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1974 Chevrolet Corvette - One Sweet Deal

When Dad Says "Let's Buy A Vette," How's A Young Man To Say No?

John Nelson Oct 1, 2001
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Many, if not most Americans, are always on the lookout for the BBD-the Bigger Better Deal. We clip coupons, buy lottery tickets, and get a bit of a thrill when we get two for the price of one. A swingin' deal on a Corvette is nothing less than cause for celebration, and that's exactly what Bob Thompson of Redlands, California, offered his stepson, Charles "Rocky" Isbell. The result was the pair's joint purchase of this '74 Corvette. It has in fact been a sweet deal, though as often happens (and this is a good thing), things aren't turning out exactly as planned.

Bob and Rocky share a love of Corvettes, though they came about it at different times in their lives. Bob got interested about four years ago, when he made his annual trip to Northern California to play in a golf tournament with his schoolhood chum Bob Hannah. Hannah took Thompson for a ride in his '61 roadster, and that, as they say, was that. Four months later, Bob Thompson bought a '60, began attending Southern California Corvette events, and joined a club, Corvettes West.

Rocky's story, on the other hand, is a bit different. Despite the fact that he's only 16 years old, Rocky has already been hooked on Vettes for a number of years. A self-proclaimed car guy, he clearly remembers the '76 Corvette his father owned when he was only seven years old. And as is often the case, childhood exposure to a Corvette creates a lifetime of enthusiasm.

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Things came to a head about two years ago. Rocky had saved over $2,500 from his paper route, and although he was still two years away from his driver's license, he was thinking ahead. As Rocky puts it, "I was looking for any car I could afford." He did a little better than that, as it turned out. Bob Thompson was thinking about the Bigger Better Deal, and it didn't take much to convince Rocky that Bob was right. "We decided," Bob recalls, "that he (Rocky) could make more money than the bank was paying him in interest if we bought a Vette and restored it." Rocky immediately agreed to go along with the plan, and so the search was on. The two planned to find a good-running car that needed cosmetic work.

As with his '60, it didn't take long for Bob to find a likely subject. It was luck that led to this discovery, however, rather than the work and research he'd put in previously. Bob and his wife Liz (Rocky's mother) were spending a day in the mountains in Lake Arrowhead, California, when Bob spotted a yellow Corvette at a gas station. There wasn't a "For Sale" sign on the car, but Bob wanted to ask some questions, so the couple stopped. The '74 four-speed coupe was in fact for sale. The paint was dinged and chipped, and the interior was a bit shabby, but the body was straight and the replacement 350 powerplant had less than 1,200 miles on it. Bob decided that this was the car, and, after driving it (he calls the engine "awesome") made the deal for $5,000.

Rocky had no idea that any of this had happened, much less that a deal had been finalized. That came one day after school, when Bob asked Rocky to come downstairs so the two could talk. Bob wasn't even able to finish his sentence. "He said 'I found...'," Rocky recalls, "and I said 'Yes!'" That, however, is where the deal changed. It was love at first sight. "The day Dad bought it, I decided to keep it," Rocky declares. Bob agreed to let Rocky buy out his share of the investment, and in one fell swoop, Rocky went from Corvette investor to Corvette owner.

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Rocky Isbell doesn't yet have his driver's license, but he's more than ready to get behind the wheel of his '74.

Though the car ran and drove, it still needed some work. Rocky is the wrench-man in this operation, so he got to it. Spending time on the '74 after school and on weekends, he's proved his mettle. When asked what he's done on the car, Rocky mentions two things he's justifiably proud of: fixing the alarm wiring so that the device works properly, and temporarily rigging the boots on the vacuum-activated headlights so that they would work as well. But he's done more than that. Rocky is an enthusiastic auto shop student, and plans to attend the "Hot Rod" program at Wyoming State University when he graduates from Redlands High School. He has also replaced the '74s alternator, carburetor, hood latches, window handles, and power steering lines. With help from Dave Hart, a friend from Corvettes West, Rocky replaced the coupe's brakes. He also installed an electronic tachometer in the Vette to work with the later-model truck block the previous owner had dropped in, and also touched up the coupe's paint. Rocky deferred to more experienced hands when it came to rebuilding the differential and installing the Flowmaster exhaust system. Working on the car has had another benefit, by providing a chance for what Rocky calls "father-son bonding stuff." Under the extension that Bob built onto his garage to house the Vette, Rocky does the work, and Bob hands over tools while enjoying a cold brew. But there's also some frustration for this young Corvetter. Although he's 16, Rocky hasn't had the opportunity to take Driver's Ed and get his license. "I own it, but Dad has to drive it. I can trust him, but I don't know how much...he sure likes to drive it." Rocky has gotten to drive his Vette, but only briefly, and in out of the way places. You only have to watch him around the car to know that is hasn't been enough-which comes as no surprise.

Though he's not sure that he'll use the car as a daily driver (much as he'd like to), Rocky's anxious to drive his Vette to school, where he can utilize the auto shop facilities and maybe even paint the car. And though Rocky claims to be joking when he says he only bought the car because it's a "chick magnet," there's no doubt that he's looking forward to being seen at school in a first car this cool.

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The original deal has certainly changed, and it could change more (Bob maintains that the '74 should be kept close to stock; Rocky wants to add a '78 Pace Car hood and spoilers, and has youthful visions of side pipes and a black-with-blue-flames paint job). The only things that are certain is that Rocky has a great-running car, and he's thrilled to own it. The rest? It's all part of the fun. You may know you're getting a great deal, but you don't always know how it's gonna turn out.



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