get the car into 2nd or 3rd," Landis recalls. "And I had 15 minutes to fix it." After a quick vendor check failed to turn up a replacement for the keeper that had fallen off the shift linkage, Landis improvised with a piece of wire, the mid-year passed its test, and there was only one other NCRS award left to gain: a Duntov. That came in 1991, and Landis received the award from Zora himself.
It was a satisfying moment, but it was also bittersweet. As Landis tells it, "At that point, I was like a kid graduating from school." He had also bought a '65 driver to enjoy, making it hard to keep up the older car. "When a car reaches that level, it takes something to keep it there," Landis reasoned. "I couldn't bear to see the effort I'd made wasted." So, the '63 was sold, and though Landis saw the money he got for it as a reward for his hard work, the simple fact was that the car was gone.
It was, of course, being enjoyed by Gary Waddle, who says that he has to "pinch himself every now and then" to believe that he has the car he's wanted since he was eight years old. When Landis tracked down Waddle at the Eureka Springs meet, his enthusiasm over seeing his old car was evident. "He talks about it like it's his baby," Waddle laughs. Indeed, even though it had been three or four years since Landis had seen the '63, he recognized it immediately when he saw it at Eureka Springs. "I miss that car; it sure looked good when I saw it again." Which is exactly how you want to feel when you run into an old friend.
Editor's note: After this article was completed, Gary Waddle sold his '63 to the friend who originally checked out the car with him, Chuck Middleton, and bought a '66 big-block. Given that the two work together, we're sure Gary will visit the roadster regularly.